The dust has settled on COP26. Now the hard work begins


The COP26 climate summit, held last year in the Scottish city of Glasgow, was in the news around the world.

After days of meticulous and sometimes tense negotiations, the countries agreed on an agreement that was intended to build on the 2015 Paris Agreement and curb the worst effects of climate change.

However, things were not easy. The Glasgow Climate Pact, as it is known, has faced obstacles related to the phasing out of coal, fossil fuel subsidies and financial support for low-income countries.

India and China, both among the world’s largest coal-burners, insisted on a last-minute change in the language of fossil fuels in the pact: from a “phasing out” of coal to a “gradual reduction” . After initial objections, the opposing countries finally conceded.

During a recent debate chaired by CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick, industry figures with experience in both politics and the corporate world reflected on the outcome of the summit and how things could move forward.

“Much more was expected, but what was delivered was truly spectacular,” said Jos Delbeke, the European Commission’s former director general for climate action.

Delbeke, who also holds the European Investment Bank’s chair of climate at the European University Institute, said major oil and gas producers were now “on board” alongside corporations, cities and regional authorities.

“We’ve seen a lot of commitments, so that’s basically the good news,” he said.

“It’s not yet a degree and a half Celsius, as scientists tell us we should get … but it’s a major change,” he said.

The 1.5 degrees Delbeke refers to are related to the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.” “.

Achieving this goal will not be a bad feat. On Monday, the Secretary-General of the United Nations gave a tone of reflection in a speech at the World Economic Forum. “Emissions have to go down, but they keep going up,” António Guterres said. “Coal-fired power generation is on its way to a new all-time high.”

“And even if all developed countries live up to their promise, a very important promise, of drastically reducing emissions by 2030,” he continued, “the problem is that with all developing countries achieving their determined contribution at the national level, especially emerging economies, global emissions would still be too high to sustain [the] 1.5 degree range within reach “.

In simple terms, NDCs refer to individual country targets for reducing emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. According to the United Nations, the Glasgow Climate Pact “calls on all countries to present stronger national action plans next year. [2022], instead of 2025, which was the original timeline “.

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Although the outcome of the negotiations at COP26 left many frustrated, several high-profile promises and announcements were made during the summit.

A joint statement between the United States and China, for example, in which the two superpowers said they would work together on a series of climate-related actions, surprised many.

On the other hand, the signatories of another statement at the summit said that “they will work to ensure that all sales of new cars and vans are zero emissions worldwide by 2040 and by 2035 at the latest in the leading markets. “.

And on November 3, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero said more than $ 130 trillion in private equity had been “committed to transforming the economy to zero net.”

Judy Kuszewski, executive director of Sancroft International, a sustainability consultancy, also spoke on CNBC’s panel last week.

“We rarely ask the business community or individual companies to make promises towards a goal where the path to reach it may not be entirely clear,” he said.

“This is actually a very rare exception, and the fact that there have been a few early adopters of net-zero promises and goals to meet those net-zero promises has been especially daring to make that kind of small leap toward the unknown “.

In recent years, a wide range of high-profile companies, including major oil and gas companies, have made zero promises.

There are also initiatives such as the Amazon Climate Pledge. Its signatories, which include Microsoft, Uber and Unilever, have pledged to what the Pledge calls “zero net carbon” for 2040.

According to the Climate Pledge website, the companies that have subscribed to it have agreed, among other things, to report regularly on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration and “credible offsets”.

No simple solution

While zero net commitments are striking, achieving them is a huge task with significant financial and logistical hurdles. The devil is in the detail and ambitions and goals can often be light in the latter.

Referring to the Glasgow climate summit, Kuszewski of Sancroft International said it was clear that the business community had been “visible and active in a way it had not been before in previous COPs”.

“We see a lot of action from companies to demand a level playing field, bold commitments and a framework in which they know they can operate.”

“So I think it’s a mixed bag, but there’s a lot of reason to hope for progress,” he said.

For his part, Daniel Schmid, director of sustainability for the German software company SAP, stressed the importance of companies having what he called “maturity in attitude and understanding of the holistic view of sustainability … with the environmental, economic and social dimensions and how they are linked “.

Sustainability and trade were intertwined, he argued in the same panel. “There is no business or sustainable business: that is my true belief for the future.”

—CNBC’s Matt Clinch contributed to this report