The second week of COP26: The 10 biggest stories

COP26 was officially scheduled to end at 6pm on Friday (12 November), after a two-week-long push to prevent the worst of the climate crisis and align global plans with the Paris Agreement's 1.5C trajectory. It has officially over-run overnight and, as negotiators continue their work, edie summarises the week's key developments.

Images: UNFCCC

Images: UNFCCC

After a first week full of World Leaders’ speeches, huge protests and new international initiatives, week two of COP26 has been equally frantic and all eyes have remained firmly fixed on Glasgow.

There have been new international commitments, declarations and initiatives on issues ranging from cleantech to human rights, low-carbon cities to hydrogen. There have been speeches from youth activists, world leaders past and present, and the gentleman dressed as Darth Vader who has been offering songs, dancing and educational talks to people on their way to the Blue Zone.

And, all the while, negotiations have come ever closer to the wire. It is apparent at this stage that they will go into Saturday afternoon at least. 

Whether you are waiting for the final communique here in Glasgow, or from the comfort of your own home or office, grab a tea or coffee and catch up with our coverage of 10 of the biggest announcements from COP26.

1) The latest draft texts are here – and language on fossil fuels has survived

‘Near-final’ draft texts finally came out on Friday during breakfast time, and another update has been published on Saturday morning (13 October).

The mention of fossil fuels has survived the latest round of negotiations and proposals. At the start of the week, the draft called on upon nations “to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.

In the updated version, the language has been watered down slightly. It now only calls for the phase-out of “unabated” coal power and “inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. It comes after nations such as Saudi Arabia lobbied for the reference of fossil fuels to be removed from the documents altogether. This morning’s “final draft” keeps the most recent references in but “recognises” the need for support towards a “just transition”.

References to the need for rich nations to deliver on the $100bn per year climate finance target are also kept, as is the 2025 date for providing at least $500bn. 

Much remains outstanding on adaptation, loss and damage at this stage. A proposed financing facility for loss and damage is absent, following reports of nations including the US blocking progress. Separately, the UK COP Unit has published documents commencing a programme of work on the issue through to 2024, with COP27 as a key milestone.

 

You can read edie’s full coverage of the texts here. At the time of publishing (10.15am on 13 November), these are the latest versions available. A further update is not expected publicly until the final communique is agreed.

2) Antonio Guterres pulls no punches on fossil fuels

In the first week of COP26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world leaders to break their “addiction” to fossil fuels, as it is “pushing humanity to the brink”. On biodiversity, he also accused them of historically treating nature “like a toilet”.

He delivered a similarly strongly-worded speech on Thursday afternoon, as the official involvement of non-state actors at COP26 was closed.

“The climate action struggle requires all hands on deck – it is everyone’s responsibly,” he said. “I am inspired by the voice of civil society, of young people keeping our feet to the fire. By the dynamism and example of indigenous communities. By the tireless engagement of women’s groups. By the actions of more and more cities around the world. By a growing consciousness, as the private sector aligns balance sheets and investment decisions around net-zero.

“Governments need to pick up the pace and show the necessary ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance in a balanced way. We cannot settle for the lowest common denominator. We know what must be done.

“Net-zero pledges require rapid, direct emissions cuts this decade… promises ring hollow when the fossil fuel industry still receives trillions in subsidies, as measured by the IMF. Or when countries are still building coal plants. Or when carbon is still without a price, distorting markets and investor decisions.”

Additionally, Gutteres said the UN’s body for assessing the credibility of net-zero commitments from non-state actors would be operational from 2022. “We need to hold each other accountable -- governments, non-state actors and civil society,” he stated.

3) Activists make a final push for climate justice 

Throughout COP26, Indigenous groups and youth activists have stated that they have had trouble making their voices heard at the main events. Barriers have included high accommodation and transport costs, confusion over Covid-19 testing and a business-as-usual approach from many nations and non-state actors present.

Nonetheless, there has been a packed Green Zone agenda, protests that have gathered more than 100,000 people and, on Friday, in a first for the COP process, a People’s Decision for Climate Justice was submitted in the Blue Zone, as part of work spearheaded by the COP26 Coalition. This makes ten asks of wealthy and high-emitting nations on behalf of the world’s most affected and vulnerable communities, covering adaptation; finance and debt; skills; human rights; improving the inclusivity of COP processes and preventing greenwashing.

There was also a mass walk-out, with numerous groups leaving the Blue Zone and chanting “power to the people” and “another future is possible”. Groups represented included youth, the most-affected regions and nations, people with disabilities and Indigenous communities.

4) Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance launches

Thursday (11 November) saw Denmark and Costa Rica launching their highly anticipated alliance requiring nations to set an end date for new oil and gas licensing and plans to phase out existing capacity. The Alliance includes Wales, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Greenland, California and Quebec.

Many in the room had questions on why many governments which are not oil and gas producers had joined and why the world’s largest producers, such as the US, Russia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Norway and the UK, were not present.

To the former, the argument was made for the need to keep undrilled fields undrilled. To the latter, Costa Rica's environment minister Andrea Meza said: “This is about early movers. It is about having courage. This is just the starting point, with few countries – maybe not the big oil producers, but those who have the courage to do something”. Danish climate and energy minister Dan Jørgensen said the initiative is already in dialogue with “many other countries”.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, on a speedy visit to Glasgow on Wednesday (10 November), that the UK “would see” what Costa Rica and Denmark were proposing with their new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance – despite the fact that it had been confirmed the UK would not join immediately. He stated in a press conference that the hydrocarbon age is coming to an end. However, he then gave a separate interview stating that hydrocarbons have a long future – so long as we “liberate the hydrogen from the carbon”. This has been widely criticized.

5) US and China sign historic climate collaboration agreement

The US and China are the world’s two biggest emitters, in terms of annual emissions in recent years. The media centre was packed out on Wednesday evening as the nations unveiled a joint declaration on addressing climate change this decade. 

The declaration confirms that the two nations will convene a joint working group regularly, with the first meeting set for early 2022, on issues including methane emissions, low-carbon energy and deforestation. The aim will be to flash out long-term net-zero plans with "concrete" actions to be taken this decade. The nations call for "stepped-up efforts" to close the "significant gap" that remains to a Paris-aligned world. 

There are commitments to strengthen national and sub-national methane reduction targets and to assess whether 2030 NDCs are 1.5C-aligned ahead of COP27. Little is said in the way of new commitments.

Reaction to the agreement has been split, with some berating the lack of additional commitments and others noting the symbolic significance of the agreement.

6) Global declaration on zero-emission vehicles fails to get support from US, China, Germany

Transport was the official theme for Thursday, and, building on its own commitments to end new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 and new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sales by 2040, the UK spearheaded a new global declaration on ending ICE vehicle sales.

The declaration has been signed by more than 30 countries and dozens of businesses – both those that manufacture vehicles and those that operate fleets. The declaration states that, in keeping with a net-zero world by 2050, all new vehicle sales should be zero-emission by 2035 in leading markets. There is a 2040 deadline for all other markets.

The world’s three largest car markets, the US, Germany and China, have not signed the declaration at this stage, but businesses, cities and regions in these geographies have.

You can read edie’s full story, which has a list of those signed up, here.

There was also the launch of a separate ‘Count Us In Citizens’ Declaration’, calling on world leaders to ensure that only new zero-emission vehicles are sold in the bus space by 2030, followed by light-duty vehicles in 2035 and heavy-duty vehicles in 2035.

7) Sector-specific emissions targets on the way for aviation

Aviation is responsible for around 3% of global annual emissions and is hard-to-abate. Pandemic aside, it has been growing rapidly in terms of passengers and emissions, so there were hopes for a new agreement on low-carbon aviation ahead of transport day.

The day saw 18 nations signing a new declaration in support of the development on emissions targets for aviation that are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature pathway. The targets will be pre-2050 and developed in line with global net-zero by 2050.

Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Spain, Turkey, the US, the UK, Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, Morocco, the Maldives, Kenya, Finland, Costa Rica and Burkina Faso are the first signatories to the declaration. These nations are collectively responsible for more than 40% of global annual emissions from aviation.

There will also be guidance on which technologies should be used to deliver the commitment, but the declaration does not consider capping growth.

8) Six ‘net-zero shipping corridors’ planned

Also on Transport Day, a new ‘Clydebank Declaration’ was launched to unite nations in developing zero-emission shipping routes between ports. These so-called ‘green shipping corridors’ will act as a test-bed for emerging technologies. Bodies such as the Global Maritime Forum and World Economic Forum are foreseeing that a mix of technologies will be needed for low-carbon shipping, including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and electrification.

The aim is to establish at least six corridors by the mid-2020s, which are likely to be shorter routes, and to add “many more routes”, including long-haul routes, by 2030.

Signing the Clydebank Declaration this week were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the US and the UK.

9) Barack Obama delivers an impassioned speech

The Blue Zone quickly reached full capacity on Monday (8 November), ahead of a speech from former US President Barack Obama.

Obama spoke to several issues, including the Trump administration’s “hostile and sustained attacks” on climate action; “strained” global collaboration during the pandemic and how young people are “rightly frustrated” that the ratcheting up of climate commitments and actions promised post-Paris-Agreement have not materialized.

His overarching message was for nations to understand the urgency of the situation at hand, and for individuals to keep putting pressure on policymakers and businesses while being mindful of the social and political arguments for weakened action.

He said:  "There is one thing that should transcend our day-to-day politics and geopolitics, and that is climate change.

"Not only can we not afford to go backwards, we cannot afford to stay where we are. 

 “I guarantee you that every victory will be incomplete. We will face more setbacks, sometimes we will be forced to settle for imperfect compromises. Because even if we don’t achieve everything we want, at least they advance the cause and move the ball down the field.

“If we work hard enough, for long enough, those partial victories add up. If we push hard enough, stay focused enough and are smart about it, those victories accelerate. If we listen to those who are resistant and we take their concerns seriously, working with them, organizing and mobilizing, and get our hands dirty in the difficulties of changing political dynamics in our countries, those victories start happening a little bit more frequently. If we stay with it, we will get this done.”

10) 23 nations join cleantech ‘missions’

China, India, the UK, US and EU are among a cohort of 23 governments that announced new plans to catalyse cleantech investment this week, under the  ‘Mission Innovation’ platform first convened at COP21 in Paris. Participating nations collectively accounted for 90% of global public investment in low-carbon energy innovations made last year.

Adding to existing plans for decarbonising power systems and shipping, the platform announced new workstreams on low-carbon cities, decarbonising heavy industrial sectors, scaling up renewable fuels, decarbonising the chemicals sector and producing renewable materials, and scaling up man-made carbon capture technologies.

Mission Innovation claims that the plans are consistent with an agreement signed by more than 40 world leaders on scaling cleantech and renewable energy solutions last week, called the ‘Breakthrough Agenda’.

Separately, an independent body of experts from the International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and UN High-Level Climate Action Champions was appointed to hold nations participating in the Breakthrough Agenda to account. The body is responsible for what is called the ‘Global Checkpoint Process’ – ensuring that nations report annually, and advising them on how to move faster if needed.

Click here to read edie’s full story on Mission Innovation.

Sarah George and Matt Mace



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