6 min read50 min
COP26 matters more than any other climate summit, and it will all come down to maths and ambition.
We need to be truth tellers in Glasgow.
Summits come and summits go, but this one really matters. COP26 is the most consequential summit that has ever taken place about the most consequential issue we face. It will profoundly affect the world we bequeath to our children and grandchildren and the generations that follow. It is about whether we preserve species or destroy them, make our planet inhabitable or uninhabitable, and protect the most vulnerable here and around the world from climate breakdown or not.
Despite these age-defining questions, the path we take in simple terms comes down to maths. We have to make the sums add up to secure the emissions reductions we need to keep global temperatures in check. Greenhouse gas emissions, rising for more than two centuries and set to rise again post Covid, must be cut in half in the next nine years.
On the basis of Paris commitments, the world was on course for 53bn tonnes of carbon emissions in 2030. To keep 1.5C alive we need reductions of 28bn tonnes by then. However, with new commitments so far way short at 4bn tonnes of reductions, we need a step change in pledges. This is the maths that will make Glasgow a success or otherwise, and shows why this is the decisive decade.
No country, apart from The Gambia, is 1.5C compliant in both targets and delivery
When the government says that it is good countries are setting net-zero targets for the middle of the century, they are right it is a step forward. But the near term matters far more than headline targets made for 30 years hence. We cannot shift the goalposts set by the science – the policy and investment commitments made between now and 2030 are the test for Glasgow.
To make the climate sums add up, the government needs to understand and act on the geopolitics that will underscore success: no free passes for any big emitters; improving the relationship, and degree of trust, between the developing and developed world; and leading by example at home.
The G20 represents 80 per cent of global emissions. Not one of its members has done enough so far. The respected Climate Action Tracker concludes no country, apart from The Gambia, is 1.5C compliant in both targets and delivery. The Prime Minister needs to put maximum pressure on every nation, ally or not, to do its bit.
Being part of the club of nations means acting on climate. That goes for Australia, India, China, Russia, and every other nation too. That’s why the government shouldn’t be doing a trade deal with Australia allowing them to delete Paris temperature commitments from the text. This is unfortunately part of a consistent pattern of the rest of the government undermining the efforts of Alok Sharma, the COP President, to make the COP a success.
So at Glasgow we need everyone to step up. But how do we make that happen? The lesson of the successful Paris summit is that we can do it with an alliance of vulnerable and developing countries on the one hand and high-ambition developed countries on the other. No one wants to look like they are derailing progress on climate action; but many are reluctant to act. This coalition shuts down the avenues for them to get away with it.
But as the summit opens, that high ambition coalition has not been built. Developing countries are facing an appalling triple crisis of Covid, debt and climate breakdown. Yet the $100bn (£73bn) of climate finance by 2020 for developing countries promised at Copenhagen more than a decade ago, and again in Paris, has still not been delivered – and vaccine nationalism means just a tiny fraction of the population of the developing world has been vaccinated.
A big offer to the developing world could transform the opening of this summit.
The government must reassemble the high ambition coalition by delivering and exceeding the $100bn of finance. We need to deliver on the promise Boris Johnson himself made at the G7 summit to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022. The Chancellor should also reinstate our overseas aid commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP now, rather than waiting until the end of this parliament.
Finally, the power of example really matters. What we do at home is crucial to these negotiations. We have been sending a signal that setting targets is the important part, delivery is secondary – and other countries are following suit.
While I hoped the launch of the net-zero strategy and the Budget and spending review might deliver this, we still see the government failing to make anything like the investment required to make the transition with the urgency, fairness and the prosperity we need.
Whether you are a homeowner with a badly insulated home, the steel industry seeking to make the climate transition, or our emerging hydrogen industry, the government is leaving you to cope with the transition on your own, rather than giving the help you need. Compare their offering to Labour’s Green Investment Pledge of £28bn extra each and every year between now and 2030.
We want this summit to succeed. But we cannot allow that wish to present the outcome as a success to hide the truth. I want the government to strain every sinew to get the result we need. But I also want them to be candid about how far we get.
This matters because of what happens after Glasgow. The world is not sure to return to these issues until 2025. Four years is far too long to wait as we face climate catastrophe. Vulnerable countries have called for “ambition-raising” every year to 2030. They are right.
The road out of Glasgow matters as much as what happens at COP26. As hosts, the government must chart a road-map for the decade, which enables us to fulfil our obligations to this and future generations and keep 1.5C alive.
Finally, we should all recognise, there is an emergency to be faced, but also a better world to be built. If we act on climate as a country and a world, we can build societies with good jobs at decent wages, greater fairness for all our citizens and, above all, better lives. This is the prize on offer. We must seize it.
Ed Miliband is Labour MP for Doncaster North and shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House’s morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.