by Hugh Richards, Chair of GlosCAN
There are now just over two months in which to persuade the UK Government to come up with new climate policy initiatives befitting its self-appointed global leadership role as host to the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021.
That timescale is based on the UK Prime Minister’s announcement on 24 September that the UK will host a “virtual summit” on 12 December, billed as a “COP26 Launchpad” event. This will include a global stocktake on countries’ “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) towards reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The context of the event will include China’s announcement on 22 September that its NDC will involve emissions peaking in 2030 and reaching net neutrality by 2060. The context will also include the USA’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and (perhaps) a known outcome of the US Presidential election. It will be a critical moment.
What will the UK be able to say on 12 December that has not already been said in the Prime Minister’s speech to the virtual UN General Assembly Climate Roundtable on 24 September? That speech did not follow the script briefed to journalists (e.g. the Daily Mail and the Guardian’s Fiona Harvey) and was delivered in an informal, “off-the-cuff” style that is difficult to quote. However, the PM did say this: “We were very very ambitious on our agenda, and we are going flat out to really blaze what we hope will be a very ambitious national contribution [i.e. NDC] for COP 26, and I do want everybody’s [i.e. other countries’ NDCs] to be similarly ambitious.”
This could be interpreted as meaning that the UK Government is contemplating an NDC that goes beyond the “net zero by 2050” commitment that has already been legislated. The political and mathematical necessity of such a change is demonstrated by China’s recent announcement. If China is not to reach net zero until 2060, “climate progressive” countries such as the UK will have to do so sooner if the goal of global net zero around 2050 is to be achievable. To retain any credibility in its leadership role ahead of COP 26, the UK must improve on its current commitment of net zero by 2050 and take immediate policy actions to get UK emissions on a trajectory towards the new target.
The need for the UK to improve on its current NDC is central to the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill introduced into Parliament in September 2020. The 12 December COP26 Launchpad event provides the UK Government with an ideal platform for responding to that challenge.
However, countries setting ambitious NDCs will not guarantee success in actually reducing global emissions of GHGs with the necessary speed. Another ambitious policy initiative that the UK could launch on 12 December would be to propose a globally effective international agreement to control and limit the extraction of fossil carbon at source. Such a “supply-side” approach has been called “the road less taken” in climate policy circles. So far, it seems to have been “the road not taken”. For the UK to submit its own fossil fuel extraction plans to such an agreement would give credibility to such a proposal.
A supply-side agreement on fossil carbon extraction would support the Paris Agreement in a number of ways (e.g. as set out in a paper in Science in 2019). Failure to participate in such an agreement, or failure of a participant to adhere to it, would become clear grounds for disinvestment and/or sanctions. Thus, a “triple lock” on the global fossil carbon budget could be secured:
- Demand reduction through implementation of countries’ Paris Agreement NDCs
- Supply reduction through the supply-side agreement on extraction, and
- Disinvestment and sanctions against “rogue” unregulated extraction.
As a campaigning tool, I have written a set of talking points for the ideal speech that I would wish the PM or Alok Sharma (President of COP26) to give on 12 December (if not before). I have already shared this with my MP (Siobhan Baillie) but as she is still on maternity leave I have not yet had any response.
My hope is that the imagined speech outline will be used (and perhaps adapted) by others to engage with their MPs and that Alok Sharma and perhaps even the PM will see it or hear about it and take seriously its two main propositions:
- To increase the ambition of the UK’s NDC (e.g. by seeking unconstrained advice from the Committee on Climate Change)
- To initiate a “supply-side” agreement to control global extraction of fossil fuels (e.g. through the International Energy Agency).
(Please note: posts on these blog pages are the personal views of the authors only and are not intended to represent any agreed or general view on the part of GlosCAN.org.)