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The view from inside the Glasgow climate summit – signs of progress as talks intensify, amid grandstanding and anger outside
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The view from inside the Glasgow climate summit – signs of progress as talks intensify, amid grandstanding and anger outside


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 summitIt was over. 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. officialI’m in Glasgow right now. 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 to 2030 goals

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.

Research has shown that the world requires cut global emissions 45% by 2030Global warming should be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) in comparison to pre-industrial times. This is the goal of the Paris climate agreement.

The Energy Transitions CommissionThe coalition of businesses and nongovernmental organisations, COP26, has calculated that if the commitments made at COP26 were fulfilled, it would cut the gap between today’s 1.5 C trajectory and 1.5 C trajectory by half for carbon dioxide and by almost 40% in methane. The world would be 9 gigatons closer towards the 22 gigatons needed to reduce emissions.

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.

An announcement was made by U.N. Secretary-General expert groupTo propose clear standards to companies and others who make 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 20 countries that are facing extreme risks and even existential threats from climate change. They called for 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.

Within, negotiators can’t agree on billions of dollarsClimate finance is expected to be sourced from wealthy countries to aid poorer countries. However, outsiders are hearing about it in press releases. 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 determine if each moves the world closer toward a trajectory that keeps warming below 1.5 C. Inside discussions on transparency about climate progress and reporting are stalled.

Greta Thunberg with other young protesters.
After the first week of COP26, young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunburg reflected the frustration outside, declaring at a rally: ‘It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.’
Peter Summers/Getty Images

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, the world will need engineers and data analysts to plan the course and lead.

The transition is underway, Glasgow must deliver, and the entire world must train and prepare to sprint to 2030 in a race for zero emissions.

COP26: the world’s biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.

The Conversation is here for you to clarify the air and get reliable information amid a flood of climate news stories and stories. Read more of our U.S. global coverage.

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