UNEP and its partners have embraced a range of digital technologies to accelerate climate action, nature protection and pollution prevention.
As a thick haze descended over New Delhi last month, air quality monitors across the Indian capital began to paint a grim picture.
The smoke, fed by the seasonal burning of crops in northern India, was causing levels of the toxic particle PM 2.5 to spike, a trend residents could track in real time on theGlobal Environment Monitoring System for Air(GEMS Air) website.
By early November, GEMS Air showed that concentrations of PM 2.5 outside New Delhi’s iconic India Gate were ‘hazardous’ to human health. In an industrial area north of the Indian capital, the air was 50 times more polluted.
GEMS Air is one of several new digital tools used by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to track the state of the environment in real time at the global, national and local levels. In the years to come, a digital ecosystem of data platforms will be crucial to helping the world understand and combat a host of environmental hazards, from air pollution to methane emissions, say experts.
“Various private and public sector actors are harnessing data and digital technologies to accelerate global environmental action and fundamentally disrupt business as usual,” says David Jensen, the coordinator of UNEP’s digital transformation task force.
“These partnerships warrant the attention of the international community as they can contribute to systemic change at an unprecedented speed and scale.”
The world is facing what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called atriple planetary crisisof climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Experts say averting those catastrophes and achieving theSustainable Development Goalswill require fundamentally transforming the global economy within a decade. It’s a task that would normally take generations. But a range of data and digital technologies are sweeping the planet with the potential to promote major structural transformations that will enhance environmental sustainability, climate action, nature protection and pollution prevention.
A new age
UNEP is contributing to that charge through a new programme on Digital Transformation and by co-championing the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability as part of the Secretary-General’s Digital Cooperation Roadmap.
GEMS air was among the first of those programmes. Run by UNEP and Swiss technology company IQAir, it is the largest air pollution network in the world, covering some 5,000 cities. In 2020, over 50 million users accessed the platform and its data is being streamed into digital billboards to alert people about air quality risks in real time. In the future, the program aims to extend this capability directly into mobile phone health applications.
Building on lessons learned from GEMS Air, UNEP has developed three other lighthouse digital platforms to showcase the power of data and digital technologies, including cloud computing, earth observation and artificial intelligence.
The fruit of a partnership between UNEP, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre andGoogle Earth Engine, it provides free and open data on permanent and seasonal surface waters, reservoirs, wetlands and mangroves.
“It is presented in a policy-friendly way so that citizens and governments can easily assess what is actually happening to the world’s freshwater resources,” says Stuart Crane, a UNEP freshwater expert. “That helps countries track their progress towards the achievement ofSustainable Development Goal Target 6.6.”
Data can be visualized using geospatial maps with accompanying informational graphics and downloaded at national, sub-national and river basin scales. Data are updated annually and depict long-term trends as well as annual and monthly records on freshwater coverage.
The observatory is designed to shine a light on the origins of methane emissions by collecting data from various sources, including satellites, ground-based sensors,corporate reportingand scientific studies.
TheGlobal Methane Assessment published by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) found that cutting human-caused methane by 45 per cent this decade would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s, and help prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.
“The International Methane Emissions Observatory supports partners and institutions working on methane emissions reduction to scale-up action to the levels needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” says Manfredi Caltagirone, a UNEP methane emissions expert.
Through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, the methane observatory works with petroleum companies to improve the accuracy and transparency of methane emissions reporting. Current member companies report assets covering over 30 per cent of oil and gas production globally. It also works with the scientific community to fund studies that provide robust, publicly available data.
UNEP is also backing theUnited Nations Biodiversity Lab 2.0, a free, open-source platform that features data and more than 400 maps highlighting the extent of nature, the effects of climate change, and the scale of human development. Such spatial data help decision-makers put nature at the heart of sustainable development by allowing them to visualize the natural systems that hold back natural disasters, store planet-warming gasses, like carbon dioxide, and provide food and water to billions.
More than 61 countries have accessed data on the UN Biodiversity Lab as part of their national reporting to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international accord designed to safeguard wildlife and nature. Version 2.0 of the lab was launched in October 2021 as a partnership between UNDP, UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat and Impact Observatory.
All of UNEP’s digital platforms are being federated into UNEP’sWorld Environment Situation Room,a digital ecosystem of data and analytics allowing users to monitor progress against key environmental Sustainable Development Goals and multi-lateral agreements at the global, regional and national levels.
“The technical ability to measure global environmental change—almost in real time—is essential for effective decision making,” says Jensen.
“It will have game-changing implications if this data can be streamed into the algorithms and platforms of the digital economy, where it can prompt users to make the personal changes so necessary to preserving the natural world and achieving net zero.”
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.
For further information, please contact: David Jensen, Coordinator, UNEP Digital Transformation Task Force
Student Maryam Grassley at COP26’s People’s Summit
by Ella Palmer on 16 November 2021
Undergraduate Maryam Grassley attended COP26 and has selected their key poignant quotes from the People’s Summit for Climate Justice, organised by COP26 coalition and occurring from the 7-10
“I was studying to be a doctor. Then I looked at a map of predicted sea level rise and the hospital I was studying [at] was going to be underwater by 2050. What’s the point of becoming a doctor if the hospital I will work in will be underwater?!”
“Where will my people go? Where will my culture continue? Where will I go? If Tuvalu drowns, I will drown with it”.
“I teach myself about Climate Change. We are denied education about the crisis that is impacting us. The other people in my community don’t know about climate change. There is no platform for me to speak on. If we protest against the government, we are killed or imprisoned” –
“The lake is brown, all the fish are dead… but my children will go back and look (and see a blue lake with a thriving ecosystem) and say you did a good job” –
Dr Cristina Peñasco on COP26’s Climate Justice Day Protests
by Dr Cristina Peñasco
Young people, families with little children, teachers with groups of students, the elderly, representatives of indigenous communities… Climate marches are no longer a scream from the youth, traditionally viewed as less-risk averse, more innovative, impulsive, eager or even rebellious. The Climate March that we have seen this morning 6
In a day in which the premises of the official COP26 venue are quieter, the noise and demands are outside, on the streets, where citizens seem to embrace and understand the scientific evidence far better than their governors in charge of the negotiations. The people are speaking: “Time is running out”, “There is no planet B”, “System change not climate change”. These are some of the messages we saw this morning along the 3 miles that separate Kelvingrove Park from Glasgow Green when the climate march had its finish line. As a participant, I have felt this “protest” has been a celebration: a celebration of life, of nature, of diversity, of plurality. It has been exciting and thrilling being part of a massive group of people rising their voices for just and fair solutions to the climate crisis.
The new and updated nationally determined contributions, although welcomed, are far away from leading us to what scientific evidence, on the words of the IPCC, is telling us. According to the UN, the new pledges, as per the last plans presented by the parties last Wednesday, would increase emissions by 13.7% by 2030. But, emissions need to fall by 45% by 2030 if we want to keep in track to limit global warming by the end of the century to 1.5C. A scenario of 2C global warming would imply a twofold increase in the risk of river flooding with highest risks in US, Asia and Europe (Alfieri et al. 2017), over 50% of the global population exposed to deadly heat for more than 20 days per year (Mora et al. 2017) or longer draughts (Naumann et al. 2018), among many other negative effects.
People are demanding solutions, and they are rightly doing so. The action that is being taken is necessary but way insufficient. The scientific evidence support this statement (UNFCCC, 2021). Let’s get listened.
After 13 days of talks, the gavel finally came down at the UN climate summit in Glasgow at 11:28pm on Saturday. For COP geeks, that makes it the sixth longest COP – just an hour short of Paris in 2015.
The most asked question about COP26 is: ‘was it a success or a failure?’. I don’t really believe there is a binary answer. It’s why I don’t like sporting analogies that are endlessly used for literally everything non-sporting: because it implies an overall win or overall loss. But it’s not like that.
We’re all losing from the climate crisis and the poorest people in parts of the world most vulnerable to climate impacts are losing far more, and more rapidly than most. We all face greater losses from the climate crisis in the years to come. And even if we keep temperature rises to 1.5°C, those losses are huge.
This process, then, is necessarily about minimising and managing losses, and acting to avert even worse impacts of climate change. On that measure, COP26 in Glasgow leaves us with progress and momentum – and hope that we can yet close the gap to keep warming to 1.5°C. But it also leaves us with anger and disappointment on the part of those already facing losses and damage from climate impacts that wealthy countries are still not doing as much as they need to be doing to cut emissions faster, and to support developing nations.
A picture of complexity
This COP always presented a complex picture. It was not about one deal or outcome, and it was never going to be the last word on gettingto1.5°C. The world came to Glasgow to deal with that complexity and leaves Glasgow with a number of pieces of the jigsaw in place, via theGlasgow Climate Pact.
Real economy signals
COP26 landed various ‘sector deals’ – on coal, deforestation, methane, vehicles, funding for overseas fossil fuels, and getting beyond oil and gas. Some of these shift the dial on emissions and help to keep 1.5° within reach. But they all send powerful signals to move markets, making fossil fuels less economic, and their clean alternatives more attractive to investors.
Added to this is the historic inclusion of language on getting out of coal, and the first reference to fossil fuel subsidies in a UN text since Kyoto in 1997. It started out committing to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies and ended up committing to phase down unabated coal power, and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. But even at that, it adds to signals that should help ensure the demise of coal.
Amongst challenging geopolitics, this process helped forge new alliances. In the push on loss and damage, and to focus more on adapting to climate impacts, the nations of the global south have come closer together to work collaboratively to demand support and finance for tackling the emergency they face.
Additionally, one of the tenser global relationships evolved in Glasgow – that between the US and China. As it turned out, their alliance did little to enhance ambition or drive the process in Glasgow forward faster. But it can hold hope that they will help drive momentum together this decade, if they both live up to their individual pledges. And it almost certainly, in a wider geopolitical sense, makes us all a little bit safer than we were before COP26!
The science tells us we are running out of time to keep temperature rises to 1.5°C, and a synthesis of nations’ pledges by Climate Action Tracker shows the world is on track for 2.4°C of warming. So COP26 concluded that it is time to move faster. Rather than waiting another five years to ramp up ambition, the Glasgow Climate Pact calls for nations without Paris-aligned emissions reduction targets to return with net-zero pledges and stronger targetsbeforeCOP27 in Egypt next year. It also calls for all parties to return in 2023 with higher ambition.
There are new commitments in the Glasgow Pact that help support the people and nations most vulnerable to climate impacts – enough that developing nations wanted to bank and use them, rather than blocking an overall deal in protest at the considerable amount that was still missing. Finally, a COP has agreed a process for agreeing a global goal on adaptation, as well as committing to doubling adaptation finance. Loss and damage featured in the deal more than it has at previous COPs, including arrangements to operationalise promises made to provide technical and practical advice and support to affected nations.
Instead, there is a process over the next year to develop the loss and damage workstream. Vulnerable nations have sworn to fight to ensure this includes a finance facility when it comes back to COP27. We can therefore expect to see either the founding of such a fund, or a considerable fight in Egypt next year over the issue.
Three areas of the ‘Paris rulebook’ had stubbornly evaded agreement before Glasgow; all are now in place. Five-year common timeframes for nations’ emissions pledges should drive greater ambition than the alternative proposed, which was ten-year spans. Transparency rules have been agreed which seek to prevent nations from cheating in their accounting for and reporting on emissions cuts. And article 6 establishes a market to enable companies and countries to trade carbon credits.
Article 6 has been heavily contested for several COPs. Some nations want to use old credits against new targets, and some believe emissions cuts should count both where they occur, and against the purchaser’s pledges. The deal at Glasgow has avoided the worst loopholes, but is not tight enough to prevent companies and countries who seek to game it. Most unfortunately, especially in the context of the loss and damage gap, the deal prevents any of the proceeds of carbon market trading flowing to poorer nations for adaptation.
196 parties to a negotiation will tend towards a messy and imperfect outcome. The COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact is certainly that. But overall, it sends some important signals – that the science is clear, the threat serious, and that this process exists to cut emissions and support the most vulnerable nations.
The world arrived in Glasgow with momentum from Paris, and leaves Glasgow having generated more urgency and momentum than was there before. Globally, public concern is at an all-time high, and people are ahead of politicians in the demands they are making for action to tackle the climate crisis. Of the leaders who have not moved, most of them govern democracies. So they go back now to face their people – their electorates – and answer for not doing what they want. Populations around the world fear climate change and expect leaders to act – not to talk, and then do nothing.
Trashing this COP process – this imperfect and messy process – is a very high-risk strategy. The UN climate process is what has got the world this far, and we have no immediate alternative. We can be sure that the fossil fuel companies and laggard countries reliant on fossil fuel exports would love nothing more than for it to be torn down.
Instead, there are genuine bright spots that generate hope and momentum beyond Glasgow to keep the Paris Agreement goals within reach. Now is the time to seize that hope, set the ambition for the UK’s presidency for the year ahead, and pick up the pace on climate action through to COP27.
Our atoll nation is barely two metres above sea level, and the waters are coming for us.
Despite the progress and momentum of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, we are still not moving fast enough to avoid the worst of climate change.
It is heartening that more than 190 countries and organisations agreed to rapidly phase out coal power and end support for new coal power stations. More than 100 countries signed a pledge to cut methane emissions 30% by the end of the decade, and about the same number agreed to stop deforestation on an industrial scale in the same timeframe.
But even with these agreements, we in Kiribati face the death of our homeland. Co-author Anote Tong led our country as president for 15 years, alongside lead author Akka Rimon, who was foreign secretary between 2014 and 2016.
Author Anote Tong, when he was Kiribati president, at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2015.Mick Tsikas/AAP
The problem is speed. Our land isdisappearing fasterthan global action can stem climate change. Delays and a lack of global leadership mean the existence of small island states like Kiribati is now in the balance.
That means we must urgently find ways to rehome our people. It is very difficult to leave our homes, but there is no choice. Time is not on our side. We must prepare for a difficult future.
What we need is a model where displaced people can migrate to host nations when their homes become uninhabitable. Countries like Australia need workers – and we will soon need homes.
This is, increasingly, a question of justice. Australia’s actions, in particular, raise questions over how sincere it is in honouring its recent commitments at COP26.
As the world’slargest exporterof fossil gas and the second largest exporter of coal, Australia’s reluctance to change is putting its neighbours in the Pacific at risk of literally disappearing. It is the only developed nation not committed to cut emissions at least in half by 2030.
In Glasgow,Fiji urged Australiato take real action by halving emissions by 2030. Did it work? No. Australia also refused to sign the agreements on ending coal’s reign, with prominent politiciansundermining the COP26 agreementas soon as the conference was over.
We desperately hope the commitments Australia did make at COP26 are not just words on paper. But if they are, that makes our need for certainty even more urgent.
Let us speak plainly: If Australia really does plan to sell as much of its fossil fuel reserves as possible and drag its feet on climate action, the least it can do is help us survive the rising seas caused by the burning of its coal and gas.
Eighteen years ago, the Kiribati government – then headed by Anote Tong – introduced a“migration with dignity” policyas a way for I-Kiribati people to adapt to climate change.
We gave our I-Kiribati workers international qualifications tailored for jobs in demand overseas. After this, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealandset up a schemeto allow workers to migrate to New Zealand if they had an offer of a job. Each year prior to COVID, 75 people from Kiribati were able to migrate through the scheme.
New Zealand is the first and only country currently offering a permanent labour migration program from Kiribati. While welcome, we will need more places for I-Kiribati as climate change intensifies.
Like New Zealand, Australia has expanded its seasonal worker schemes for Pacific workers, and is now moving towards a longer stay, multi-visa arrangement under itsPacific Labour Scheme. We expect this scheme will evolve into a permanent migration scheme similar to New Zealand.
While we wait in hope for a true safe haven for our people, our diaspora is growing. I-Kiribati are moving now to Pacific countries higher above the water level such as Fiji, the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.
Are we scared? Of course. We are on the front line of this crisis, despite having done amongst the least to cause it. It is difficult to leave the only home we have known. But science does not lie. And we can see the water coming.
Labour migration will not solve climate change, but it offers hope to those of us who will be displaced first.
This is a vital question of climate justice. This upheaval is caused by high-emitting economic powerhouses like the US, China, and the European Union. But the vulnerable are paying the full cost. That is not fair.
As climate change worsens, other global leaders must consider how best to support adaptation through labour mobility. Far better to plan for this now than to let climate change rage unchecked and trigger ever-larger waves of refugees.
The question of climate justice
Consider this: in 2018, each person in Kiribati was responsible for 0.95 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. By contrast, each person in the United States wasresponsible for 17.7 tonnes. Despite this imbalance, the US has taken little responsibility for what is happening to Kiribati and other low-lying nations.
We are hopeful this may change, given US President Joe Biden recently pledged to make his nation a leader in climate finance by supporting nations worst hit by climate change and with the least resources to cope. It’s also encouraging thatnew laws have been proposedto allow people displaced by climate change to live in America.
We must work to slash emissions and devise solutions for the problems caused by the warming.
International law must recognise climate displaced populations and create ways we can be rehoused.
While other solutions such asclimate-proofing infrastructureor even floating islands have been proposed for Kiribati, these cannot happen overnight and are very expensive. By contrast, labour mobility is fast and advantageous to the host country.
Kiribati’s current government is working to increase skills and employability in our workforce. We are doing our part to get ready for the great dislocation.
When I-Kiribati have to migrate, we want them to be able to do so as first class citizens with access to secure futures rather than as climate refugees.
We are doing all we can to stay afloat in the years of ever angrier climate change. But it will take the global village to save our small village and keep alive our culture, language, heritage, spirits, land, waters and above all, our people.
Here’s another reminder of the precarious position that the world’s climate and ecosystems are in: a new study estimates that global warming could push the Antarctic ice sheet past a tipping point in as little as 10 years.
In other words, the point of no return in terms of ice sheet loss is arriving earlier than previously thought, and we may well already be in the midst of it. That could have serious consequences when it comes to sea level rise globally, and the local habitats that animals in Antarctica rely on.
To get a better idea of what’s happening right now, the researchers went back into the past, looking at the continent’s history over the last 20,000 years – back to the last ice age – through ice cores extracted from the sea floor.
“Our study reveals that during times in the past when the ice sheet retreated, the periods of rapid mass loss ‘switched on’ very abruptly, within only a decade or two,”says paleoclimatologist Zoë Thomas, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
“Interestingly, after the ice sheet continued to retreat for several hundred years, it ‘switched off’ again, also only taking a couple of decades.”
As icebergs break off Antarctica, they float down a major channel known as Iceberg Alley. Debris released from these icebergs accumulates on the seafloor, giving researchers a record of history some 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) under the water.
By combining this natural logbook of iceberg drift with computer models of ice sheet behavior, the team was able to identify eight phases of ice sheet retreat across recent millennia. In each case, the ice sheet destabilization and subsequent restabilization happened within a decade or so.
The results published by the researchers augment modern satellite imagery, which only goes back around 40 years: they show increasing losses of ice from the interior of the Antarctic ice sheet, not just changes in ice shelves already freely floating on the water.
“We found that iceberg calving events on multi-year time scales were synchronous with discharge of grounded ice from the Antarctic ice sheet,”says glaciologist Nick Golledge, from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
The study showed the same sea rise pattern happening in each of the eight phases too, with global sea levels affected for several centuries and up to a millennium in some cases. Further statistical analysis identified the tipping points for these changes.
If the current shift in ice in Antarctica can be interpreted in the same way as the past events identified by the researchers, we might already be in the midst of a new tipping point – something we’ve seen inother partsof the world and the Arcticin recent years.
“If it just takes one decade to tip a system like this, that’s actually quite scary because if the Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves in future like it did in the past, we must be experiencing the tipping right now”, Thomassays.
Further evidence for these tipping points can be found in corespreviously analyzedfrom the region, the researchers report, and the latest study also matches up withearlier modelsof ice sheet loss from the region.
“Our findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence suggesting the acceleration of Antarctic ice mass loss in recent decades may mark the beginning of a self-sustaining and irreversible period of ice sheet retreat and substantial global sea level rise,”says geophysicist Michael Weber, from the University of Bonn in Germany.
Energy firms and climate policymakers are urged to work with communities to ensure a ‘just transition’ away from coal, oil and gas.
By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From retraining coal miners in solar tech to job programmes focused on tree-planting, companies and governments must act fast to implement measures promoting a so-called just transition away from fossil fuels, labour rights experts said this week.
Failure to quickly pull finance out of fossil fuel industries or explain to workers how they can gain from a switch to green alternatives, would hurt the climate and could spark social unrest, they told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference (TC).
“Workers and their communities need to know what the plan is,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents some 200 million workers in 163 countries.
“They need to have hope that there will be jobs for themselves and their children, that they’ll be able to put food on the table,” Burrow added.
During this month’s COP26 climate talks, Burrow said she met a U.S. oil rig worker from an indigenous community in Louisiana who was worried about his family’s future after storms forced them from their home, as well as how his job might change.
Fossil fuel companies have the necessary resources to drive a timely green shift for such employees – and they should be talking to them about it now, said Burrow.
“It’s not happening – and that is what makes me very, very angry with (the companies),” she added. “If they were to transition much more rapidly, then they could actually make a huge difference in terms of stabilising the communities.”
Speakers on the TC’s “just transition” panel voiced disappointment over the outcome of the COP26 talks, noting that some governments had sought to defend fossil fuel firms or avoid fresh financial commitments to address climate change impacts.
A goal to phase out hundreds of billions of dollars in annual subsidies for fossil fuels was watered down in the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at the end of the U.N. conference.
Harjeet Singh, strategic advisor for global partnerships with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said poorer nations could not start investing in a greener economy if they continued to struggle to pay for flood or storm clean-ups.
“If people’s homes are being destroyed, can I talk about solar panels and just transition? No, I have to fix the immediate crisis,” Singh said.
The burden of climate-related costs should not be allowed to fall on the worst-affected countries and people, said Jill Tucker, head of labour rights at the Laudes Foundation, which works on climate change and social inequality.
Despite some donor-backed deals announced at COP26to help wean developing nations such as South Africa and Indonesia off coal, the broader issue of who will pay for a global green transition remains unresolved, Tucker added.
Debt-laden developing countries will not be able to find the funds themselves, she said, calling for a transfer of wealth from richer nations.
At the same time, businesses should be held more accountable for environmental and human rights violations linked to their activities, Tucker added.
“If we don’t redistribute resources and … don’t pursue really aggressive new laws, there’s going to be worsening environmental disaster and… more social unrest,” she said.
Social safety nets are a key tool to help fragile communities facing upheaval from the fight against climate-heating emissions, said Michal Rutkowski, global director for social protection and jobs at the World Bank Group.
State support should focus not only on cash payouts to those in need but also on ways to tackle the challenge on various fronts, such as by using government-backed employment schemes to restore nature as the bank has been doing in Africa, he added.
“We believe that green public works is really an opportunity for the future,” he said, noting such programmes can also bolster food security, as well as providing better jobs and improving the local environment.
Only about a fifth of the world’s poorest people are covered by any kind of social safety net, he added, pointing to a wide gap.
Bringing society along in the broadest sense – from bosses to workers and their communities in all economic sectors, from construction to agriculture – will be essential for achieving a successful and fair green transition, the panelists said.
For Burrow, the best way to ensure widespread support among workers is to create good jobs in fields such as renewable energy that can also have a positive ripple effect for local supply chains.
“That is how you build and reassure communities there is a future,” she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrisonon Monday saidthe coal industry will be operating in the country for “decades to come.”
When he agreed last month to go carbon-neutral by 2050, the man who oncebrought a lump of coal into Parliamentpromised that his plan — which was short on details and long on speculative technology — would not crimp coal exports nor cost miners their jobs.
In the face of that apparent lack of urgency from government, protesters are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. A string of protests has disrupted the Port of Newcastle and surrounding railroads in the past two weeks, prompting police to establish a strike force to crack down on the high-profile stunts.
The protesters, from an activist group calledBlockade Australia, plan to converge on Sydney, the commercial capital, in June next year, bringing the city to a halt.
“This is us responding to the climate crisis. This is humans trying to survive,” Doole said on Wednesday. “We are trying to induce the social tipping points, which will give us a chance at another generation,” she remarked on camera, pausing to laugh ironically, before adding: “What a wild thing to want.”
Despite the progress made at the COP26 climate summit, optimism about the agreement hangs on whether countries will actually deliver on the promises made in Glasgow. Coal production in China, the world’s largest consumer of coal,has surged to the highest levels in yearsas the country addresses power outages.
Matt Kean, the environment minister for New South Wales state, speaking on Sydney radio 2GB on Wednesday, said police need to “throw the book” at anti-coal activists, describing their dramatic stunts as “completely out of line.”
On Monday, another protester locked herself to a railway line leading to the port, preventing coal cars from entering. On Tuesday, two activists strapped themselves to another piece of coal-loading machinery. They hung in the air for several hours before being arrested.
Interfering with a railway or locomotive with the intention of causing a derailment can result in prison sentences up to 14 years,police said, while other possible charges carry jail terms of up to 25 years. A local police minister described the protests as “nothing short of economic vandalism.” (A spokeswoman for the Port of Newcastle said other operations at the port were continuing, beyond the rail lines and coal-loading facilities.)
Doole and Zianna Faud, 28, were arrested and taken to a local police station about 9 a.m. local time. The live-streamed video showed authorities approaching on a metal gangway above the protesters, who were suspended on ropes below, with a police officer appearing to read them their rights.
According to a spokeswoman for the activist group, Faud appeared before Newcastle magistrates court on Wednesday, where she faced charges of hindering the working of mining equipment, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, and entering enclosed lands. She pleaded guilty and was given community service and a roughly $1,090 fine, and ordered not to associate with her co-accused, Doole, for two years.
Doole and three other activists were refused bail and will be seen by the court tomorrow.
“We are running rings around the police and the push back shows that direct action is effective,” Faud said in a statement following her release.
In the video, Doole said she considered the dangers before the protest — imagining herself running across piles of coal with police helicopters in pursuit. Then, she thought back to the time, a couple of summers ago, when thousands of Australians fled from their homes as wildfires raged and skies turned blood red. She and her family hunkered down in their property as towns around them burned.
“Getting chased by a police helicopter, that’s not fun. … But you know what scares me more?” she said. “I just think back to that New Year’s Eve, when I thought I was going to die in a fire, caused by climate change. And that’s the barest glimpse of what’s going to happen.”
Campaigners told the crowd that the nine jailed Insulate Britain campaigners were “political prisoners” who will not be the last to be locked up for their convictions about climate change.
The nine protesters were given sentences of three to four months for breaching an injunction, aimed at preventing the blockades which have brought several roads to a standstill and sparkedanger among motorists.
Activists on the bridge said they would not be deterred by the threat of prison.
Gabriella Ditton, 27, an animator from Norwich, told the PA news agency she has already been arrested six times with Insulate Britain.
“I expect to go to prison at some point for at least six months because I am not going to be apologetic about this,” she said.
She said “civil resistance” was necessary to create the political will to solve the climate crisis.
Zoe Cohen, 51, who travelled from Warrington, Cheshire, to protest, said “ordinary people should not have to do this and risk prison”.
She said the disruption caused by the protests was “microscopic” compared to the death and suffering caused by climate change.
Reflecting back on the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or “COP26,” it may well become known as the “Pledge and Commitment COP.”
Governments, businesses, multilateral institutions and civil society focused their two weeks in Glasgow on how to “get things done” to limit the planet’s rising temperatures to 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels.
The apparent solution: pledges and commitments. Now comes the hard work: adhering to these pledges and commitments, with clearly defined milestones, in a transparent and accountable manner to ensure environmental integrity.
At previous COPs business was present, yet its impact on the holistic outcomes were secondary. Historically, government negotiations over official decisions and specific nuances in the text dominated the energy and interest of businesses and civil society, who served as “observers” to the UNFCCC process. Certainly, COP26 had its opportunities for diplomacy and single words do matter—e.g., phaseoutvs. phasedownin relation to coal power—but in Glasgow, business played an outsized role inside the official “Blue Zone,” as well as across Scotland at privately sponsored forums, roundtables and parties. There was a sense, despite the protests, that the business and environmental communities are working more in concert with governments toward common goals. Private sector driven climate action took on a life of its own with an incredible momentum irrespective of the technical outcomes that reflect clearer plans of action and a greater potential long-term success to meet the aspirations of the Paris Agreement.
In ourCOP26 preview alert, we expected methane, money, markets, partnerships and nature to dominate the agenda. COP26 delivered in each of these areas, with several notable surprises. We present a snapshot of five important high-level takeaways below, and look forward to diving deeper into these issues in the weeks to come.
Climate finance, including accountability and “loss and damage,” prominently figured into the negotiations
Despite increased finance pledges just prior to COP26,1developed countries fell short of their decade-old commitment to jointly provide $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries by 2020. As such, there was a heightened emphasis at COP26 on how and when developed countries will deliver on this commitment. This emphasis is reflected in the primary COP26 decision document, theGlasgow Climate Pact, which reaffirms developed countries’ commitment to “fully deliver” on the “100 billion goal through to 2025,” while also calling for governments to provide greater clarity on the implementation of their finance commitments.
Climate finance was also a focal point of new pledges and commitments that occurred outside the context of formal negotiations. As we prognosticated, governments pledged new limitations on fossil fuel finance. The United States and 38 other countries, for example, issued ajoint statementcommitting to end new direct public support for the international “unabated” (i.e., without carbon capture and storage) fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, “except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with a 1.5°C warming limit.” New pledges and commitments on domestic and international coal financing were also announced, which we assessedhereandhere. Further, theGlasgow Climate Pact“calls upon” parties to accelerate actions toward the “phase-out” of “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” While this new and caveated language elicited equal parts criticism and optimism, we note that eliminating even a small percentage of theestimated $6 trillionin global fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 would represent a major step toward achieving the 1.5°C limit.
COP26 also saw unexpected finance commitments directed to climate adaptation, a historically underfunded slice of the climate finance pie. For example, the Adaptation Fund—which finances projects and programs to help vulnerable communities in developing countries adapt to climate change—received a “record-shattering”$356 millionin new government support, including a first-time $50 million contribution from the United States. Elsewhere on adaptation finance, 12 governments pledged$413 millionin new climate resilience funding for the 46 Least Developed Countries, and the U.S. Agency for International Developmentlauncheda Green Recovery Investment Platform that will invest up to $250 million to mobilize $2.5 billion of private finance for adaptation and mitigation by 2027.
Finally, as expected, the debate around funding for “loss and damage” resumed with heightened intensity at COP26. While a group of 46 Least Developed Countries most vulnerable to climate changeadvocatedfor a new “Loss and Damage Facility” to be included among the conference’s final decisions, parties to the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed instead to establish a new “Glasgow Dialogue” to discuss potential “arrangements for the funding of activities.”
Parties agree to rules for market and non-market mechanisms under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement
After years of complex negotiations, parties managed to agree on a “rulebook” for implementing the market-based cooperative approaches referred to in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The rulebook is reflected in two decisions: (i)Article 6.2 guidanceon bottom-up, bilateral or regional approaches involving the use of “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes;” and (ii)Article 6.4 rules, modalities and procedures, governing a new centralized United Nations (UN) market mechanism akin to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).2
The Article 6 rulebook provides a platform for the scaling-up of carbon markets across the globe—e.g., by enabling greater linkages between countries’ emissions trading systems, or by creating demand for a new category of high-quality “Article 6-compliant” carbon credits for trading in the voluntary carbon markets. For a deeper dive into key elements of the rulebook and implications for carbon markets in Singapore, see our colleagues’ analysishere.
Transportation, including aviation and shipping, remains a key area of emphasis for mitigating emissions
COP26’s “Transport Day” centered on emission reductions from motor vehicles, including cars, vans, trucks and public transport. In the lead-up to “Transport Day,” 154 signatories—including national and local governments, automotive manufacturers, fleet owners and operators, investors and financial institutions—issueda Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans. This Declaration sets a nonbinding goal to ensure that all new cars and vans sold by 2035 (in “leading markets”) or 2040 (throughout the rest of the world) are zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The next day, the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council, a forum of governments with large automotive markets,announcedits 2022 priorities intended to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate goals and accelerate the growth of the zero-emission automobile market. The Council’s four priorities are to:
Spur greater investment in ZEV charging infrastructure in collaboration with the private sector and in such a way that allows electricity grids to support increased charging demands.
Support the deployment of light- and heavy-duty ZEVs through carbon dioxide or fuel efficiency standards and regulations.
Reach a stronger consensus on the pace of the transition and technology choices for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles.
Ensure a “truly global” ZEV transition that includes engagement with developing countries, development assistance, and evidence-based, action-focused recommendations for strengthening international programs.
Notwithstanding the attention given to motor vehicles, which account for over 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, COP26 also ended with commitments in the transportation sector’s next two largest emitting categories: aviation and shipping. With respect to aviation, a group of 23 countries across all continentscommittedto strengthening the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a global market-based framework intended to keep carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation at their 2020 levels. Importantly, these countries also committed to promoting the development and deployment of (1) sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) that reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions while avoiding competition with food production; and (2) innovative low- and zero-carbon aircraft technologies that reduce aviation emissions. During the COP, the United States released itsAviation Climate Action Plan, applying the Biden-Harris administration’s whole-of-government approach to “put the sector on a path toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050,” emphasizing SAF and innovative technologies.
As for shipping, a group of 22 countriessupporteda goal of establishing so-called “green shipping corridors,” defined as zero-emission maritime routes between two or more ports. These countries aim to establish at least six such corridors by the “middle of this decade” through partnerships with ports and operators to accelerate decarbonization of the shipping sector. COP26’s aviation and shipping commitments included a number of African, Asian, European and South and North American countries, but did not include key players like China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Russia and Mexico.
Nature and biodiversity garnish significant attention, but operative provisions ultimately omitted in Glasgow Climate Pact
The Glasgow Climate Pact omitted any significant nature- or biodiversity-based obligations, instead merely emphasizing the importance of ecosystem protection, conservation and restoration. Still, the convention featured a number of high-level initiatives likely to push capital and financing toward efforts to protect natural capital and biodiversity without compromising climate progress, including:
The United States’ Global Forests Conservation Plan, whichfocuseson halting deforestation and nature degradation in critical ecosystems like the Amazon, Congo and Southeast Asian forests.
A commitment from over 30 private financial institutions toeliminateagricultural commodity-driven deforestation risks in their portfolios by 2025.
The Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue Roadmap for Action, a frameworkintendedto encourage supply chain sustainability, support smallholder farmers’ participation in markets, and improve supply chain transparency and technological innovation.
A $1.7 billion pledge from countries and philanthropy organizations toadvanceindigenous peoples and local communities’ forest tenure rights and recognize and reward their roles as guardians of forests and nature.
A Joint Statement on Climate Change and Biodiversity Crises through which over 25 land management organizations—including key agencies within the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce—agreedto champion the role of protected and conserved areas in addressing the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Private sector organizations also made noteworthy nature-focused commitments, such as Burberry’s three-pronged biodiversitystrategyand Botanic Gardens Conservation International’s new “global biodiversity standard” thatseeksto recognize and promote projects that actively protect existing habitats and enhance biodiversity while halting the spread of invasive species.
Although COP26 similarly lacked any formal obligations to protect oceans, the Glasgow Climate Pact formally welcomed oceans into the convention and invited further global discussion on incorporating strong, ocean-based actions into climate commitments. To push this process along, the United Kingdomcontinuedto urge countries to support a global pledge to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030 and committed millions of dollars to ocean-related initiatives, including development of the “blue economy,” financing to Fiji through its first sovereign “blue bond,” and financial contributions to the Global Fund for Coral Reefs and the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance. COP26 also seemed to further solidify the growing nexus between the UNFCCC and the Convention on Biological Diversity, in recognition of their complementary symbiotic relationship.
Notable new partnerships coming out of COP26 will drive climate action going forward
Expanding the tradition of past COPs, governments, businesses, investors, philanthropy organizations and nonprofits announced or formally launched numerous new partnerships “on the sidelines” of COP26. In the United States alone, we counted over 15 new public-private or government-to-government partnerships announced by the administration during COP26. This includes, for example, the following public-private partnerships that might be of interest to the business and investor communities:
TheFirst Movers Coalition, which will serve as a platform for companies to harness their purchasing power and supply chains to create early markets for innovative clean energy technologies in eight sectors: steel, trucking, shipping, aviation, cement, aluminum, chemicals and direct air capture.
TheUSAID Business Case for Collective Landscape Action, which will convene the private sector, governments and local landscape actors to reduce commodity-driven deforestation, increase restoration, conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods in tropical ecosystems, while aiming to mobilize $30 million in private finance.
AGlobal Clean Technology Incubator Networkof national renewable energy labs, technical institutions, investors, corporations, governments and philanthropies working to scale-up the development, financing and adoption of low- to zero-emission energy innovations in emerging and developed markets.
Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest surprise emerging from COP26 is the renewed collaboration between the United States and China on climate, memorialized in theU.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s(“Joint Declaration”) issued November 10. The Joint Declaration reaffirms the two countries’ commitment to work together to keep the Paris Agreement’s 1.5℃ target “within reach.” This announcement was particularly surprising because the United States and China have repeatedly clashed on issues ranging from national security and economic policy, to the COVID-19 pandemic and human rights concerns, to Taiwan and tariffs. The Joint Declaration at COP26—and a subsequentvirtual meetingbetween the two countries’ presidents on November 15—may indicate that a longer term partnership is possible.
However, during theirpublic statementsprior to that meeting, both President Biden and President Xi alluded to complaints each side has raised in recent years, indicating that areas of “competition” and “conflict” between the United States and China—to reference the terms often used by the Biden-Harris administration—may complicate any cooperation on climate. Further, China insisted on watering down language on the elimination of coal in the Glasgow Climate Pact, indicating that there may be significant limits to China’s willingness to commit to certain key climate goals. China’s involvement is critical for any successful efforts to address climate concerns, and yet President Biden faces significant pressure to remain “strong” on areas of competition and conflict with China. Any discussions or negotiations between the United States and China will undoubtedly require the two sides to balance these concerns, as we previously discussedhere. This is a topic to watch, as it reflects a potentially significant barrier to one of President Biden’s key policy initiatives.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Now for the hard part: turning government and private sector commitments into concrete actions that are transparent, verifiable and measurable. And this year more than ever, attention was paid to the risk attendant to a failure to parlay commitments into action. COP26 elevated allegations of “greenwashing” to the global stage. So much so that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres—citing a “deficit of credibility” and “surplus of confusion” over private sector climate commitments—announcedhe will establish a “Group of Experts to propose clear standards to measure and analyze net-zero commitments from non-state actors,” with recommendations expected next year.3Expect regulators and the public to scrutinize post-COP26 climate commitments to an even greater degree.