The 2021 Ideas Network 2030 Summer University

Session 9:
Sustainability – How to Make a Success of COP26?

2 September 2021

Moderator: Tanya Beckett
Panellists: Anthony Brown MP and Sam Hall
Rapporteur: Richard Newman

General observations:

• The dynamic around climate change has changed in the past 20 years. The science is robust and there is now consensus that action needs to be taken to reach net zero. Recent IPCC report has focused minds noting that 1.5 might be reached (possibly temporarily) between 2030-2035 and that major climate change is now inevitable and irreversible.

• COP26 will work in Paris framework to secure global net zero and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, with countries required to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The priority is to secure commitments and associated action to limit to 1.5 degrees (or potentially a lesser target of 2 degrees) and to do more to increase the number of countries with a strong 2030 target.

• The geopolitics are more positive than even a year ago. Primarily down to the change in administration in the USA, re-joining the Paris Agreement. China is much more positive but have not provided their detailed NDC.

• Increased climate change related extreme weather events have focused minds and is evidence that climate change is having and will have an increasing impact on daily lives.

Priorities and goals:

• To meet the overall aims of COP26, the UK government has proposed four specific goals:

o Coal – phase out coal by 2030 (developed countries) and 2040 (developing countries).
o Cars – no new diesel and petrol cars by 2030.
o Cash – 100 billion dollars for developing countries to help them meet targets.
o Trees – overall commitment to end deforestation by 2030.

• There is a cause for optimism as many countries have committed to a net zero target (around 70% of countries). Finance for developing countries is extremely important to help them to make the transition, and major economies have increased their contribution to the 100 billion target.

• The UK will deploy all its soft-power and leverage all its networks and diplomatic reach to make COP26 a success. The UK can lead by example, having a strong record on carbon emission reduction – cutting by 50% since 1990 and biggest drop in the G7, and greenhouse gases per capita lower than most developed countries.

• Delivery and implementation of NDCs is a priority. It is essential that we show a decade of action to drive momentum towards the target and must be done sooner rather than later. The first global stocktake on progress will take place in 2023, part of the Paris transparency framework, which will hopefully provide an incentive to signatories to avoid reputational damage.

Economics and technology

• The UK and other countries embracing hydrogen. The UK has chosen to take a dual approach to its hydrogen strategy and sees hydrogen as a low carbon replacement for gas, oil and coal.
• Emission Trading Schemes (ETS) have been established in the EU and UK for some time. This market mechanism to reducing emissions can help phase out high-carbon emissions (such as coal) through carbon pricing. It is necessary to ensure that carbon reducing schemes and technologies such as carbon sequestration / capture and storage are robustly monitored to ensure their efficacy and to avoid undermining the targets and confidence in these important schemes.

Societal engagement

• Climate change is an increasingly important issue for voters, in particular the younger generations. There has been an increase in climate activism and climate change education in schools, together with strong thought-leaders providing inspiration and a call-to-action. Simultaneously there has been a significant increase in media interest.

• There is a place for individual action, but to have a tangible impact on carbon reduction, it needs to be supported and done in partnership with wider systemic changes supported by government.

• Some examples of changes individuals could make to reduce their carbon footprint:

o Food – change food habits (less meat and dairy, locally / organic produce).
o Travel – bike / electric cars.
o Home – heating.

• There was consensus that you will only achieve net zero if you bring people along the journey. Care must be taken not to alienate sections of society, especially those concerned about job losses in heavy industry for example.

• It will be important to mitigate the distributional impact to avoid making bad policy that fails to take into legitimate concerns, resulting in a backlash and potential gilet jaune movement. There are policy tools available to address distributional challenges to make sure there is a fair and equitable transition to a net zero UK and world.

Written summaries of other Summer University Ideas sessions

Session 5: Technology – Who regulates Cyberspace?

Session 6: Economy and Trade: Resilience of Openness?

Session 7: Geopolitical – Is the Rise of China Inevitable?