Young people poured into the streetsGlasgow on Nov. 5-6 2021, angry as hell and impatient for the first week of the U.N. climate summitThe meeting was called off. Their anger is matched with anxiety in the conference rooms as the enormity in which so much must be accomplished in such a short time hovers above a complex process that can become sclerotic.
I’ve been involved in the climate negotiations for several years as a former senior U.N. officialAnd I am now in Glasgow. At the start of the second week, here’s what I’m seeing and hearing, both inside the negotiations and outside.
A shift from 2050 goals to 2030
To slow climate change, all parts of our economies need to transform. This is reflected in the conference sessions running in parallel to the formal negotiations and in the constituencies that turned out in real strength the first week – executives from central banks, CEOs of global banks and institutional investors, young people, indigenous peoples leaders, faith communities, advocacy groups and the world’s media.
There has been a shift at this year’s summit, from making pledges to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to a focus on actions to cut emissions by 2030.
The Energy Transitions CommissionA coalition of non-governmental organizations and businesses calculated that if the commitments made to COP26 are fulfilled, it will reduce the gap between today’s 1.5 C trajectory and today’s in carbon dioxide emissions by half and almost 40% for methane. The world would be approximately 9 gigatons closer than the 22 gigatons of emission reductions required.
That’s a start.
Big deals, big claims
The first week of COP26 was about building momentum – big deals and big claims outside the negotiations, with different coalitions of countries, companies and others, pushing action forward.
Some of those pledges will likely collapse like a souffle in the weeks and months that follow, when a company’s board balks at some of the details or when they re-run the numbers under greater scrutiny.
There were also notable coalitions that announced pledges cutting methane? ending deforestationDiverting international public finances away from fossil fuelsAnd into clean energy. The international financial communityA broad alliance of companies formed to achieve net zero and attract new customers. accusations of greenwashing.
The U.N. secretary General announced an expert groupTo set clear standards for companies and other parties making net zero commitments
Intensifying formal negotiations
At this point in the negotiations, the U.K. – which holds the COP26 presidency – will drive efforts to wrap up some remaining parts of the rulebook for implementing the Paris climate agreement.
It will also be pushing for agreement on a “cover statement,” which will include a whole raft of issues. At this point, it is a long list of issues ranging from human rights, youth engagement and a just transition to more technical and procedural issues, such as how to recalibrate countries’ climate commitments and actions each year and how to ensure finance flows to adaptation, not just mitigation.
A “High Ambition Coalition” is emerging, led by the Climate Vulnerability ForumA group of approximately 20 countries that face high-risk and sometimes even existential climate change threats. They have demanded that a Climate Emergency Pact that would include: a plan to deliver finance to help them adapt to climate change over the next few years, an agreement to increase those funds beyond that period, progress on finance involving loss and damage from climate change, an agreement on carbon markets, and a process for raising countries’ commitments each year until the world is on track.
In the second week of negotiations, ministers from around the globe are taking control of log jams and taking over their negotiators.
The inside and the outside can be joined
The gulf between what’s happening inside the negotiations, and what press releases from events outside the negotiating rooms are saying could widen.
In the interior, negotiators are unable to agree billions of dollarsClimate finance is expected from wealthy countries to support poorer nations. On the outside, however, press releases discuss trillions of dollars in private investmentThe commitment to net-zero emissions is a sign that the problem can be solved.
On the outside, however, some analysts tally commitmentsTo see if each brings the world closer towards a trajectory that keeps global warming below 1.5 C, inside discussions about transparency and reporting on climate progress have stalled.
The atmosphere is not all negative. There is hope. agreement on carbon marketsAfter painfully prolonged talks at the summits in Madrid two years ago and Katowice three years ago, it is possible to find a solution.
Ultimately, the Glasgow conference can only be called a success when emissions start to slow and reverse and wealthy nations are able to put finance and real support behind poorer communities’ adaptation so they can become more resilient to the climate driven crises still to come.
Opportunities for talent
While all of this is resolved, think about this: In every meeting I have been in – with green banks in developing countries and their micro-entrepreneurs, Silicon Valley CEOs, finance chiefs, management consultancies and mayors – there is an additional concern that goes beyond the need for better policy, new regulation and a braver political class. Their concern is about the lack of talent or the talent pipeline. As every country and bank moves to a net-zero pathway for its funds and banks, engineers, data analysts, planners, and policy experts will be required to chart the course and lead.
The transition is happening, Glasgow needs to deliver. The world needs to train for and prepare for the sprint towards 2030 in a race against the emissions.
This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
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