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COP26: Surprise deal as US-China pledge ambitious climate action

A zero emission National Express bus outside the SEC at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. PHOTO/UN


Just as COP26 is about to wrap up its work, the United States and China have jointly announcement that they have agreed to work together on more ambitious climate action in this decade, doing more to cut emissions, including from methane.

The UN Secretary-General, who returned to Glasgow today, welcomed their agreement in a tweet:

“Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction,” António Guterres wrote.

In a joint statement presented by the climate envoys from both nations, the US and China drew a roadmap for ongoing cooperation to tackle climate change.

Meanwhile, with 48 hours left for countries to close out their negotiations, COP26 has officially entered the final stretch.

To that end, the UK Presidency on Wednesday published a draft of the final outcome document of the conference, calling on countries to step up ambition and define their ‘Net-Zero’ strategies as early as 2022.

It is also the first time that ‘loss and damage’ and a call to end fossil fuel subsidies have been included in such a document – a step which drew mixed reactions from some civil society organizations, as well as a broader call for a much more ambitious text.

Alok Sharma, COP26 President, said that finalizing the text, including the recent decisions, will be challenging.

“But we know what is at risk if we do not reach an ambitious outcome: climate-vulnerable countries at the frontline of the climate crisis will continue to bear the brunt before it engulfs us all,” Mr Sharma said, adding that he expects an agreement by Friday evening.

Countries must urgently transition away from fossil fuels. Pictured here, black smoke rises from a chimney at a brick kiln, which uses coal fire to bake bricks, in eastern Bangladesh. PHOTO/SHEHZAD NOORANI

Electric vehicles

A world where every car, bus and truck sold is electric and affordable, where shipping vessels use only sustainable fuels, and where planes can run on green hydrogen may sound like a science-fiction movie, but here, at COP26, many governments and businesses said they have started to work to make it a reality.

Wednesday was another day of new announcements, statements and coalition-building, this time focused on the transport sector, which is responsible for approximately one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC).

The sector’s emissions have more than doubled since 1970, with around 80 per cent of the increase caused by road vehicles. The United Nations environmental agency UNEP calculates that the world’s transport sector is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels. But this could change in the coming decades.

At COP26, over 100 national governments, cities, states and major businesses signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets in 2040 worldwide.  At least 13 nations also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

Local efforts are also underway, with Latin-American cities, including Bogota, Cuenca and Salvador, aiming to transform to zero-emissions public transport fleets by 2035.

“The message for decision makers is: We need to make sure that we start normalizing that by 2035, we must stop selling petrol and diesel cars. For buses, it’s going to be earlier, 2030; heavy trucking, can give some time, 2040. The point is getting used to the idea of having a calendar so we can shift to zero emission options in all segments. This is not just for advanced markets in developed countries, it’s also for developing economies because we know the worst pollution is there,” said Monica Araya from the global initiative Drive Electric Campaign.

Ms. Araya was very clear that during the transition, developing countries must not become the dumping grounds for old technology from the richest ones, and instead they should be seen as drivers of transformational change.

“I grew up in Costa Rica. I do remember going to school on a third hand bus imported from the US. That experience shaped a lot of my thinking around this transition. I know, on the one hand, we have to make sure we transform the big markets that produce trucks, buses, cars, (but we also) have to activate changes in those markets so there are ripple effects,” she explained.

A container ship arrives in New Orleans in the United States. PHOTO/UN/DANIEL DICKINSON

A green shipping industry

The shipping industry also made moves today with 200 businesses from across the shipping value chain committing to scaling and commercializing zero-emission shipping vessels and fuels by 2030. They also called on governments to get the right regulations and infrastructure in place to enable a just transition by 2050.

Meanwhile, 19 countries signed the Clydebank Declaration to support the establishment of zero-emission shipping routes. This means creating at least six zero-emission maritime corridors by the middle of this decade, while aspiring to see many more in operation by 2030.

“There’s about 50,000 merchant ships out there in the world so it is a large task at hand, and I think different parts of shipping will move at different paces. So, having the commitment of the Clydebank Declaration for green corridors enables first movers to trial and prove technology then bring down costs, create the policy, enable the ecosystems that are needed, and then others can learn from that and then follow,” Katharine Palmer, a UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, explained to UN News.

These green corridors mean the ships that transport goods all over the world would travel without using hydrocarbon fuels and instead would use fuels derived from green hydrogen – hydrogen generated by renewable energy – renewable electricity and other sustainable options.

“It also includes engaging with energy producers so they can produce enough (green) fuel. A public-private collaboration with governments [will also be needed] to put out the necessary policy,” the expert added.

In other good news, nine big-name brands including Amazon, IKEA, Michelin, Unilever and Patagonia announced that by 2040, they plan to shift 100 per cent of their ocean freight to vessels powered by zero-carbon.

The challenge of aviation

Aviation industry businesses and large corporate customers also announced an update of their Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition, whose mission is to accelerate the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels.

Now, 80 signatories have committed to boost the green fuel to 10 per cent of the global jet fuel demand by 2030.

These ‘green fuels’ are produced from sustainable feedstock such as cooking oil, palm waste oil from animals or plants, and solid waste from homes and business, and are very similar in chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel.

If achieved, this will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 million tonnes a year and provide around 300,000 ‘green’ jobs.

But what about solar or electric? According to Lauren Uppink, head of Aviation at the World Economic Forum, these power sources might be possible for short flights in the future.

Aircraft on a runway in Ghana. PHOTO/AME HOEL/WORLD BANK

“There will be a small portion of the energy demand that will rely on new technology like hydrogen and battery, but long haul is not feasible for the physics of itSo sustainable aviation fuels are our only solution for decarbonizing and flying carbon neutral,” she told UN News.

The expert also announced that the first electric and hydrogen fueled planes will possibly start being deployed by 2030, and the transition of the industry could also generate thousands of green jobs in developing countries.

Beyond transport, the other big news at the conference on Wednesday was that the COP26 draft agreement was published by the Presidency, a preview of the final outcome document of the conference when it wraps up on Friday.

The document urges countries to strengthen their national commitments and submit their strategies for their net-zero plans by 2022 to keep the 1.5C goal within reach.

It also includes, for the first time in a COP outcome text, a mention of ‘loss and damage’, as well as a call to end fossil fuels subsidies.

“The eyes of the world are very much on us. So, I will ask you to rise to the challenge” Alok Sharma, COP26 President, told negotiators during an informal plenary.

“We have all shifted gears this week as we seek to accelerate the pace and I still have the intention to finish COP26 at the end of Friday, this Friday for clarity!” Mr Sharma said, sparking some nervous laughter in the room (COP negotiations are known for spilling over beyond their official day).

Later in the day, Mr. Sharma told journalists that the text, drafted by his office, will change and evolve as countries begin to engage in the details but the commitment to accelerate action this decade must be “unwavering”.

“I want to be clear: We are not seeking to reopen theParis AgreementThe Paris Agreement clearly sets out the temperature goal well below 2 degrees and pursuing efforts to 1.5 degrees,” he said, adding that the presidency is aiming to chart a path across the three main pillars of Paris: finance, adaptation and mitigation.

He said getting to the final draft of the text would be a ‘challenging’ task but stressed that there is a lot at risk if an ambitious outcome is not reached.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake in this negotiation. What we agree in Glasgow will set the future for our children and grandchildren, and we know nobody wants to fail them,” he told journalists.

Mr. Sharma cited Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Motley’s words last week: “Two degrees for her country and many others is a death sentence”.

“We are fighting tooth and nail so that we have an ambitious outcome, and I have reminded negotiators that world leaders set out ambition last week and we need to deliver. [If that doesn’t happen] the negotiators and world leaders are going to have to look people in their countries and other countries in the eye and explain why we didn’t get this one over the line,” he underscored.



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