After two weeks of controversial discussions, almost 200 countries adopted a compromise climate deal to keep the key global warming target alive. The outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition at COP27, set to take place in Egypt next year.
Dr Sarah Graham, the founder of Creative Building Performance, attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and here are her key takeaways.
‘Narrow COP@’ falls short
Firstly, there is consensus that so-called ‘Narrow COP’, aimed at maintaining global temperatures below 1.5 degrees of warming, falls short. Current policies, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and pledges for 2030 project a warming of around 2.4 by the end of the century. The IPCC has called for carbon emissions to fall to zero from 2030 to keep the flame of the 1.5 limit alive.
The policies that countries actually have in place are not as strong as the pledges they have made. Under the national policies in place today, the world is expected to warm 2.7 degrees or more by 2100. Some of the countries that have made international climate promises have not yet enshrined their intentions into law. In the United States, for example, the Biden administration has promised to halve emissions by 2030, but Congress has yet to pass the necessary legislation to drive that.
Difficult aspects of the Paris agreement are still being hashed out. Many of these questions are about finance—who pays for mitigating climate change in poor countries? Another challenging point is Article 6, which governs accounting for carbon reductions traded in international carbon markets. These are important issues with long-term ramifications for whether countries can avoid cutting carbon at home by buying emissions offsets from poorer countries, a loophole that would hamper the Paris Agreement’s ability to reduce emissions.
The 2050 target does nothing as a call to action. Mark Carney calls this the “tragedy of the horizon”. He says that the horizon of a normal business cycle is typically 2 to 3 years, the political cycle is four years.
The horizon over which catastrophic impacts of climate change are experienced is much longer and by the time those physical impacts happen, it's too late. His solution is to bring the future to the present in order to drive action today. However there is hope...
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill
Peter Lacy, Global Sustainability Services Lead at Accenture, cited this Winston Churchill quote in framing the fact that progress is being made and in my 25 years as an engineer involved in sustainable design and operation of buildings I have seen a great deal of positive change. So I wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on some of the many positives covered by so-called ‘Broad COP’.
Since Paris, the projected warming to the end of the century has improved.
There has been a doubling of financial commitment to help poor countries adapt.
More than 100 countries pledged to halt deforestation by 2030, including the US.
The First Movers Coalition formed with a commitment to buy zero-carbon steel and concrete, creating demand for climate-friendly products.
The joint statement between the US and China to boost climate cooperation, this joint diplomatic action in itself signals that progress is possible.
The Paris Agreement, and the Glasgow conference, enable what PWC term the Flywheel of Progress – that is the feedback loop of cheaper technology, business investment, and favourable politics that drive decarbonisation—to spin faster and faster.
So, post COP, we see there is an appetite for decarbonisation and that momentum is gathering. The importance of Glasgow is that any deal signals the Paris Agreement is alive and continues forward. It also shows that the world is paying attention to those who aim to frustrate progress and impoverish the world.
Who is taking action?
The G7 Countries committed to mandatory Climate-related disclosures. New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom have all announced the move towards mandatory reporting. Also, The European Union has a broader disclosure process which will be brought into law.
Copenhagen is set to be carbon neutral by 2025, building on 10 years of planning development infrastructure that has already taken place.
Businesses taking action
The launch of the Science-Based Targets Initiative standard is offering credible targets and driving tangible action for businesses. In 2 years they have gone from 28 companies to over 1000, representing a business ambition of $23 trillion.
Sustainable goals and targets are not just for big businesses with lots of financial resources at their disposal. SMEs represent 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. In the UK 99% of businesses are SMEs, employing more than 60% of the workforce. Post pandemic SMEs are looking at how they can make the UN Sustainable Development Goals work for them, allowing them to enhance their opportunities within larger supply chains, as well as respond to customer pressure for environmentally responsible products and services.
Throughout COP this theme of businesses taking the lead in the transition to a low carbon economy was front and centre. Accenture's CEO Survey suggested that Net Zero and the UN SDGs are achievable by 2030 and at least by 2050. Businesses can’t afford to wait, Investor pressure around transparency in terms of climate related risk is growing. Annual cash flow into sustainable funds more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 and has increased tenfold since 2018.
COP26 Built Environment day highlighted the role of buildings and construction in meeting the Paris goals. Private companies recognise the sizeable opportunity construction and real estate presents globally. Alignment on targets, definitions and clarity around carbon offsetting helps markets and policymakers to firm up the roadmap for transition which gives manufacturers, developers, investors and owners reassurance.
Another inspirational and motivational COP theme is the swell of public opinion from youth groups.
I am embracing the Daydream Believer’s Daydream Believers - Daydream Believers #GetOnWithIt mindset in my day to day life to drive action over words. Investing in and empowering young people to use their voice and their creativity to protect their future.
I felt COP brought to light lots of positives, lots of action as well as some very big challenges.
We have the skills, the technology, the will, we have an abundance of data.
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