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COP26 – What Was Agreed And Was it Enough?

For the future of the planet and all its flora and fauna, COP26 was the most important event in a long time. World leaders gathered in Glasgow in order to attempt to agree a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 C.

197 parties attended and agreed upon the Glasgow Climate Pact. The pact is the first climate deal to explicitly commit to reducing global use of coal but, due in large part to obstinacy from India and China, the commitments fell far short of what many of us expected.

Consequently, while the new pact is an important next step from the Paris Agreement, it left many of us with bitter tastes in our mouths. The aim was not to reverse global warming, nor even to halt it, but to limit it to 1.5C to try to avoid a climate catastrophe, and we couldn’t even do that. This is the defining issue of our era and our inability to form a consensus around radical action will surely be damned by future generations.

What Was Agreed At COP26?

The first thing to say here is that the agreement, such as it was, is not legally binding. Countries can still at a future date decide to go back on their promises, although the repercussions for their international relations would likely be significant.

Emissions & fossil fuels.

It was agreed that countries will meet next year to agree further cuts to carbon emissions. Frustratingly, no targets were set now – countries only committed to attempting to set new targets next year. It’s absolutely vital that this does happen, and that the cuts are significant – at current levels we will hit an absolutely disastrous 2.4C of global warming.

On a more encouraging note, the parties made an explicit commitment to cutting down use of coal for the very first time. Coal burning is responsible for 40% of global emissions so this is a vital step. There was only an agreement to ‘phase down’ coal, however, rather than phase out, which is frustratingly vague. This was reportedly due to firm resistance from India and China, who believe that the impacts on their economies from phasing out coal would be too dramatic. T

World leaders also agreed to phase out subsidies of coal, oil and natural gas. This is welcome news, but the commitments were somewhat mealymouthed and no firm dates were set.

Developing countries.

This was an extremely important part of the conversation. Developed nations have contributed massively to carbon emissions over the past 100 years, and now are turning to developing nations and reprimanding them for the same thing. It’s a difficult discussion to have, but it must be had.

The answer is for developed nations to help the developing world to do this, both financially and technologically. That way it doesn’t smack so badly of the developed world pulling up the ladder behind them.

At COP26 it was agreed that developed nations would greatly increase their financial support to developing nations to help them A) switch to cleaner energy sources and B) cope with the effects of climate change, which will disproportionately affect poorer nations.

A trillion dollar fund was discussed, for putting in place from 2025. This came after the developed world failed to meet a previous pledge to provide $100bn per year by 2020.

It’s a lot of money, but many poor countries believe it doesn’t go far enough. They could be doubly affected by global warming:trying to grow industry without using fossil fuels, and directly feeling the impacts of climate change. Richer countries owe it to them to ensure they have the support they need.

Conclusion – Clade’s View

It was great to see powerful words being spoken by world leaders in support of robust action. But since the event, everything seems to have gone very quiet. There were strong announcements, crippling compromises and a greater than ever presence of corporations and business. But now what?

Vulnerable states, such as those islands in the Pacific, clearly made the case that this is life and death for them right now. Scientists made the case that the climate emergency is life and death for our children. There is no doubt this is an emergency situation with very little time to act.
So, where’s the emergency reaction? Where’s the funding from the magic money tree? Where’s the daily briefing and meetings of COBRA?

We’ve seen a steady rise in interest in decarbonising heat, which started well before COP and we can’t say we’ve seen a thundering rush since the emotional closing speech from Alok Sharma.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The fossil fuel companies and countries had more people at COP than any other group. It doesn’t seem likely that their intentions are good – the faster we get to hell the better as far as they are concerned.

There are certainly plenty of consultants selling net zero plans and decarbonisation strategies, soaking up money that should be funding actual work to reduce emissions. There’s lots of indecision on investment, wasted time and effort.

We need far firmer action in terms of carbon pricing and regulatory management of emissions. If countries decide to prioritise their own economic development over their climate commitments, there must be a united international reaction – including trade embargoes and isolation. We should collectively make it practically impossible to choose economic growth over climate commitments.

Regarding heat, it’s pretty simple really, a building that burns fossil fuel for heat must move to using a heat pump. The benefits of doing this are numerous and well documented, especially in the commercial and industrial sectors.

There are, on the other hand, some good things to look forward to next year. The UK Government is due to take a close look at the relative tax burden between gas and power. If, as we hope they will, they take action to level the playing field then that opens the doors to the financing of heat pumps which changes the game. We’re preparing for that with Clade Cloud – a suite of digital services for connected heat pumps.

We also have more rounds of PSDS funding which is a demonstration of the UK stepping up and taking action. Lessons are being learned and I’m sure delivery will become both cheaper and faster.

In Clade’s view, COP26 was a partial success at best. Imagine yourself looking on Earth from an alien perspective. What would you make of the dominant species choosing not to act quickly enough, endangering their very existence? The unfortunate truth is that everyone knows what needs to be done, but greed and self interest continue to triumph over the common good. In the end, decarbonising is a job for all of us and it’s a practical engineering job. Pipes, pumps, valves and good engineering practice.