COP26: Were The Deck Chairs Sufficiently Shuffled?

People’s Advocate for COP26.

updated throughout conference

COP26. It sounds like a police officer who can’t be named. For me it raises questions that range from what happened to COP25, through to whether all decisions are made in advance or anything really happens at the conference. Even if decisions are announced, what is the point anyway if there is no way to ensure promises are kept? If we are like a ship headed for an iceberg of a 1.5°C temperature rise, would we really change course, or be confident the ship cannot sink?

Here are the answers so far to the questions I had I will continue collecting and updating, which may save others hunting around. As I answer some questions, others arise so I plan to keep updating this over the next few days (until 31 Oct 201 at least). Hopefully this page will provide both information and the links that are useful in one place.

  • COP26: Behind the name.
    • Glasgow: 26th Conference Of Parties: 31 October – 12 November 2021.
  • What Makes COP26 Important?
  • Why Meet? People Attend, Not Countries, So Who, and Why?
  • Why Is It That Nothing Really Happens?
    • Pledges And Commitments.
    • What the Commitments mean.
    • Why Nothing Was Every Going To Happen.
    • Binding Agreements?
    • What Should Have Happened.
  • Is This Really An Iceberg?
  • Conclusion

COP26: Behind the name.

Glasgow: 26th Conference Of Parties: 31 October – 12 November 2021.

OK, so COP is ‘Conference Of Parties’, but because that doesn’t say much, they are also referred to as United Nations Climate Change conference, and this really is the 26th one.

Previous Conferences: Names, COP25, Full List and Summary.

Names: Previous Conferences have not really been known by number.

I don’t really recall previous conferences giving much attention to their “COPXX” label. I think of the Kyoto and Paris meetings as more famous for the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Climate Accords, and did not even know them as being COP3 (Kyoto, 1997 ) or COP21 (Paris).

However, while the Kyoto Protocol was initiated at the COP3 in 1997, COP4 through COP10 all played a role in evolving it before it finally became effective in 2005, and it remained the key focus of meetings until 2015.

The Paris Climate Accords originated from the meeting in CPO21 in Paris in 2015, but were also the primary point of discussion the next few years.

While previous significant steps are named after cities, rather than meeting numbers, as now this is the 26th meeting and cities can have repeat visits (Bonn has had 5 already), maybe it is time to use the numbers.

COP25: Problematic, and in its own climate problems.

The previous meeting, COP25 in 2019, was a bit of a mess. It was planned to be in Brazil, but upon election as President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro withdrew Brazil from hosting the event. Then it was to be Chile as host, but that also ran into problems and at the last minute it ended up being in Spain, and this was also during the time Trump was president of the USA.

Full List Of Conferences and Summaries.

The list is available on the Wikipedia page, and I will update with more links.

COP15: Copenhagen in 2009 was notable for failing despite high hopes. (to be updated)

Why Is COP26 Important: Much Has Happened, Hype and Inevitable Iceberg.

The importance is not some periodic special meeting, it is the appetite of many attending for action and the recognition that while there have been 25 previous occasions to talk, action has had little impact.

There Is No Schedule Of Important Conferences.

cnn: Annual global temperature compared to pre-industrial levels, in degrees Celsius

Why is this COP26 so important? I had wondered if it was there was a schedule of minor and major conferences, and this was a major one, but it seems not. Conferences seem to be remembered for what was agreed, or the initiatives they launched. It seems there is no schedule of important conferences, and a conference becomes important when there is seen to be a consensus to get something done at a specific conference. So with that background, COP26 Glasgow is seen as important, because many think there is more appetite and opportunity to get more done than ever before. It is now seen as critical that more than ever before is achieved. This environment of hope is what makes this meeting important.

Much Has Happened: A Years Delay, Government Changes, Fires And Floods.

So COP26 is seen as important because:

  • The recent climate report was significant, resulting in many now seeing the situation as an emergency.
  • Recent climate events of fires, floods and more, have attracted people’s, and specifically voters, attention.
  • COP25 was a mess, Covid-19 has delayed this meeting by 1 year, so it has been a while.

Hype: ‘The Last Chance’ and Doomsday.

In the time since the last functional meeting, the symptoms of climate change have ramped up significantly. This meeting has been hyped to be both:

  • The last chance to keep temperature rises to within 1.5oC.
  • Occurring with the doomsday clock at 1 minute to midnight.
Even sky news labelled COP26 “The Last Chance”

Prince Charles declared COP26 “Literally the last chance saloon” to save the planet. Yes, he literally said ‘literally’.

It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock, and we need to act now. If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.

I was there in Paris six years ago when we agreed to net zero, and to try to restrain the rise in the temperature of the planet to 1.5 degrees. And all those promises will be nothing but “blah, blah, blah,” to coin a phrase, and the anger and the impatience of the world will be uncontainable unless we make this COP26 in Glasgow the moment when we get real about climate change.

Boris Johnson

UK lawmaker Alok Sharma is chairing the summit, and his agenda focuses on “keeping 1.5 alive,” which means containing warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

CNN: World leaders meet for ‘last best chance’ COP26 climate talks in Glasgow

When you say something is the “last chance”, it could become like the boy who cried wolf. Next conference, the ‘people of the village’ will just say, “you said it was the last chance last time!”.

After having declared ‘last chance’, then it future it can only be:

  1. Either we must have done enough.
  2. Or we can no longer keep temperatures to within 1.5oC.

Perhaps it is the goal of Boris Johnson to be able to declare “we must have done enough!”? After all, he won’t be in the hot seat next time. Of course if we did do enough, perhaps we would not need a next time.

In reality, no one believes there is a chance that next year everyone will be declaring “we must have done enough”, because as always, not enough will be done.

If climate change is to be halted, “business as usual” is simply not going to cut it.

By COP27, 1.5oC Will Be Inevitable.

In reality, the only way playing the “last chance” card makes sense is that, whatever happens at this conference, the chance to halt climate at 1.5oC has already passed. The graph above from CNN suggests temperatures have already risen 1.3oC, with around 0.4oC of rise occurring in the past 10 years. With targets discussed at the conference for 2030 at the earliest, the chance of avoiding a further 0.2oC degree rise seem extremely low. Note, there are other graphs, so I will check how consistent they are.

As for the doomsday clock, that does seem somewhat in excess. At what amount of rise is mankind actually facing annihilation? It turns out the doomsday clock is a countdown to global catastrophe. So we are back to the problem of: just what is catastrophe?

For Mr. Guterres, and the hundreds of scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scenario of 1.5°C warming, is the “only liveable future for humanity”.

COP26 – what we know so far, and why it matters: Your UN News guide

So, host Boris Johnson aside, the real importance is the believe at a future conference, the words “we told you” can be used.

Why Meet? People Attend, Not Countries, So Who, and Why?

Almost All National Leaders Attend, Who Is Absent?

Notable absentees: Xi Xiping from China, Vladimir Putin from Russia, Jair Bolsonaro.

The list and reasons:

  • President Xi Jinping of China.
    • Has not left China since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and is expected to appear by video. China is likely to be represented by vice-environment minister Zhao Yingmin and climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, who has confirmed he will attend.
  • President Vladimir Putin: Will check on representatives.
    • No reason given, but Russian economy would collapse if the world stops buying and burning Russia’s fossil fuels
  • Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
    • Advised by doctors to rest, will deliver a recorded address.
  • Pope Francis.
    • A possibility that the pope or or that Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin will address the conference by video.
  • Iranian President Ebraham Raisi.
    • local politicians were calling for a criminal investigation if he set foot in Scotland.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Vice President Hamilton Mourao.
    • Neither will attend. Just maybe it is political.
  • Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
    • Mexico may not send anyone because of pandemic restrictions and costs.
  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
    • South African elections on Nov. 1.
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
    • APEC conference hosted by Ardern to commence

Who Is In?

Everyone not on the ‘absent’ list is in to my knowledge, but there are people who have been late confirmations where there was speculation they would not attend. I will also update this list.

Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia.

Who Else Attends? 25,000!

25,000 People, Travelling Mostly By Plane, And In A Pandemic? Err…. no

There are reports that that 25,000 people will descend on Glasgow, but in reality it appears includes people who arrive just to make their presence felt, sometimes from no further then Edenborough, and not necessarily all by plane.

World Leaders.

There is a world leaders summit, where assumedly there are not even ‘handlers’, but I am trying to confirm if this is one representative per country only.

Delegates.

In the innermost ring, blue-badged diplomats from almost 200 countries will debate the wording of a statement that’s released at the meeting’s conclusion, which contains any actual decisions. Other venues in Glasgow will be flooded by celebrities, industry groups, climate activists and academic researchers, all with their own priorities. Protests are expected. It will be like a session of Congress, a trade show and a political demonstration all rolled into one

NPR: The COP26 summit to fight climate change is about to start. Here’s what to expect.

Why Have A Face To Face Meeting During A Pandemic?

The pandemic might be seen as the perfect moment for the UN to use technology for negotiations, and it was attempted during a preparatory meeting for COP in June, which ran for three weeks.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well – time-zone and technology challenges made it almost impossible for countries with limited resources, progress was limited and decisions were put off.

As a result, many developing nations have insisted on having an in-person COP. They feel that it is far easier for their voices to be ignored on a dodgy Zoom connection.

They also bring a lived experience of climate change that it is critical for rich countries to hear first-hand.

BBC. COP26: Does a climate summit need 25,000 people? And more questions

The small nations by banding together do gain influence that is difficult without a conference, and this was transformational in Paris.

What is the point in attending?

The delegation from each country participates in the wording and commitment to the statement released at the meetings conclusion, and this does involve significant negotiation. Most countries will have already agreed prior to the conference what they can do or cannot do in terms of action, but their list will include some items open to negotiation depending on commitments by others. There is a high stakes bidding war, like in a game of bridge, where people will only raise their bids when others bid high.

Peripheral groups will exchange ideas build proposals to put to the delegates. Other groups of high profile people, as well as protestors, will be there solely to put pressure on the delegates.

A number of proposals for countries to endorse or will occur during the conference. A country having voted for a proposal creates some pressure for the country to comply, but nothing concrete.

Why Is It That Nothing Will Really Happen?

National Pledges And Commitments Prior To and At COP26.

What the Commitments mean.

Pre meeting.

As France has declared, commitments by the Australian government do not always reach conclusion. The reality is none of the commitments to 2050 mean much, and none included interim targets and a promises from well beyond the terms of the governments making the commitments. New Zealand did make a 2030 commitment, which is at least something. In reality, New Zealand is a relatively low consumer of fossil fuels other than in transport. Saudi Arabia has declared targets but has also expressed scepticism about the IEA reports findings.

Deforestation: Day 2.

The deforestation commitment could be the most significant, if only the countries really act on it. A big problem is, why wait for several more elections and changes of government to commit to starting? What is the mechanism to provide the financial incentive for this reversal of deforestation?

The cut to methane emissions is one of the most cynical. Certainly, globally around 50% of measured methane emissions result from leakages within gas distribution systems, and stopping this leakage should be significant. Stopping that leakage is a good idea, but why is the no plan to stop or reduce extracting the methane in the first place? The big problem is using natural gas as a fuel, not the leakage. The entire methane thing is very distorted. Fortunately not all countries signed up, as for some countries, that only way to follow this would be concrete their national parks, and the commitment would go directly against the deforestation commitment. Yes, the way methane emissions are counted, deforestation lowers methane emissions. All ecosystems that are carbon sinks, also emit methane, and in weird logic, we count these emissions of methane. The big problem with this initiative is that no commitment to reducing the source of the leaks was included, and that is the real problem. In fact the USA which introduced the plan, is significantly expanding gas pipelines, wiping out any wins from its pledge, as well as requesting more oil production.

The financial commitment is full of big numbers, but low on real impact on ending fossil fuels.

Members of Carney’s group GFANZ are meant to set interim targets for 2025 or 2030 to fulfil long-term, net-zero plans. But no one agrees on what targets should cover and how to measure progress. Nor are financial firms required to commit to phasing out finance for oil and gas. In fact, an analysis by the Rainforest Action Network found fossil fuel financing from private banks has increased since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Are financiers greenwashing COP26?

In terms of finance, the biggest problem is support for fossil fuel projects. Green projects will still only get finance if economically viable, and financiers will make money from them, so the biggest change would be for financiers to stop also making money from emissions.

In summary, the deforestation commitment will be a great thing if it is acted on, and other steps are at least positive, but have no impact on 1.5°C or within a timeframe that would have any impact.

Talk Has Been Fine, But Actions Have Never Been Sufficient.

Looking at the graph of temperature rises since COP talks began, the best you can say is perhaps the rate of temperature increase has stabilized. Yet in defiance of the adage often attributed to Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, COP talks keep doing the same things over and over again.

I suggest COP26 is mostly attended by politicians who blindly believe, but do not cast a true sceptic eye over the gap between what actually makes sense, that the token gestures being implemented.

Either participants fell and an early hurdle and just play along for votes, or they fell at hurdle 5, and are not sure what disaster they are avoiding.

Greta Thunberg on COP26:

Making Cop26 a success, Thunberg suggested, requires unflinching honesty about “the gap between what we are saying and what we are actually doing … That’s not what we are doing now. We are trying to find concrete, small solutions that are symbolic in order to make it seem like we are doing something, without actually confronting the problem at all. We are still not counting all the emissions when we are announcing targets. We are still using creative accounting when it comes to emissions cuts, and so on. As long as that’s the case, we will not get very far.”

Guardian.

I will put it another way. All the steps taken so far have failed to slow climate change. Without something far more radical being proposed, climate change will clearly continue. This is acceptable if the reality is the level of ‘disaster’ we are headed towards is not really that bad.

What’s The Point, Are There Any Binding Agreements?

At least often, the conference works to create a statement that will be endorsed at closing. There are also the resolutions voted on during the conference which many countries pledge to support.

So far, while emissions have been reduced from countries either fully or partially following their commitments, there are also many occasions where countries fail to comply or just announce they will no longer comply.

What happens when countries fail to honour those statement and pledges?

I have found some points on discussions at previous meetings on how to make agreements binding, and what penalties can be imposed on those who do not comply.

Could countries ever consider sanctions or even intervention to ensure countries comply?

It will depend on how desperate nations become. If a countries is dispatching weapons that cause significant damage in other countries, then at some people countries band together and try to stop them. There could come a point when CO2 emissions are seen as a weapon of mass destruction. However, the nations most vulnerable to the impact of climate change are typically not powerful nations, and the main contributors are very powerful nations. Might tends to be right.

What Could Have, Should Have Happened?

The real problem facing the world is the extraction of fossil fuels puts CO2 from sequestration long ago back into the atmosphere, together with deforestation limiting natural sequestration. All else, including methane, is a distraction or playing at the edges.

Many countries with 2050 net zero emissions pledges, have no plan to address scope 3 emissions which are the emissions they are responsible for that they don’t count. The UAE will be net zero by 2050 but still funding emission offest by selling oil.

The biggest uses of fossil fuels are for electricity production, and for transport. Both now have what it turns out are lower cost solutions that eliminate the use of fossil fuels:

  • Solar and Wind are now lower cost than fossil fuel generated power, but there is the storage problem to solve.
  • Electric vehicles are now lower cost to manufacture than Internal Combustion Engines but there are development costs to amortise and batteries are still too expensive.

Both of these challenges would really benefit from a concerted effort on battery technology. There are also other steps that could accelerate both transitions.

Of course, a significant problem is that both lower cost power and lower cost vehicles introduce more efficiency and thus would reduce economic activity. Not good for the ‘big end of town!’.

Is 1.5°C Really Equivalent To The Planet Hitting An Iceberg?

Our civilization was sailing along, and then someone suggested there might be a problem ahead. Climate change due to fossil fuels. More recently it has been said that a global temperature increase of 1.5oC, could be bring catastrophe. That 1.5oC will be like the Titanic hitting an iceberg, but just like with the Titanic, there is a dominant line of thought that this ship is unsinkable.

A huge part of the problem is there is no clear picture of what the climate change disaster will look like. We can picture a ship that sinks, but 2o warmer doesn’t sound that bad, and so what if a few people will lose their beachside homes? Ok, there are countries who will be impacted badly by sea level rise, but with predictions of one foot (30cm), it does not sound that bad.

A separate topic is being created to explore this and try to resolve the discrepancy between ‘an existential threat’, and a one foot rise in sea levels and 2 degrees warmer.

Conclusion: Politicians Believe The Ship Can’t Sink.

COP26 President Alok Sharma has endorsed “keep 1.5 alive” , while the UK is about to approve a major new oil development.

If 1.5oC is the “only liveable future for humanity” , then we are in trouble. As predicted, this “last chance to avoid 1.5°C” came and went, and nothing seemed to happen that will result in avoidance. In fact, on current trends it looks like we would reach 1.5°C during this decade, yet India focused on 2070, China and Saudi Arabia on 2060, and many other doing little but announce a 2050 target with no real plan or accountability as the people in charge now will be gone by then.

If 1.5°C is for the Earth is the equivalent of the iceberg for the Titanic, then those running the ship feel confident it is unsinkable. At least by the current threat. In the past 2 years there have been the floods in Germany, and ‘unprecedented’ forest fires elsewhere. These events have raised public profile of climate, and it if continues, we will finally see a COP conference that is serious.

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