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Bridging the zoning divide

Clim8 Investment Team

14 November 2021 Cop26

By Marie Allen, Clim8 Investment Team

It’s been a busy week in Glasgow, where I was in the Green Zone. This zone was a side event hosted by the UNFCCC, across the river from the Blue Zone where the negotiations were happening. The idea behind it was a place “where the public, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, youth groups, charities, academics, artists and businesses can have their voices heard at COP26”. 

The Green Zone was supposed to make COP26 the “most inclusive COP ever”, according to COP26 President Alok Sharma. But amid the hype, world leaders have again failed to truly integrate the needs of the Global South in negotiations. Far from representing these voices and the voices of the many people working hard to have an impact, instead the Green Zone felt like that science museum you went to as a kid. The one where they showed you robots, a piano staircase and space boots, and told you that this is what the future looks like. 

But beyond  the impressive displays, the Green Zone failed to capture the urgency of the climate crisis, and here’s why… 

It made us think that the solutions are in the future 

For me, the Green Zone was like time travel. The rooms were littered with robotic machines showing the future of food without soil and energy without oil. It’s exciting to see these solutions, and it’s always been fun to play with futuristic games and robots. But the thing is,  many of the scalable solutions are already here. We need to phase fossil fuels more aggressively in the short term by scaling up global investment in wind and solar. These are proven technologies that are now cost effective. Instead, the displays are about how the UK is going to crack nuclear fusion and how robots are going to make our food.

Let’s take nuclear fusion, a technology that scientists have been trying to harness for power generation since the 1940s and is perpetually ‘30 years away’. This solution will need billions in additional investment, and was showcased against all odds. While there has been progress on ITER construction, a magnetic fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of fusion, the project is not expected to generate a fusion reaction until 2035. As I learned at the UK Research and Innovation booth, no one in the energy community knows when the fusion breakthrough will come and that the investment would be ‘huge’.

Showcasing the futuristic solutions could distract attention from less glamorous but more ready-to-deploy ones, as well as people’s demand for actionable progress. Waiting is not an option. 

The problems are in the future, too 

Climate change has already been linked to more than 5 million deaths worldwide per year, with most occurring due to extremes of heat or cold. Migration due to extreme weather is further shaping the planet, and in 2018 the World Bank estimated that three regions (Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia) will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050

This is not just a future problem. While difficult to estimate, it’s thought that of 68.5 million people forcibly displaced in 2017, at least one third of these were caused by sudden onset climate events. At the same time, since the Paris Agreement, an average of 4 people a week have died because of their role in defending land rights. 

If we wait until 2030 to make the deep emissions cuts that are needed, people are going to suffer. In fact, people are already suffering. But we didn’t see this at the Green Zone. Instead, indigenous rights groups were squashed into corners with a table and a TV while the ‘Principle Partners’ space hosted huge, cartoonish displays for big corporations. 

By contrast, the People’s Summit, running parallel to COP26 and hosted by the COP 26 Coalition has managed to support and host thousands of Global South representatives through a network and events series. They played a significant role in supporting thousands of representatives who’d faced issues, both in attending and being heard at COP 26. Showing the spirit of true inclusion, each People’s Summit event featured a translation system for all speakers, and many of the talks I attended were hosted in Spanish or Portuguese, with translations to English. 

The weak inclusion at the Green Zone has been mirrored in the Blue Zone where negotiations are still taking place. Key sticking points include finance for developing countries, which is yet again being denied and delayed, while some wealthy countries are hoping to carry forward ‘hot air’* credits from the Clean Development Protocol under the Kyoto Protocol.

The passion lives on in the streets 

Across the river from the Green Zone, activists gathered outside the gates of the negotiating space yesterday in force, tying together blood-red fabric. From the inside, activists at the People’s Plenary stood up to condemn the red lines that had already been crossed by leaders and to show that they would not stand for them to be crossed further. These representatives walked out of the session in protest, carrying the red line out of the conference centre to the streets and out of the gate, where civil society joined its red line and showed yet again that it would not be excluded. 

Here’s a good summary of the action from inside the conference centre.

I have mixed feelings as we wait to hear the outcomes of negotiations, with a lot of time spent with activists, whose frustrations and anxiety are reaching a peak at the end of a long two weeks. I am a practical person at heart and I believe in trusting people who have worked hard on this to produce roadmaps and solutions towards net zero goals. The International Energy Agency, the World Resources Institute, UNEP, the UNFCCC… These organisations work hard to give us a picture not only of our world today, but also of the potential future roadmaps, without which the idea of the transition would be even more disquieting. 

While a lot of the COP 26 activism (and this article) have focused on the ‘bad guys’ inside the conference centre, it’s important to remember that there are smart and passionate people inside there also, who are working hard for a just outcome. 

There’s an interesting balance in being both an activist and in the investment world and it’s important to consider in full how to bring together passion and anger with real action and realistic solutions. At COP 26 we brought all of this together and asked it to co-exist in the same space for two weeks, from 8 am to midnight every day. Are we surprised that there’s conflict? No, we shouldn’t be, in fact I think we should encourage it. Conflict allows us to recognise how complex this really is, and to somehow, slowly work our way closer to the right answer. If we took either governments, or civil society out of this picture, neither would function, so let’s embrace them both. Take the energy from the streets, and the spirit of compromise for future from the conference, and bring them together for imperfect but immediate action. 

We hope to update you soon with more of the technical detail of the agreements, and the outcomes when they arrive. Briefly however, I’d like to share some of the key issues that climate activists are concerned about: 

  • Developing countries want loss and damages finance for climate effects, where they feel that emissions reductions failures by developed countries have contributed to the climate events in the Global South. 
  • Developed countries want to carry forward ‘hot air’* carbon credits from the Kyoto Agreement to be carried into a new mechanism, giving them false rewards for emissions reductions they didn’t make and allowing them to further delay action. 
  • Developing countries want a share of the levies from the carbon market to go towards an adaptation fund for climate change. 
  • Attaching a time-frame to climate finance that has been promised. 

*’Hot air’ refers in carbon markets to a carbon credit which has been issued not because of deep emissions reductions, but because a country adopted a weak climate target that it easily overachieved. A report estimated that 72% of credits released to date are generated by non-additional projects, i.e. ones that would have happened regardless of their ability to sell credits.

Image courtesy of Daily Record