The First Week of COP26


November 2, 2021


The Latest from COP26.

Carl Pope, leading American conservationist, co-author of ‘Climate of Hope’ with Mike Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club, shares his thoughts after day 1 of the UN climate talks:

COP26 got off to stronger than expected start, as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi substantially strengthened his nation’s climate action goal, 90 nations signed up for the U.S. initiated Global Methane Pledge, and Mike Bloomberg announced a huge new initiative to ensure that by 2025 the world is well on the way to phasing out coal.

Modi signed India up to cap his country’s emissions by 2070 — a symbolic victory for making a 1.5 degree Celsius global goal viable — but more importantly offered a raft of accelerations for the critical next decade: more renewables, emission cuts and a less carbon dependent economy, making India a climate leader that probably won’t need to build more coal (even if he didn’t say so).

He used his speech to lay down the gauntlet, demanding that developed nations keep their unfulfilled Copenhagen pledge to make sure the poorest nations get substantial financial climate finance. That issue remains the biggest challenge for this COP — and a steep hill to climb.


Here’s Carl Pope’s take on Day 2 of COP26, after South Africa added momentum to the climate talks by committing to ditch coal:

Mainstream media will cover this COP as a negotiation between adversaries. It’s not: We are all in the same boat. And we all ought to ignore all that winner/loser-style news coverage.

The UN COP climate talks have become more like an urgent visit to your doctor when you suspect you are very sick, but not sure what to do. As you get sicker, the diagnostic process gets more unpleasant. So do most COPs. This one probably will.

But the real work comes after the doctor figures out just how sick you are and what to do.

Viewed diagnostically, this is a very successful COP so far.

Tuesday’s huge news was that South Africa, a nation whose total economy was being destroyed by out of control, government indulged, coal-power plants, finally realized it had to stop smoking, and get off coal.

Africa’s biggest coal consumer lined up some $8 billion in green financing from the U.S., EU and UK to retire a budget-bleeding coal fleet which has literally put the entire economy at risk from deficits.

Since South Africa has placed the continent’s biggest bet on coal, and may even be the most coal addicted country in the world, a clear pathway has been opened for the world’s most energy starved continent to leap frog to a clean energy future.

Financing Decarbonization Takes Center Stage in Glasgow:

Here’s Carl Pope’s latest dispatch from the COP26 Climate Talks:

The focus at COP26 has shifted from what nations will do to what they, so far, have not done: Honestly grapple with the challenge of how to finance global decarbonization while paying for the costs and damages already being inflicted by a disrupted climate.

The nations which prospered from fossil powered development now concede they haven’t met their Copenhagen commitment — which is $100 billion a year by 2020 for developing nation climate finance.

Narendra Modi laid down the gauntlet in his speech Monday, and he has been joined by a host of others. Specific climate finance platforms and partnerships have been announced, and even more are anticipated.

The conversation here needs more scale, and it’s time to realize that climate finance is not one but two quite different problems.

First, someone must pay for the costs and losses which result from a legacy of a disrupted climate; disasters like typhoons, stranded assets like coffee plantations on overheated slopes, and ongoing increased expenses from making infrastructure resilient to climate disruption. These are real costs and they need to be collectively insured.

Second, a much more rapid expansion of clean energy will not only reduce future climate damages, but also dramatically slash global energy prices.

Clean energy is now so much cheaper than fossil fuels that the profits can be a big part of the solution for paying for climate losses and damages. But here the up front money needs to be invested. And the scale is far bigger than the Copenhagen 100 billion.

The newly announced Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero — led by Mark Carney and Mike Bloomberg — represents more than 450 investors, and has collectively pledged $130 trillion dollars to finance the clean energy transition.

But the conversation about who helps pay the insurance premiums against rising sea level, and one about how global finance can enable more rapid scaling of cheaper clean energy are going to move at very different paces, and really should be seen as separate problems to be solved.

Friday AM
The biggest news from COP26 will largely be ignored — for good reasons.

For the first time, two major (and conservative) analytic voices have concluded that the promises the world has made under the Paris Agreement can, indeed, achieve the high end of the Paris goals — capping warming at 2 degrees centigrade.

India’s climate pledge made in Glasgow, among many others, made a sizeable difference in both estimates.

The University of Melbourne reported that it found the most likely result of current promises was a 1.9 degree temperature rise. Using a different methodology, the world’s top energy agency, the IEA, found 1.8 degrees to be within reach.

Even a few years ago, such findings would have been hailed as major progress — and indeed they are, as they represent about a .8 degree reduction in warming over the state of play six months ago.

IEA’s Fatih Birol accurately tweeted, “A big step forward, but much more is needed!”

Global anxieties and expectations have been rising, perhaps faster even than this progress, because the world has been brutally mugged by the realities of an already destabilized climate with far less than 1.9 degrees of warming — droughts, fires, freezes, floods.

Just as the Melbourne and IEA “we can make 2 degrees” news broke, the UN’s “Adaptation Gap Report” concluded that total global investment in increasing resilience in the face of climate change needed to be increased — by five to ten-fold!

And a failure to meet that rising hurdle represents, according to other reports, a major threat to the creditworthiness of even Southern European nations.

So, no, COP26 will not put the world on track. The inadequacy of the pledges is not the big risk — decarbonization has its own momentum. If we move as fast as the world has pledged, that momentum will increase and close the gap between 1.9C and 1.5C or even less.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak summarized it this way: Now that many of the building blocks of a carbon free world have been identified, the most vital need is to turn the promised new “wall of capital” into actual financial flows — quickly.

The data shows that this has not been happening — the momentum green capital had before the pandemic has faded. But the best outcome of the COP will be if it opens the spigot, this time widely enough for the entire world.



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Carl Pope

Carl Pope

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, former executive director & chairman Sierra Club and Senior Climate Advisor to Michael Bloomberg