So, after many months of planning, and what some describe as years of blah blah blah; COP26 is finally underway and the first day of the World Leaders’ Summit seems to have been a success. Phew!
Monday’s discussions were all about a series of pre-prepared set-piece speeches from World Leaders, eager to make headlines and show statesmanship (see below!):
- Sir David Attenborough – designated the People’s Advocate at COP26 – stole the show with his opening address. His distinctive voice has such authority and he delivered an inspiring message, while warning leaders of the importance of their task, “In my lifetime, I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope… is why the world is looking to you… and why you are here”.
- Following Sir David Attenborough was likely a job that nobody would want – how could you follow him?! But, the words from Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, were brilliant. In her speech, the Prime Minister spoke with passion about the impacts of climate change for island states in the Caribbean. She was scathing about those leaders who were making commitments for carbon cuts, “These commitments, made by some, are based on technologies yet to be developed and this is at best reckless, and at worst dangerous”. This may well be a theme that we come back to during COP26 – to what extent can we ‘bet’ on future technology, like carbon capture, saving the day?
- The President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, was quick to rejoin the Paris Agreement – on day one of his presidency in fact – but has been criticised for coming to Europe with an entourage of more than 80 cars and vehicles, with those critics suggesting this as being inconsistent with pledges to decarbonise. President Biden delivered a speech laden with new policy measures that will likely further polarise the US. Particularly eye-catching was his comment that, “When I talk to the American people about climate change, I tell them it’s about jobs”. It is clear that climate change is still felt to be a politically sensitive topic with voters, but the adverse effects of average global temperature increases are surely motivation enough to act?
- Her Majesty The Queen was unable to attend COP26, but delivered a recorded welcome to delegates. She remarked that, “What leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow — that is statesmanship. I, for one, hope that this conference will be one of those rare occasions where everyone will have the chance to rise above the politics of the moment, and achieve true statesmanship”. It would be fascinating to get the Queen’s thoughts in a couple of weeks’ time…
- Of particular interest was a comment from Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, who announced, “That is why – beyond the mechanisms already established in the Paris Agreement – I am announcing today that I will establish a Group of Experts to propose clear standards to measure and analyze net-zero commitments from non-state actors” – so businesses who have made net zero pledges of their own, may well have to revisit those in future and adjust them in line with the official standards.
- The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, pledged that India would be net zero by 2070, twenty years after the UK, and generate half of its energy by renewable sources by 2030 – which is impressive, given its current reliance on coal.
- Who wasn’t there? China’s President Xi Jinping, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin; and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have not showed up to COP26. With China and Russia accounting for nearly 35% of the world’s emissions, that’s disappointed many attendees. Negotiators from those countries are present however, but there is a nervousness as to how committed those parties are.
What happens next?
Today’s focus of COP26 will be similar – the World Leader’s Summit continues with more speeches to be delivered.
Look out for Mr. Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan. Japan is the fifth biggest polluter in the world responsible for approximately 4% of emissions, so what Kishida-san says will really matter.
Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. Nigeria is heavily reliant on oil and gas and Nigeria has the largest number of deaths due to air pollution in Africa, while the country ranks fourth for air pollution across the globe.
Finally, look out for the speech by Mr Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, a country particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The real business of COP26 begins on Wednesday, when the topic will be finance. Energy issues will be considered on Thursday; youth and public empowerment on Friday; and nature on Saturday.
We will be sharing regular updates throughout the conference via our “COP26: Latest Updates” blog, so be sure to take a look for a round-up of all the main discussions and key points from each day.
About the author(s)
Ben Stansfield is one the UK's leading lawyers practising planning and environmental law. Ben is based in Gowling WLG's London office and brings with him a wealth of experience advising clients on the consenting and regulation of their projects and their compliance with environmental regulations and reporting standards.