COP26: 5 Reasons to be Optimistic

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On Sunday, the 26 th Conference of Parties (COP26) commenced in Glasgow, United Kingdom. COP26 is perhaps the most important Conference of Parties in recent years as the first revision of the Paris Agreement since its signing in 2015. All nations are expected to present how they have met the national targets set out at the Paris Agreement. While many are sceptical regarding the efficacy and legitimacy of the claims made by governments in their National Determined Contributions (NDCs), this blog article seeks to highlight the main reasons to stay optimistic about global climate action.

UK Clarifies Net-Zero Roadmap

In an unprecedented move, the UK government has released a new Net Zero-Strategy which outlines the approach for how the UK intends to halve carbon emissions over the coming decade and eliminate emissions completely by 2050. Climate activists are optimistic about the plan, which has been deemed as both “affordable and achievable.” A key ambition of the strategy is to implement a fully decarbonized power sector by 2035 which will be achieved through electrification, and the deployment of innovative low-carbon energy sources, including the utilisation of hydrogen.

The Net-Zero Strategy, published last month, highlights the commitment of the UK government towards tackling climate change. The chairman of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in the UK has summarised this approach by stating that: “This is a genuine step forward. The UK was the first industrialised nation to set Net-Zero into law. Now we have policy plans to get us there.”

EU Evolves Environmental Policies

Earlier this year the EU launched the “Fit for 55” package as part of the Green Deal which was launched in 2019. The “Fit for 55” package is designed to ensure that all relevant energy and sustainability legislation and policies enable the EU to achieve a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 (against 1990 levels). There are three key ambitions of the EU’s Green Deal. The first is to reduce the reliance of fossil fuels in every sector, with a special focus placed on the energy sector which is responsible for 75% of EU emissions, to enable a net-zero standard by 2050. The second aim of the deal is to successfully separate growth and resource exploitation allowing for consumption without environmental repercussions. Finally, the Green Deal hopes to provide a smooth transition to net-zero by minimising the effects of those working within carbon emitting industries. The “Fit for 55” package will update previous laws and policies as well as introduce new pan-European strategies, such as the EU Forest Strategy.

The launch of the EU Green deal and “Fit for 55” Package show not only a continued commitment from the EU in tackling climate change, but also an adaptive and responsive governing body that is able to react effectively and amend/add policies as per the need of the hour.

Bold Action from Biden

In January of 2021, US president Joe Biden released a national executive order to tackle climate change at home and abroad. The proposal addresses climate action in all sectors. Some of the most ambitious targets set out by the order are the doubling of offshore wind power by 2030, the pausing of new oil and gas land leasing where possible, and ending of fossil fuel subsidies. The ambitious order also states that climate change will be made the priority of every government agency. Further results of this new directive include the United States’s re-emergence in the Paris Agreement as well as the Leaders Climate Summit hosted by President Biden earlier this year. Implementation of these new policies suggests that the US will follow through a series of existing and emerging carbon reduction commitments. This record focus on climate action by the US is undeniably a reassuring step forward in tackling the global climate crisis.

Innovation in India

In September of 2021, the UK and India confirmed a $1.2 billion package of public and private investment to promote renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure and technology. India is the third largest emitter of carbon emissions in the world and is projected to have the highest growth in energy demand and consumption than any other nation over the next two decades. Earlier this year Indian officials were reluctant to establish a binding net-zero emissions target. The commitment to increase investment in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure demonstrates the leaps being taken towards a more sustainable future by a major global emitter.

China Cuts Coal

The world’s largest carbon emitter, China, is also making progress towards becoming carbon neutral by 2060. A few days prior to the COP26, China’s president Xi Jinping announced that China would be making moves to implement a proactive policy on climate action. While China is not in attendance at COP26, it assures the world that it is committed to addressing climate change “not at other’s request but at China’s own initiative.” This statement came following the submission of a climate action plan to the UN by China. The plan is ambitious and aims to drastically reduce coal consumption between 2025 to 2030 (an industry which currently provides 60% of China’s energy). Earlier this year China also announced that it would stop financing coal powered projects abroad. This has been seen as a huge step from the Chinese government which is currently the biggest backer of coal powered projects in the world.

COP26 and the Road Ahead

Global trends indicate greater action towards tackling climate change. The three largest carbon emitters in the world (China, US and India) have shown a strong commitment in addressing climate change and achieving net zero carbon emissions. Other large nations are also taking ambitious steps towards reducing their carbon emissions and addressing other climate emergencies. With these positive steps, the current attitudes and attention toward climate action definitely warrant an optimistic attitude towards COP26.

More: Research Notes, COP26, Net-Zero, Sustainability

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Zeba Zaidi