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COP26, climate change and autocratic regimes – an uncomfortable mix

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As the great and the good descended on Glasgow for the just concluded COP26 climate conference you could have been forgiven for displaying a degree of cynicism.

Despite the tidal wave of commitments from Western governments and multinational companies aimed at tackling climate change, the elephant in the Blue Zone was the mounting carbon emissions of some of the largest global polluters, the autocratic behemoths of China and Russia. 

According to “Our World in Data”, China and Russia together constitute approximately 33% of global carbon dioxide emissions with China alone accounting for a startling 28% of the world’s share.

Without concrete and immediate action from by far the world’s largest emitter (China), the chances of keeping global temperature increases to below 2 degrees by 2050 look rather farfetched. To placate an ever increasing array of critics, last year President Xi Jinping pledged that China would hit peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. In addition, he guaranteed to cut carbon intensity by “at least 65%” from 2005 levels by 2030, from a previous goal of “up to 65%.” Promises of that ilk have also been made by China’s state-owned steel, coal and power companies at the behest of the regime.

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As ever with political pronouncements from Beijing, the chasm between words and deeds is yawning. In 2003, China accounted for 22% of global carbon dioxide emissions but by 2020 this had increased dramatically to 31%. Its share of global coal consumption rose from 36% to 54% in the same timeframe. With the latest global energy crunch further complicating matters, Beijing is in fact ramping up its coal-fired capacity in flagrant disregard of the environment, its citizens and its hollow carbon reduction promises.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, China is tripling its capacity to make fuel out of coal, about the most carbon-intensive process anybody can imagine. It already has more than 1,000 gigawatts of coal power and has another 105 gigawatts in the pipeline. By comparison the UK’s entire electricity generational capacity is about 75 gigawatts.

China’s neighbour Russia is hardly faring any better. In a year that has seen record-breaking forest fires in Siberia, torrential flooding on the Black Sea and a searing heatwave in Moscow, questions are being asked in Russia about what President Putin and his government plan to do about the existential threat of climate change. 

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Over the past year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to develop a plan for Russia to lower its emissions below those of the European Union by 2050. In the Far East, the Pacific coast island of Sakhalin hopes to leverage its vast forests to become Russia’s first carbon neutral region. At every level of the Russian government, climate policy is the hot topic.

As in China, there is a need to look beyond the headlines to see if action matches the lofty rhetoric. Russia has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060 (a target in line with China, though ten years less ambitious than the EU and the UK), but a Russian net zero is likely to be shrouded in over-exaggeration about the amount of carbon absorbed by the country’s forests, rather than in meaningful reductions in emissions via the mass rollout and subsequent adoption of transformative technologies.

A recurring issue clouding any Russian decarbonisation efforts is the litany of what are seen as “environmental disasters” perpetrated by private businesses in the region, one example being Norilsk Nickel’s accidental leak of 21,000 tonnes of diesel into a Siberian river last May, for which oligarch Vladimir Potanin was forced to pay a record fine of $2bn, and noxious chemical leaks at the Togliattiazot ammonia plant in southern Russia under the ownership of Sergei Makhlai.

Neither Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin attended COP26 in a move that not only set a rather ominous tone for the conference but one that is widely seen as a blow to efforts to get world leaders to negotiate a new deal to stall rising global temperatures. It remains to be seen how seriously the two autocratic leaders will take their climate responsibilities but away from geopolitical calculations is a simple truth: China and Russia are vast countries that are warming faster than the planet at large. A succession of wildly volatile seasons and weather patterns, and their attendant natural catastrophes, have left the Russian and Chinese populations far more attuned to environmental issues. For leaders that like to stay on the right side of public opinion wherever possible, in the long run there may be little choice but for Xi and Putin to go fully green and perhaps even consider attending the successor events to COP26.

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COP26

COP26: EU helps deliver outcome to keep the Paris Agreement targets alive

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At the end of the COP26 UN Climate Conference today, the European Commission supported the consensus reached by over 190 countries after two weeks of intense negotiations. COP26 resulted in the completion of the Paris Agreement rulebook and kept the Paris targets alive, giving us a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "We have made progress on the three objectives we set at the start of COP26: First, to get commitments to cut emissions to keep within reach the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees. Second, to reach the target of 100 billion dollars per year of climate finance to developing and vulnerable countries. And third, to get agreement on the Paris rulebook. This gives us confidence that we can provide a safe and prosperous space for humanity on this planet. But there will be no time to relax: there is still hard work ahead.”

Executive Vice-President and EU lead negotiator, Frans Timmermans, said: “It is my firm belief that the text that has been agreed reflects a balance of the interests of all Parties, and allows us to act with the urgency that is essential for our survival. It is a text that can bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren. It is a text, which keeps alive the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And it is a text which acknowledges the needs of developing countries for climate finance, and sets out a process to deliver on those needs.

Under the Paris Agreement, 195 countries set a target to keep average global temperature change below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C. Before COP26, the planet was on course for a dangerous 2.7°C of global warming. Based on new announcements made during the Conference, experts estimate that we are now on a path to between 1.8°C and 2.4°C of warming. In today's conclusions, Parties have now agreed to revisit their commitments, as necessary, by the end of 2022 to put us on track for 1.5°C of warming, maintaining the upper end of ambition under the Paris Agreement.

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In order to deliver on these promises, COP26 also agreed for the first time to accelerate efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and recognised the need for support towards a just transition.

COP26 also completed the technical negotiations on the so-called Paris Agreement Rulebook, which fixes the transparency and reporting requirements for all Parties to track progress against their emission reduction targets. The Rulebook also includes the Article 6 mechanisms, which set out the functioning of international carbon markets to support further global cooperation on emission reductions.

On climate finance, the agreed text commits developed countries to double the collective share of adaptation finance within the $100 billion annual target for 2021-2025, and to reach the $100 billion goal as soon as possible. Parties also commit to a process to agree on long-term climate finance beyond 2025. The COP also decided to establish a dialogue between parties, stakeholders and relevant organisations to support efforts to avert, minimise and address loss and damage associated with climate change.

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New EU Commitments

On 1-2 November, President Ursula von der Leyen represented the Commission at the World Leaders Summit which opened COP26. The President pledged €1 billion in funding for the Global Forests Finance Pledge on 1 November. On 2 November, the EU announced a Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa and officially launched the Global Methane Pledge, a joint EU-US initiative which has mobilised over 100 countries to cut their collective methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels. President von der Leyen also kicked off the EU-Catalyst partnership with Bill Gates and EIB President Werner Hoyer. 

From 7 to 13 November, Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans led the EU negotiating team in Glasgow. On 9 November, Mr Timmermans announced a new pledge of €100 million in finance for the Climate Adaptation Fund, by far the biggest pledge for the Adaptation Fund made by donors at COP26. It comes on top of significant contributions already announced by Member States, and also confirms the EU's supporting role to the informal Champions Group on Adaptation Finance.

EU side events at COP26

During the conference, the EU hosted over 150 side events at the EU Pavilion in Glasgow and online. These events, organised by a variety of countries and organisations from Europe and around the world, addressed a broad range of climate-related issues, such as the energy transition, sustainable finance and research and innovation. Over 20,000 registered to the online platform.

Background

The European Union is a global leader in climate action, having already cut its greenhouse gas emissions by over 30% since 1990, while growing its economy by over 60%. With the European Green Deal, presented in December 2019, the EU further raised its climate ambition by committing to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. This objective became legally binding with the adoption and entry into force of the European Climate Law. The Climate Law also sets an intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This 2030 target was communicated to the UNFCCC in December 2020 as the EU's NDC under the Paris Agreement. In order to deliver on these commitments, the European Commission presented a package of proposals in July 2021 to make the EU's climate, energy, land use, transport and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

Developed countries have committed to mobilise a total of $100 billion per year of international climate finance from 2020 until 2025 to help the most vulnerable countries and small island states in particular in their mitigation and adaptation efforts. The EU is the largest donor, contributing over a third of the current pledges, accounting for €23.39 billion ($27 billion) of climate finance in 2020. President von der Leyen recently announced an additional € 4 billion from the EU budget for climate finance until 2027.

For More Information: 

Q&A on the EU at COP26

From ambition to action: Acting together for the planet (Factsheet)

European Commission COP26 webpage and Side Events Programme

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COP26 needs to be a turning point for smallholder farmers and the pursuit of food security

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As global leaders assemble in Glasgow for the COP26 conference, it is imperative that they do not forget about the people most at-risk from increasing global temperatures, particularly in Africa. The conference is a real opportunity for world leaders to acknowledge major global issues associated with climate change. Specifically, food security must be prioritised in discussions, as it is one of the major issues in sub-Saharan Africa that is only forecast to worsen as temperatures continue to rise, in turn threatening to exacerbate poverty and disease on a continent desperate for change , writes Zuneid Yousuf, Chairman African Green Resources (AGR).

I know all too-well the issues facing citizens, and in particular, smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa due to my decades of working with them in Zambia, a country where agriculture contributes 20% to total GDP. Like Zambia’s farmers, I know that if temperatures continue to rise, the problems will only mount. 25% of our population faces high levels of acute food insecurity (over 1.7 million people). Climate change is already compounding this, and the forecast makes for grim reading for Zambians.

In Glasgow this week, Zambia’s new president, Hakainde Hichilema, highlighted domestic action in Zambia being taken to contribute to global climate change mitigation strategies.

"We have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% based on the 2010 levels by 2030 using a combination of our own domestic resources and other support that we have traditionally received," explained Hichilema.

"Zambia is willing and ready to support your leadership and will work closely with the global community in resolving this challenge," added Hichilema to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The World Bank estimates that if global warming continues at the current rate, crop yields in Zambia will decrease 25% by 2050, and that in the next 10-20 years, climate change-related losses (for example from increased droughts) will reach between $2.2-3.1 billion. This would be devastating for a country already suffering from food insecurity on a mass scale, and therefore requires urgent action from both within Zambia and beyond.

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Speaking in October, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon drew attention to the issues facing smallholder farmers and how important COP26 therefore is.

"If we want a world free of hunger and poverty while adapting to and mitigating the climate crisis, we need to put smallholder farmers right at the centre of our efforts to tackle these issues,£ said the former UN Secretary-General.

Illustrating the importance of investing in new technologies, coherent policies, and crucially providing financial aid to such farmers, he called for action to be taken in order to mitigate climate emissions and food insecurity.

We await concrete policy commitments from the conference, but I remain optimistic that global leaders can see the gravity of the situation in front of them, recognising that they are in a position to help countries like Zambia. During a global pandemic which has further worsened inequality and poverty in such regions, there could be no better time for firm action.

Fortunately, it appears that Hichilema has prioritised domestic action in Zambia to help the agriculture sector navigate this storm. During his election campaign, Hichilema highlighted the importance of agriculture to the country’s economy and way of life, drawing comparisons with his upbringing as a humble cattle farmer.

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We can now see that these were not false promises, and that action is already being taken to help smallholder farmers in the country through multiple investment initiatives.

In September this year, Hichilema spoke at the UN Food Systems Summit in New York City, outlining key initiatives that his new government was undertaking at home. ‘We are working on expanding and improving the provision of agriculture extension services and equipment as well as provide affordable tailored financial products to small-scale farmers’ said Hichilema.

Zambia’s government is already investigating the possibility of reducing the cost of fertiliser by more than 50%, and in October, alongside Minister of Agriculture Mtolo Phiri, Hichilema further reinforced key pledges made to the backbone of Zambia’s economy. ‘We are working on reforms to make Zambian people more food secure’, said Phiri before announcing reforms to Zambia’s Farmer Input Support Programme whereby farmers now receive six free bags of fertiliser and 10kg of seed for this farming season.

Such changes are warmly welcomed by farmers and citizens alike in the country, but it is essential that larger action is taken given the seriousness of the climate emergency.

Later in October, Zambia’s government announced a new investment partnership with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Zanaco, Zambia’s national commercial bank. The $35 million initiative will lead to the ‘improving of access to finance’ for smallholder farmers according to Mukwandi Chibesakunda, CEO of Zanaco.

Combined with the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), such initiatives will work in conjunction with the new administration’s efforts to rightfully shine the spotlight on Zambia’s farmers.

This is what we have been talking about… Zambia is open for business through joint ventures’ asserted Hichilema after the news of the investment agreement.
Like Hichilema, I have always believed in Zambia, its people, its resource-rich land, and its potential. This is precisely why I established African Green Resources (AGR). I too acknowledge the issues facing Zambia’s critical agriculture sector and therefore wish to use my expertise to attract further investment to this great country that is desperate to reach its incredible potential.

AGR aims to enable smallholder farmers to maximize their crop yields by creating a sustainable agricultural economy via the facilitation of agricultural credit, raw products such as fertiliser, and working capital for equipment leases. We have been active both before and since Hichilema’s election, with numerous multi-million-dollar investments in the country, working with global partners. Furthermore, we plan to invest a further $150m in projects in Zambia including a 50-megawatt solar farm and irrigation dam to further assist with sustainable agricultural endeavours in the country that I believe in.

It is my hope that such investments will inspire others to also see Zambia’s massive potential that is waiting to be unleashed, and that, crucially, investments like this can lead to a better and more sustainable future for all Zambians.

The issue of food security needs be at the centre of climate deliberations, and it is fundamental that action is taken by the global community to mitigate climate warming that could further exacerbate the issue facing the population.

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Commission, Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and European Investment Bank advance partnership in climate technologies

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At the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Bill Gates, the Founder of Breakthrough Energy, together with European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer, have officially entered into a pioneering partnership that will boost investments in critical climate technologies. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding follows up on the initial announcement made in June this year at the Mission Innovation Ministerial Conference.  

The partnership between Commission, European Investment Bank and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will mobilize up to €820 million ($1 billion) between 2022-2026 to accelerate the deployment and rapidly commercialise innovative technologies that will help deliver European Green Deal ambitions and the EU's 2030 climate targets. Each euro of public funds is expected to leverage three euros of private funds. Investments will be directed towards a portfolio of EU-based projects with high potential in four sectors:

  • Clean hydrogen;
  • sustainable aviation fuels;
  • direct air capture, and;
  • long-duration energy storage.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said:“The time for action is now. The climate challenge requires us to invest in high-risk innovations and to eliminate the ‘green premium' involved in commercialising new technologies. I cannot wait to see the technologies coming to the market. The EU-Catalyst partnership is another step on the way to making Europe the first climate neutral and climate innovation continent. I look to Member States, industry and others to join the climate innovation race.”

European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer said: “To meet the Paris climate goals we need a global technological revolution and massive investments in game-changing innovations. The European Investment Bank has a strong track record of financing early stage technologies, helping scale them up to become more affordable. Today we are using this expertise to reach the EU's ambitious climate targets. I am delighted that we can announce today a new partnership with the European Commission and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst to support the green solutions of tomorrow and build a green future for all of us.”

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Bill Gates, founder of Breakthrough Energy, said: “Reaching net-zero will be one of the hardest things humanity has ever done. It will require new technologies, new policies, and new partnerships between the private and public sector at a scale we have never seen before. This partnership with the European Commission and European Investment Bank will help accelerate the widespread adoption of climate solutions, which will build clean industries, and create job opportunities throughout Europe for generations to come.” 

The EU-Catalyst partnership will target technologies with a recognised potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but which are currently too expensive to get to scale and compete with fossil fuel-based technologies. It will bring together the public and private sectors to invest in large-scale demonstration projects.

Both the European Investment Bank (using Commission resources) and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will provide equivalent amounts of grants and financial investments in the projects. As part of its contribution, Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will mobilize partners to invest in projects and/or purchase the resulting green products.  

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By supporting these technologies in this phase of the demonstration process and creating a market for those green products, the EU-Catalyst partnership will drive down their ‘green premium', i.e. reduce their costs to a level that is eventually competitive with fossil-fuel based options. This will help to accelerate their global adoption and lead to independence from public support schemes. 

EU funding for the partnership will be drawn from Horizon Europe and the Innovation Fund, and will be managed under InvestEU according to established governance procedures. Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will leverage equivalent private capital and philanthropic funds in support of key climate-smart technologies to speed up the transition towards sustainable industrial ecosystems in Europe. The EU-Catalyst partnership will be open to national investments by EU Member States through InvestEU or at project level. The first projects are expected to be selected in 2022.

European Commission

The European Commission has a range of policies and programmes to deliver on its climate ambitions. Under the European Green Deal, the ‘Fit for 55' package was adopted in July 2021 with the aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

EU funding for projects supported under the Commission-Catalyst partnership will be channelled through the InvestEU programme and implemented by the European Investment Bank and other interested financial institutions.

For the purpose of this partnership, InvestEU funding is guaranteed by the Innovation Fund and Horizon Europe, the Europe's research and innovation framework programme worth €95.5 billion (2021-2027). Horizon Europe dedicates 35% of its budget to climate action, while the programme also supports a range of partnerships which mobilise private funding to deliver on pressing global challenges and modernise industry through research and innovation.

The Innovation Fund is a new funding instrument for delivering the EU's economy-wide commitments under the Paris Agreement and its climate objectives, by supporting the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies.

The Commission supports together with Breakthrough Energy Catalyst the second phase of Mission Innovation to bring about a decade of action and investment in research, development and demonstration to make clean energy affordable, attractive and accessible for all.

European Investment Bank

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union and is owned by the EU Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals both in Europe and beyond. The European Investment Bank is active in around 160 countries and is the world's largest multilateral lender for climate action projects.

The EIB Group has recently adopted its Climate Bank Roadmap to deliver on its ambitious agenda to support €1 trillion of climate action and environmental sustainability investments in the decade to 2030 and to deliver more than 50% of EIB finance for climate action and environmental sustainability by 2025. Also, as part of the Roadmap, from the start of 2021, all new EIB Group operations will be aligned with the goals and principles of the Paris Agreement.

Breakthrough Energy

Founded by Bill Gates, Breakthrough Energy is dedicated to helping humanity avoid a climate disaster. Through investment vehicles, philanthropic programs, policy advocacy, and other activities, Breakthrough Energy is committed to scaling the technologies the world needs to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Breakthrough Energy Catalyst is a first-of-its-kind model designed to accelerate the critical climate technologies that will underpin a zero-carbon economy. Catalyst seeks to bring together the public and private sectors to fund commercial-stage demonstration projects for critical decarbonisation solutions. Catalyst will address the early deployment funding gap for these technologies and provide a structure to accelerate their commercialisation. Catalyst will start by funding projects across four technologies: green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel, direct air capture, and long-duration energy storage. In the future, Catalyst intends to expand the same framework to other necessary innovations, like low-carbon steel and cement.

More information

Speech by the President on clean technology innovation (europa.eu)

Questions and Answers: EU-Catalyst Partnership

Factsheet: EU-Catalyst Partnership

Memorandum of Understanding

COP26

Breakthrough Energy

A European Green Deal | European Commission (europa.eu)

Cluster 5: Climate, Energy and Mobility | European Commission (europa.eu)

Innovation Fund | Climate Action (europa.eu)

EU to set up new European Partnerships (europa.eu)

European Clean Hydrogen Alliance | Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (europa.eu)

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