COP26 – Six Reasons for Hope

By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News

Despite a lot of accusations of greenwashing, and Greta Thunberg’s Blah, Blah, Blah, comments, there is progress being made in Glasgow. 

Rightfully, young people and other activists have become jaded or wary of empty promises made by politicians; specifically, the leaders of wealthy countries that are not informed, don’t care or are in the pockets of powerful lobbyists.

But this year, it seems there is actually some momentum behind real efforts to make some positive change.

Not a time to wait and see, thankfully some positive momentum has begun. Image @crystalmariesing via Twenty20

The Paris Accord ratified at COP21 in 2015 pointed to 1.5 degrees centigrade as the number we need to stay below to avoid the worst effects of climate inaction. Currently, we are already at 1.1 degrees over preindustrial levels, but thankfully, according to analysts, it looks like the agreements made this week (if adhered to), will limit warming to 1.8 degrees. Yes, at 1.8 they will have overshot the Paris climate agreement by 0.3 degrees, but it’s far better than a lot of people assumed would be the case. There were many who pessimistically declared we would blow past 2.0 degrees – or higher. 

1.8 degrees is good but the show is not over folks. We are only halfway through and there is more to come. I believe that with increased political pressure combined with newfound awareness by international financiers of the opportunities of a global green economy, the number might get even lower. Greed motivates them and all of a sudden, every banker and investor wants to get in on the action. They want to get a piece of the pie and establish themselves as the new market leader in whatever sector they are operating in. 

It is ironic and darkly humorous that many of the organizations that were trying to stymy climate action (for fear of damage to their bottom line) are now publicly climate champions. As they vie for a photograph with Greta or DeCaprio, they try to flex their green credentials. They now want to be the greenest person in the room. But that’s okay, let them. In my opinion, they should go for it and enjoy the newfound notoriety – even if it’s a bit disingenuous. 

For 12 years and through three cleantech startups, I personally worked with some of the biggest polluters in the dirtiest industries. Ours was a technology that reduced their carbon footprint significantly and increased the safety of their operations.

But it also saved them money – a lot of money.

These companies didn’t care about the reduced carbon other than maybe as a means to collect tax rebates for green incentives. The technology saved them millions each year and so they adopted it. Today, the industry we created is worth 100’s of millions of dollars annually and prevents many thousands of tons of carbon from being emitted. Did I like to work with polluters? No. Was I proud of the climate impact we made? Definitely, and I still am. The truth is, I didn’t really care too much about why they adopted the technology, just that they did adopt it, and that it continues to be a positive force in an otherwise bleak industry. 

So the financiers of today are in the same situation as our industrial customers were then. Sure, some of them have moral higher ground and want to leave a better world for their grandchildren, but mostly they are motivated by greed and money, not altruism. But their actions can have a huge impact and so am I happy to see them pose with Greta or DiCaprio, to let them posture about who is “greener”, and to have them use their trillions to help decarbonize the global economy? Yes, I am.

That said, here are some interesting agreements to come from the first week of COP26: 

  1. A pledge to end deforestation will provide financial help for poorer countries to protect their existing forests, and incentivise industries and investments to reduce deforestation. It is common knowledge that we need a trillion trees planted to offset the emissions and reduce climate change, but the fact is we also need to stop destroying any remaining old-growth forests. Not only for climate but also for biodiversity. These forests and the life that inhabits them took thousands of years to evolve in symbiosis with each other. Once it is all gone it can never be regained.
  2. More than 100 countries joined the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Methane (also known as natural gas) is a greenhouse-depleting gas that is far more dangerous to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Reductions here will provide significant and far-reaching benefits to reduce global warming almost immediately.
  3. GFANZ was created. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero coalition represents banks and other financiers that together hold about 130 trillion dollars of assets. They pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of their portfolios to net-zero by 2050. In addition, the UK has decided to strengthen accountability, requiring these same types of institutions in the UK to publish and abide by their own decarbonization plans. Further, in an interview recently, Noel Quinn, CEO of HSBC, publicly stated that HSBC will help fossil fuel companies transition to green power generation. This is important because while we can no longer have electricity generated from fossil fuels, we also need these businesses to keep the lights on in the short term. A transition you say? Isn’t that just another way to drag out existing investments as long as possible? There is a wonderful catch; any fossil fuel-based company that wants financing going forward (all of them) will have to provide a detailed transition plan. Each one will be scrutinized by experts on a case-by-case basis to avoid greenwashing or false claims. The risks from blanket approvals are simply too great.
  4. Twenty countries have agreed to end financing for fossil fuel development. This is huge. Ending financing for coal was an obvious one that had been discussed for years, but the inclusion of all fossil fuels is huge. The inclusion of oil and natural gas in this process is a necessary and significant step forward.
  5. Twenty-three countries have agreed to end the use of coal for power generation. Coal is the single largest contributor to climate emissions and accounts for huge numbers of deaths globally not just to the effects on climate, but also due to the particulate that is emitted. We need more signatories but this is a very good start.
  6. The last item on the list is not yet ratified but is possibly the single most important step in order for us to stay on target. Accountability. In the midst of a climate crisis, it is rather odd that the parties only meet to discuss whether they are on target every five years. It seems if we only have 10 years to fix this problem, then we need to have more than a couple of check-ins on progress in that time. There is a movement among delegates, including US Senator John Kerry, to increase the reporting, possibly to every year. Corporations and banks report their financials every year, with the health of our planet at stake, why wouldn’t we do the same with so-called binding climate targets?

All in all, the halfway point of COP26 indicates a positive outcome. It will be interesting to see what comes out of next week and the results that arise from the most important meeting of minds this century. I for one feel a sense of rage against those that would knowingly stymie these efforts, but today they are few and their influence diminishing.

Thankfully, my sense of hope for those that will help move us forward is growing and I hope yours is too. 

 

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