November 2, 2021

Day one of the World Leaders Summit (COP26): Chaotic, unambitious, but pockets of hope


World leaders attended the World Leaders Summit on November 1st and 2nd and provided statements for the official opening ceremony of COP26. Only six women heads of state were on the list, out of a schedule that included around 100 speakers. 

In his speech, UN Secretary General António Guterres announced an Expert group to propose clearer standards for the net-zero commitments of ‘non-state actors’ (think cities, regions, investors, and corporates). As discussed yesterday, in order to mobilize private capital we need to improve the quantity, quality and comparability of climate-related disclosures, and standards for net-zero commitments would help in this regard. According to MSCI, the operations of the largest 10% of listed companies would lead to a three degree heating of the planet. Earlier in the week, the Science Based Target initiative launched its new Net-Zero Standard, which offers a credible and independent assessment of corporate net-zero targets – a standard which, critically, includes an accounting of Scope 3 emissions. In the lead up to COP26, the UK established the Race to Net Zero, which mobilizes a coalition of leading net-zero initiatives, representing 120 countries, 35 regions, 799 cities, 4,475 companies, 731 educational institutions, 250 financial institutions, and over 3,000 hospitals from 45 healthcare institutions. The Climate Governance Initiative – an international network of more than 100,000 board directors – urged directors to rapidly skill up in order to confront the climate emergency, with a statement that the climate crisis poses the ‘single greatest threat to global financial stability’, and that net-zero should be put at the heart of business strategy. 

Canada’s First Day at COP26

Justin Trudeau used his two minute speech to announce that Canada will put a cap on oil and gas sector emissions, and recommended a minimum global price on emissions (also backed strongly by Angela Merkel and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in their respective speeches). As I wrote yesterday, once Canada exports a product, emissions associated with its use (referred to as Scope 3 emissions), are not included in our national inventory, but are instead included in the national inventory of the country where the emissions are released. So while Canada may be prepared to set its oil and gas sector on a net-zero trajectory, this addresses only marginal amounts of emissions associated with our oil and gas sector. Instead, we urgently need to reduce production, and a strategy to diversify Canada’s economy and energy system away from fossil fuels. Without this, the cap does nothing meaningful to put us on a path consistent with 1.5 degrees warming. 

As we discussed yesterday, Minister Jonathan Wilkinson for Canada along with Minister Jochen Flasbarth for Germany presented a new climate finance plan, to make good on a promise made at the 2009 COP in Copenhagen to deliver $100B a year in climate finance to developing countries. The 2020 deadline has passed, and the new plan has been criticized for pushing the deadline further back to 2023, and for not increasing the pledge of $100B which is now seen as inadequate. 

President Biden discussed his Global Methane Pledge, now signed by 90 countries with a commitment to limit global methane emissions by 30% by 2030. 85-90% of methane comes from the fossil fuel industry, but given its more rapid breakdown, it could offer an immediate opportunity to limit warming by 0.2 degrees. Brazil joined the Pledge, as well as the commitment to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, the first tangible outcome from COP26 so far (although neither the Pledge nor the deforestation deal are part of official negotiations). 

Observer at COP26, Observer of the Chaos

It was chaotic on the streets of Glasgow, with major thoroughfares and places of businesses closing down progressively throughout the day, without warning, cordoned off in preparation for dignitaries to attend a royal reception at the Kelvingrove Museum. With the final closures around 5 p.m., delegates and Glaswegians alike walked for miles through unlit parks, and there was a sense of shared frustration whether you were returning home, peacefully protesting, or trying to navigate your way through a new city in the dark. Capacity issues at the venue meant delegates received urgent messages via flat screens and Twitter messages, to leave the venue as soon as possible if their business in the Blue Zone ‘was complete’. Access to the two main plenary rooms is still restricted, and it is not clear how to access the few passes that are available. The country and institutional Pavilions are hives of activity, although Canada is noticeable for its absence in the main Hall. We were carrying small Canadian flags and we were stopped several times and asked ‘Where’s your Pavilion this year?’. 

I participated in and overheard several conversations between Observer delegates about ‘should we be here?’. It’s a question I asked myself many, many times before making the decision to fly halfway around the world to attend COP26 as an observer. I am, after all, not here as part of an official negotiating party, and I read Wal Van Lierop’s post about ‘climate groupies’, and I cringed. So why am I here?

Official observers to the negotiations are invited from civil society, academia, and ‘non-state actors’ (think cities, states, and corporations), to both deepen their understanding of the climate negotiations and integrate this knowledge into the work of the organizations they represent. The UN developed the observer category in order to increase transparency and accountability, and to build the skills of future negotiators. I am attending COP26 as an Observer for UBC’s Delegation, which is part of the Research and Independent Non-Government Organizations group, commonly known as RINGO. UBC declared a climate emergency in December 2019 and response strategies include increasing civic engagement, as well as the capacity and resources needed for engagement, such as that gained by participating in a COP. 

My objective at COP26 is to learn from the negotiations while watching for important outcomes related to sustainable finance and climate governance, and share what is most important and relevant to Canadian firms, via CCLI’s free board education program and other knowledge mobilization channels.

For a good roundup of other news from Day 1, see the Financial Times report, here.