The Minister of State, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to this debate on the outcome of COP 26, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who gave an excellent opening speech providing valuable context. I also thank her for her kind words.
COP 26 brought together 120 world leaders and more than 38,000 representatives from Governments, civil society, business and youth. It was the biggest summit that we have ever hosted in this country. In many respects, it was also the most important. The backdrop could not have been clearer. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its report this year, it is code red for the climate. The final COP 26 text follows two years of intense diplomacy and campaigning by the UK presidency. Climate negotiators ended two weeks of intense talks on Saturday with a consensus on urgently accelerating climate action.
As COP 26 president, our overarching goal was to keep alive the possibility of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees to ensure much greater support for countries to adapt to what we know will be inevitable changes, even if we stay within 1.5 degrees, and to ramp up the availability of finance, in particular for small island developing states but for climate vulnerable nations generally, and to put nature at the heart of our global response to climate change. That was particularly important given how marginal nature has always been to this issue, a point made well by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate.
Although a gap remains between where we are and where we need to be, as many speakers today have pointed out, there can be no doubt that we narrowed that gap considerably further than anyone had predicted and that we have indeed kept alive the possibility of keeping global warming within 1.5 degrees. Therefore, I share that cautious optimism that was expressed by a number of speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friends Lady Bottomley and Lord Bridges.
We have seen significant and meaningful progress with net-zero commitments in the final negotiated text, which was agreed by all 197 parties, and on protecting and restoring the natural world. We have also, critically, seen action from countries and the private sector, particularly around coal, cars, cash and trees, to drive down emissions this decade. However, none of this will count for anything unless we continue to ramp up ambition and until and unless promises are kept in full, which will be our priority in this year, while we continue to hold the presidency.
To limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, we know we must secure global net zero by the middle of the century and halve global emissions by 2030. With all the additional country commitments that we secured in the run up to and at COP, 90% of the global economy is now covered by net-zero commitments, which is up from 30% when the UK took on the presidency in 2019. While long-term strategies are obviously key, we know we need urgent ambition this decade. That is why we have consistently called for all countries to submit ambitious 2030 commitments that put us on a path to global net zero.
It is sometimes said by commentators that our efforts in the UK are pointless if China and other similar countries continue to ramp up their coal use. That misses the point that we have now seen significant commitments from countries, including new 2030 commitments from Brazil, China and India. China has already committed to peak its carbon emissions before 2030, achieve climate neutrality before 2060 and end overseas coal financing this year. We will always be asking for more, but it would be wrong to pretend that this is not very serious progress. India, too, has committed to net zero for the first time and announced ambitious plans for half its electricity capacity to come from renewables by 2030. A total of 154 parties have now submitted nationally determined contributions to date, representing around 80% of global emissions. This is real progress, but we must see more from the remaining parties and improved NDCs when countries come back for COP 27, to be hosted next year in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The UK has led by example. We were the first major economy to commit to net zero in law and to reducing carbon emissions by 78% in 2035. We will completely phase out coal power in 2024, and we are also ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030. We have also set out our commitment to increase our international climate finance by a further £1 billion on top of the £11.6 billion that we had already committed to in climate and nature finance, at least £3 billion of which will be invested in nature-based solutions to climate change. The UK and the science have been clear that phasing out unabated coal power is the single most important step to keeping 1.5 degrees within reach. At COP, we saw 65 countries commit to coal phase out, including four of the world’s top 20 coal-power generating countries.
All major coal-financing countries have now committed to ending international coal finance by the end of 2021, with $20 billion in funding to support the coal-to-clean-power transition announced at COP 26. I note the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who feels that the Prime Minister may have exaggerated the success in relation to coal, so rather than quote him, I will quote the Executive Director of Greenpeace:
“a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters.”
We have also taken a big bite out of international public financing for oil and gas, with almost 40 countries, including all of western Europe, the USA and Canada, following the UK’s lead earlier this year in ending overseas public financing for all unabated fossil fuels. This will free more than $24 billion a year that could now flow towards clean energy.
The new global green grids initiative—One Sun One World One Grid—launched by the UK and India, and backed by more than 80 countries, will also further accelerate the development of interconnected electricity grids across continents, countries and communities. We saw a partnership of the UK, US, France, Germany and the EU to launch a just energy transition partnership with South Africa, backed by an initial $8.5 billion to enable decarbonisation and the just energy transition in South Africa. These sorts of partnerships will be critical as countries kick-start their transitions away from fossil fuels. With support from the UK presidency, more than 100 countries which are responsible for just under half of all methane emissions have joined the global methane pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This includes six of the top 10 methane emitters.
I note the comments by my noble friend Lord Howell about the energy transition currently being proposed. However, it is not a transition that is being proposed; it is a transition that is already well under way, irrespective of the politics. That is illustrated by the fact that coal use fell faster under President Trump, who lavished public money trying to keep it alive, than it did under President Obama before him. More money now flows into new renewable capacity year on year than flows into fossil fuels, so this transition is happening.
On cars, we worked to build consensus on the pace of the transition to zero-emission vehicles. At COP 26, the UK co-ordinated a joint statement in which signatories committed to work towards all new car sales being zero emission by 2040 globally and by 2035 in leading markets. That was backed by more than 30 countries, together with six major manufacturers—GM, Ford, Mercedes, Volvo, JLR and BYD—28 fleet owners, 13 investors and 41 cities, states, and regions from all over the world. Around one-third of the global car market is now covered by manufacturer commitments to phase out polluting vehicles, up from close to zero at the start of this year. Domestically, the UK has also committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030. From 2035, all new cars and vans must be zero emission at the tailpipe. Phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 will put the UK on course to be the G7 country that will decarbonise cars and vans the fastest.
I note the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, regarding the difficulties with charging. When I first bought an electric car, I found myself stranded in the first week, which was at the time a very significant put-off. However, on the back of the commitments that have been made and the signals being sent to buyers and car manufacturers and between government and the private sector, that infrastructure will continue to be rolled out, and faster.
More public and private finance has been committed to support climate action in developing countries than ever before, and the global financial system is finally aligning behind a net-zero, resilient world, as a number of speakers mentioned. In fact, under the UK’s presidency, 95% of the largest developed-country climate finance providers made new, forward-looking commitments.
The $100 billion finance goal, referenced by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will be met by developed countries. It is late;
we know that. We have not got there fast enough. We have tried, but we have made progress and we will continue to push countries to go faster. Climate finance is now expected to increase to between $113 billion and $117 billion in 2025, compared with around $80 billion in 2019. It is now likely that $500 billion will be mobilised over the period 2021-25. This means more money for developing countries, which is critical as they decarbonise and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We saw new commitments by the public and private sector to provide scaled-up finance to support developing countries to take climate action and to align trillions of dollars of finance with a net-zero, resilient future. Over 450 private financial institutions, responsible for over $130 trillion in assets, have committed to net zero by 2050 through the GFANZ alliance, which was also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. That is within the UN’s Race to Zero.
On trees, or more accurately on nature, the UK has turned the tide. We delivered at the world leaders’ summit a package of commitments, each one of which is unprecedented and meaningful. Combined, the whole is undoubtedly bigger than the sum of its parts. As Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the WWF global lead on climate and energy, said:
“Nature truly arrived at COP26.”
Justin Adams from the Tropical Forest Alliance said that the commitments signify
“the biggest moment we’ve had in forests and nature, probably ever.”
He also said:
“What is happening is historic. I think we’ll look back and realise that this was the day when we finally turned the tide on deforestation.”
Forbes described the commitments as a “‘Paris moment’ for forests”. I will explain why I think that is broadly right.
More than 140 countries, including Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia, accounting for over 90% of the world’s forests, committed to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 in the Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use. Donor countries, combined with philanthropy, committed $20 billion of climate finance. In addition, $1.5 billion was secured to protect the forests of the Congo basin, an area of incalculable beauty and importance. Nearly $2 billion was secured for indigenous people; I will come to that shortly.
However, we know that pledges and finance alone will not be enough. That is why, alongside those finance commitments, we focused on the necessary systemic change. We secured extremely hard-won commitments from all the main multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, which committed to aligning their portfolios not only with Paris but with nature. That alone will have a big impact on the market.
As importantly, we secured a commitment from the world’s biggest buyers of agricultural commodities, including the Chinese-owned COFCO, that their buying policies will be aligned with 1.5 degrees and our overall deforestation goals. It is hard to exaggerate the potency of that signal to some of the more reluctant forest countries, which we simply were not going to get over the line but succeeded in doing so because of that commitment from the commodity buyers. In addition to all that, we secured commitments from financial
institutions with nearly $9 trillion in assets that they too will align their portfolios with the same deforestation goals. While I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter on his excellent maiden speech, I also thank the Church of England through him for its leadership on this issue, because on many of the commitments I just described we were helped significantly through working with, among others, its representatives. I heap praise on that institution.
I mentioned support for indigenous communities, and that is key. They have protected the world’s forests for generations, often in the face of serious threats to their lives, but their status in their lands is uncertain. In addition to the well-understood and very obvious issues of justice, there can be no better—and probably no cheaper—way to protect large areas of intact forest than by supporting those who have been looking after them for so long. The new finance that has been committed will be focused largely on issues of land tenure and will have a major impact. As one indigenous leader at COP said, “We have protected 80% of the world’s forest biodiversity without any support at all; can you imagine what we will do with that support?” Tuntiak Katan, the co-ordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, said:
“After attending these climate events for years, this one is different. The UK has put tremendous effort into raising our visibility at this COP.”
The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, rightly pointed to next year’s CBD COP 15. It is the next big opportunity and the next big step. We will do everything we can to build on what was secured on nature in this COP to maximise the chance of an even more ambitious COP 15. We are not the hosts, but I can absolutely commit that the UK is bracing and ratcheting up every tool we have to make the biggest possible impact on that.
One area that has long been contentious, which has been raised by a number of people, including the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is the issue of loss and damage. We know that even if we keep warming to 1.5 degrees, the world will change and the most vulnerable countries, particular small island states, will be very badly affected. Indeed, they are already being affected. This is an existential issue for them. What makes it worse in a sense is that, in addition to being those hit hardest, they tend on the whole to have the most progressive climate policies and are very forward-leading. That means that, when they speak, they have huge moral authority.
It is welcome then that, within the Glasgow climate pact, countries agreed to double their climate finance for efforts to cope and adapt to climate change impacts. Although we did not secure what was rightly demanded on loss and damage, the Glasgow countries agreed to establish the Santiago Network for loss and damage and initiate a dialogue around the financing of these activities. It is our job now as COP president for the next year to ensure that that dialogue leads to something. We have also worked hard to improve access to finance for the most vulnerable, including the small island developing states, by launching some months ago the access to finance taskforce with Fiji, which has already yielded results, not least in the manner in which some of the multilateral development banks make finance available to those vulnerable countries.
COP 26 delivered in multiple other ways. We saw major commitments from countries to put climate change at the centre of national curriculums. We secured commitments from Governments to put women at the heart of their climate policies and actions. We saw bold commitments from city mayors around the world. Some of the greatest climate leaders are city administrations.
The point about accreditation made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, is a very good one. There were a lot of oil company representatives at COP, but that is not the fault of the UK Government. We have no control over accreditation at all. I suspect that if we had had that role, we would have had a far better gender balance and we certainly would not have had as many oil procurers and sellers dominating the halls of the conference. Throughout our presidency, we have been extremely resistant to the kind of lobbying that might result in us wanting to water down our ambitions for COP or what we do domestically.
I turn finally to the text agreed at COP, where negotiators from 197 parties reached agreement on a range of key issues. In a historic first, COP 26 agreed the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation and the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage to better co-ordinate financial support. Crucially, they delivered on leaders’ calls to accelerate climate action this decade, a point also made well by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. That means that we have an incredibly powerful ratchet mechanism. We can push and push to get countries to ramp up their ambition over this coming year—not in 50 years, but now. We will absolutely need our COP unit, led by the brilliant Alok Sharma and his brilliant team, to be fully resourced to do that.
The Paris rulebook—the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is implemented—was finally agreed. That includes agreement on transparency processes that will hold countries to account.
We have seen real progress on the agreements reached around Article 6, but I will not have time to go into that now, other than to say that this creates an opportunity where we can have high-integrity carbon markets at supply and demand. That should unleash very large sums of money to protect the world’s forests, if done properly.
COP 26 is a historic moment. I have no doubt about that. The gap in ambition has narrowed. We now have net-zero commitments for over 90% of the world’s economy —up from 30% two years ago—and 1.5 degrees is alive. There is a huge and clear recognition now—indeed, we have won the argument—that we cannot achieve a solution to climate change, or indeed many other issues, without massive support for nature. All this relies on commitments being honoured in full by all countries. As we hold the presidency for the year, we will do absolutely everything we can to make sure that those commitments are indeed honoured in full.
I will use the remaining seconds I have to echo the remarks of many noble Lords and heap thanks on Alok Sharma. He did a magnificent job. I think he worked almost more hours than there are in a day and his team supported him extremely well. In anyone else’s hands, COP would not have delivered the kind of
results it did. No one is going to pretend that we delivered enough, but we certainly delivered more than was anticipated in these difficult times and much of that is down to his hard work. He was supported all the way through by our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
18 November 2021