- The climate summit COP26 runs 1-12 November in Glasgow.
- On this Radio Davos podcast, we discuss the big issues for the COP.
- And climate campaigner Jennifer Morgan sets out her hopes and fears.
"COP26 is not a photo-op nor a talking shop," Alok Sharma, the British government minister who will chair the climate summit, said in a recent speech.
So what is COP26, and what can we expect from it? That is the question we seek to answer on this week's Radio Davos podcast.
Gideon Lichfield, Global Editor in Chief of Wired, joins us to look ahead to the summit.
Our two-minute explainer: What is COP26 and why does it matter?
What is a 'COP'
The climate summit COP26 takes place on 1-12 November, 2021 in Glasgow. But what is a ‘COP’ - why is this ‘26’, and why does it matter?
COP stands for 'Conference of the Parties' - a meeting of all the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - the treaty that was agreed at the so-called Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 under which governments agreed to tackle global warming.
That UN treaty was signed in 1992 - so why do we keep having these COPs?
That treaty did not set out the details of how countries would do that - that work was left open for discussion at the annual conferences of the parties. The first of those - COP1 - took place in Berlin in 1995.
What happens at a COP?
Governments negotiate what action each of them must take to fight climate change. Some COPs have resulted in landmark agreements that have advanced climate action, although sometimes progress is a matter of ‘two steps forward and one step back’.
At COP3, held in Kyoto, Japan, governments agreed the first ever binding greenhouse gas emissions targets. But the deal frayed at subsequent COPs and the United States - the world’s biggest polluter at the time - pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.
The last landmark COP was COP21 in Paris in 2015 which produced the Paris Agreement - where countries said they would keep global warming to well below 2°C (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels, and preferably no more than 1.5°C.
So Paris was a landmark - but why is Glasgow so important?
The Paris deal requires countries to increase the ambition of their greenhouse gas emissions plans every five years. As COP26 was delayed by a year due to the COVID pandemic, that deadline has stretched to six years. Current pledges - even if matched by action - would not reach the Paris targets, so the big question for the COP is, are we getting closer to reining-in climate change, or is it out of our grasp?
So COP26 is not a talking shop. This is how Alok Sharma defined it:
"It must be the forum where you put the world on track to deliver on climate. And that is down to leaders. It is leaders who made a promise for the world in Paris six years ago, and it is leaders that must honour it. Responsibility rests with each and every country, and we must all play our part, because on climate, the world will succeed or fail as one."
Mentioned in this podcast:
You'll hear a lot of talk about Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It's all about the rules that could govern international emissions trading - buying and selling the right to pollute. As this explainer from the World Resources Institute puts it: "Getting these rules right is critical for fighting climate change: depending on how they are structured, Article 6 could help the world avoid dangerous levels of global warming or let countries off the hook from making meaningful emissions cuts."
That's the amount that richer countries have pledged to give each year to help poorer ones deal with climate change. It has not been reached, and will be a major issue in Glasgow. Read more here.
Jennifer Morgan mentioned the many court cases on climate change. You can read more on that in this blog and hear more in this episode of Radio Davos from earlier this year:
Transcript of this episode:
Speaker 2: On this week's Radio Davos, we're looking ahead to COP26, which starts in a few days time, and I'm joined by Gideon Lichfield, who's the global Editor in Chief of Wired. Gideon, how are you?
Gideon Lichfield: Hello. How's it going, Robin?
Robin Pomeroy: Not bad. Thank you. Where do we find you? Are you in California?
Gideon Lichfield: I am in San Francisco right now, yes.
Robin Pomeroy: Is climate change a big issue for the kind of people who read or who consume Wired, do you think?
Gideon Lichfield: Yes, climate is a huge issue for the people who read Wired and for the people who write for Wired. We are covering it as one of the main challenges that the world faces. I think of Wired as being a publication about how we solve the world's biggest problems, and climate is obviously one of them.
Robin Pomeroy: And that's exactly what we try to do here on Radio Davos. Look at the world's biggest challenges and how we might solve them, and climate change might be the biggest and hardest challenge that humanity faces. I'm assuming most people listening to this know what climate change is, but I've realized recently that quite a few people might not know what a COP is or why it's called a COP. So, with that in mind, my colleague Juliet Masiga and I have recorded this audio explainer that answers some of those questions in a two minute nutshell. Juliet, what is a COP?
Juliet Masiga: COP stands for Conference of the Parties, a meeting of all the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The treaty that was agreed at the so-called Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, under which governments agreed to tackle global warming.
Robin Pomeroy: That UN treaty was signed in 1992. So, why do we keep having these COPs?
Juliet Masiga: That treaty did not set up the details. That work was left open for discussion at the annual Conference of the Parties. The first of those, COP1, took place in Berlin in 1995.
Robin Pomeroy: So, what happens at a COP?
Juliet Masiga: Governments negotiate what action each of them must take to fight climate change. Some COPs have resulted in landmark agreements that have advanced climate action, although sometimes progress is a matter of two steps forward and one step back.
Robin Pomeroy: For example?
Juliet Masiga: At COP3 held in Kyoto, Japan, governments agreed the first ever binding greenhouse gas emissions targets, but the deal frayed at subsequent COPs and the United States, the world's biggest polluter at the time, pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol. The last landmark COP was COP21 in Paris in 2015, which produced the Paris Agreement, where countries said they would keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius — that's 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — above pre-industrial levels, and preferably no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Robin Pomeroy: OK, Paris was a landmark, but why is Glasgow so important?
Juliet Masiga: The Paris deal requires countries to increase the ambition of their greenhouse gas emissions plans every five years, as COP26 was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that deadline has stretched to six years. Current pledges, even if matched by action, would not reach the Paris targets. So, the big question for the COP is: are we getting closer to reining in climate change, or is it out of our grasp?
Robin Pomeroy: Well, that's the theory of what COP is, but what does it feel like to be at one? Here's veteran Reuters climate change correspondent Alister Doyle.
Alister Doyle: As long as you don't mind being bewildered for two weeks at a time, they're pretty OK. But I've been to 13 so far, I counted them up just before today, and Glasgow will be the 14th. They are just enormous places, jamborees of meetings of government, delegates, businesses, environmental activists, journalists, all sorts of people. They swap around the world from one place to the other. This year was Glasgow, last year was Madrid, it was meant to be Chile. They are confusing places and they tend to end with less perhaps than people have hoped for, I suppose, at the beginning generally. But still, it's a ship that's been sailing since the early 90s and it has come up with some agreements. After all, the Paris Agreement was a massive breakthrough.
Robin Pomeroy: The former Reuters climate correspondent Alister Doyle. We'll be hearing more from him on a forthcoming episode of Radio Davos, where he talks about his book The Great Melt: Accounts from the Frontline of Climate Change. Gideon, in the second half of this episode, we'll be hearing from someone who's been to even more COPs than that — somebody that's been to all of them, environmental campaigner Jennifer Morgan. But before that, let's talk about this one. COP26, let's get into the big issues that are going to be coming up there. Let's hear from someone who'll be playing a key role at COP26 in Glasgow. The chief negotiator for the United States, climate envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry.
John Kerry: The key is to accelerate everything. We are behind, we are dangerously behind. In order to achieve net-zero by 2050, we have to reduce by about 50 percent between 2020 and 2030. So the race is on now to get that reduction and to do that, I am told by the experts 50 percent of the reductions we need to get will come from technologies that are not yet at scale.
Robin Pomeroy: 50 percent we're relying on technology that isn't there. If it is there, isn't there big enough, yet. Do you put faith in technology to save us from climate change, Gideon?
Gideon Lichfield: I do, and I don't. In other words, I think that technology has a huge part to play, and it's in everything from coming up with new ways to generate clean energy, to smart grids that use that energy more effectively, to finding ways to decarbonize very carbon-heavy industries like steel, to crops that use less water. There are a massive raft of technologies that are either already existing or in development or that could be developed in the future. And at the same time, the tech in itself obviously isn't enough. It requires the political will, it requires the policies, and it requires the financing. And the finance, I think in particular in poorer countries, which is obviously one of the goals of COP26, is to bring more financing to poorer countries so that they can create incentives for decarbonizing their own economies and create opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs there who want to come up with local solutions.
Robin Pomeroy: What excites you about technology? Technology is a fun, exciting thing, and if you look at Wired, there's all the gadgets and all the great stuff that's coming out. So, we can get excited about the next iPhone or whatever, but are there some of those things you mentioned which are sometimes a bit kind of grand-scale — industrial decarbonizing, steel manufacturing, this kind of thing? When you come across news stories like that, are there any that do really grab you? Or, is it more a case of it's worthy and earnest, but it's quite difficult to get readers interested in that kind of thing?
Gideon Lichfield: No, there's a lot of stuff that is fun and exciting, and we cover quite a lot of those sorts of stories at Wired, because I think one of the things we do is give people stories of ideas that are inspiring or exciting. And so if I look at the stuff that we've done recently, a couple of things spring to mind. We have a story about using solar panels to cover crops. And the idea here is that if you're a farmer and particularly if you're in a very hot climate, you could use solar panels to provide some partial shade to your crops so they're not being beaten down by the sun. They use less water, in some cases they grow better, and at the same time, you're getting double use out of your land, because that same surface area is now covered with solar panels that you can use to generate electricity for your farm and even sell to the grid. That's a really sort of simple, almost, idea. It's a fun one, it's an interesting one, it's already using existing technology.
Then there are things like using remote sensing from space to monitor biodiversity or land use or water use. There are high-tech things, there are low-tech things like putting reflective coatings on walls of buildings and on road surfaces to reflect more heat back and reduce the temperature of a city. There are things like greening cities. So, there's an enormous amount of stuff, some of which is fun, some of which is exciting.
I think the problem, maybe, with all of this is actually encapsulated in a piece that we ran a couple of months ago by one of our columnists, Paul Ford. He is a software developer who's now gotten really interested in climate change. And he is recalling the days of the dot-com boom as this amazing time of possibility when people were trying lots and lots of different things and there were countless start-ups and there was so many avenues that people were exploring, and then it all collapsed. And he's worried a little bit that there might be even some kind of the equivalent of the dot-com boom in climate tech. There is a huge amount of venture capital financing now flowing to climate tech. There are thousands of start-ups, thousands of ideas. But do any of them add up to the kinds of massive scale solutions that we need? Or are they really just an opportunity for lots of people to do some fun things for a while that don't pan out? I think that's the crucial question.
Robin Pomeroy: That's fascinating. Now you're in Silicon Valley.
Gideon Lichfield: Right now I am, yes.
Robin Pomeroy: This is a place where ideas come and go. They're tested. Failing is not seen as a bad thing, we always hear. Because you can try out crazy new ideas, some of which will become the next Facebook, or whatever. Is there a feeling there that the tech nerds of Silicon Valley are really getting into climate change, or is it something that's yet to happen?
Gideon Lichfield: Oh, very much so. There was some news a couple of months ago about Chris Sacca, who is one of the legends of Silicon Valley investing, launching climate tech funds worth about $800 million. You have climate pledges from various other leading tech entrepreneurs and investors. So, it definitely feels like something that people are very much getting into. And there is once again that Silicon Valley conviction that by just applying enough brains and enough money and enough tech, we can solve this thing. And I think there's, you know, there's room for that kind of determination and that drive and that interest in trying to find solutions. And at the same time, you know, as we've already said, there is that in itself is not the thing that will change the world.
We need the policies, we need the global agreements, we need the financing at a large scale so that it's not just a whole bunch of tech solutionists trying to find the next thing that will make them a bunch of money, but may not have a large-scale impact.
Robin Pomeroy: And as John Kerry said in that soundbite we heard, we need a 50 percent worldwide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions this decade. Now obviously, some of those technical solutions will be helping that, but there's no two ways about it - those reductions have to happen. Let me play you another clip. This is Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace, and we'll be hearing more from her towards the end of this episode. She's the only person I know who's been to every single COP. So this is her 26th out of 26. This is what she had to say about technology and policy.
Jennifer Morgan: Governments need to stop exploring for new fossil fuels and invest the funds and the subsidies that go to fossil fuels into clean and renewable energy. We have all of the policy solutions we need. That's not the issue anymore. We have the technology that moves things quickly. But what is lacking is the courage to stand up to those interests that want to keep things going the same.
Robin Pomeroy: Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace saying technologies are there to tackle climate change, but the policies or the political will isn't. Does that does that chime with you Gideon?
Gideon Lichfield: Yes, I think this is what we're going to see at COP26. It's going to be crucial whether governments from some of the bigger countries re-up their climate pledges, in particular, some of the ones that are opposing the reduction in the use of coal or else slow-walking the reduction in the use of coal. If countries don't try to eliminate coal from their energy production, then obviously that is a huge problem for tackling climate change.
There are some encouraging things, like the agreement that was reached by the US and Europe to bring down methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. That is a policy that creates an opportunity for technologists because there is a lot that can be done in terms of reducing methane, particularly from livestock, whether it's tweaking their diets so that they produce less methane or even fitting masks on them that can help convert methane into carbon dioxide instead. Methane, obviously, as we know, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So policies like that, when they're adopted, can create that possibility for the technology to then go and do its work. But you need those policies first.
Robin Pomeroy: So one of the big policies could be a carbon tax or in some way, pricing carbon emissions. And I put that to Fatih Birol, who's the head of the International Energy Agency, featured in last week's episode of Radio Davos. And you may have heard him say this:
Fatih Birol: In theory, it is the best way to address the problem, putting a price on carbon. Economic theory tells us that this would be the best and easiest solution. However, when it comes to the real-life, I have difficulties to believe that we can implement the carbon pricing schemes in many parts of the emerging world, and it may not be possible in the real-world context. So therefore, I wouldn't put all the bets on the carbon pricing.
Carbon pricing — yes, very good idea, but in some cases, especially the emerging countries, it is difficult to implement today. Therefore, we need to look at other options ranging from government regulation to incentivizing renewables, hydropower and other low carbon technologies.
Robin Pomeroy: Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency. So he's saying the economists all say, yes, pricing carbon — making people pay to emit carbon — is a great idea, but unfortunately the real world gets in the way. That's probably the case for climate policies over the decades — there are ideas and policies there, but the real world gets in the way. Do you have any opinions about climate pricing?
Gideon Lichfield: I think everyone agrees that carbon pricing, carbon taxes, could be a hugely effective tool if only countries could agree to implement it. And indeed, at COP26, Article six of the Paris Accord is going to be one of the things that they are trying to finalize; the rulebook, basically, for carbon markets. But that is the thing that has gotten held up the most at previous meetings, and it is a really difficult thing for countries to agree on. The US, in particular, seems to have generally lost interest in a carbon tax. It's fallen off the priority list for President Joe Biden. There's not a lot of optimism that it's going to pass here, especially in the political climate that now is. So that I think is a real problem. If countries can't agree on this mechanism to try to create market incentives for emissions to be reduced, then they're left with other policies, but ones that may not be as effective.
Robin Pomeroy: So, we're about to go into COP26. Will there be things you'll be looking out for to judge whether it was worth holding this massive conference in Glasgow and whether the world has made a step of progress?
Gideon Lichfield: I think we'll be looking at the same things that everybody who follows this is looking at. We'll be looking at whether or not there is any progress on that Article six rulebook about carbon markets, in other words, whether there is any sign that countries are getting closer to agreeing on how to run those internationally. Whether or not there's any progress on the pledge to phase out coal, and whether there's any increase in the financing for poor countries — COP was supposed to reach a $100 billion a year in financing for poorer countries from richer ones. It's a bit short of that at the moment, so an increase in that money would also represent some sort of commitment to taking climate change a bit more seriously. It always seems to be incremental at these summits, but I think people are looking for at least signs of movement on those kinds of things.
Robin Pomeroy: Right. This was meant to be the five years on, wasn't it, from Paris, but delayed by a year. And this should have been a big step up in terms of the commitments. I guess we'll see what comes of that. I imagine all our listeners have heard of Wired, but if they want to come and find your content, where should they be looking?
Gideon Lichfield: Well, they should look on wired.com. And one of the things that is happening over the next few weeks is we are bringing Wired UK and Wired US together into a single publication with everything published on Wired.com. So, we're growing our team and that includes expanding our climate coverage. So we're growing, becoming a bigger and more global Wired, it will be all on wired.com.
Robin Pomeroy: Thanks very much for helping me look ahead to COP26, the Global Editor in Chief of Wired, Gideon Lichfield, thanks very much.
Gideon Lichfield: Thank you Robin.
Robin Pomeroy: Now to Jennifer Morgan. The head of Greenpeace has been campaigning for decades for action on climate change. As we chatted recently, I reminded her that we had met when I was a reporter at a COP, 20 COPs ago. Executive Director of Greenpeace International. Hi Jennifer, how are you?
Jennifer Morgan: Hey there! Great to be here with you.
Robin Pomeroy: Now, you may not remember, but I remember meeting you for the first time at COP6 November 2000. COP6. We're now at COP26, what's happened over 20, 21 years? And, if I could nudge you, if there's any kind of light at the end of the tunnel, has anything improved?
Jennifer Morgan: My first COP was COP1. So I, for better or for worse, have been to all of them, and I think what's happened is that the efforts by those who don't want the world to deal with climate change — the oil companies, the fossil fuel companies, the large industrial agriculture corporations — have managed to sow doubt, block progress, fund elections and make it very difficult for the world to move forward in addressing this climate chaos.
And so that has created a situation where the emission reductions that should have happened haven't, and the edge of what the scientists told us could happen is at the worst. The recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report is just stunning and scary, obviously, at the level and the intensity of things that are already happening around the world. That's part of the story.
You know, what has happened is certainly you have, from a technological perspective, vast progress in renewable energy. Looking across the board, wind and solar are taking off, economically viable. A lot of efforts to shut down coal around the world. Not fast enough. Not in enough places yet, but that is moving. But I think that's what really hasn't changed is the combination of opposition and greenwash from the elites and corporate around the world that has now created climate anxiety amongst our youth.
Robin Pomeroy: You mentioned the IPCC report. Are the warnings any more stark now? I mean, they were stark in the early 90s, weren't they?
Jennifer Morgan: The warnings have always been stark. And if one had listened to the scientists back in the 1960s, when Lyndon B. Johnson got the first science report on his desk, we would be in a different situation. What has changed is the impacts themselves are happening and we are seeing them ravaging people's homes all around the world. And I think what developed countries have experienced recently, in the US in Germany, is what developing countries have felt for some time. You just see these immense storms that come down, wipe away homes. You see forests going up in flames around the world. You know, you see people in subways in China and in New York. So what was seen as this faraway problem is now here and now. It is me, it is my kids. And I think that that panic, that anxiety, is much more tangible than it was. And you can't ignore it. You just can't ignore it anymore.
Robin Pomeroy: So twenty years ago, when I was a youngish reporter for Reuters in The Hague, at COP6, it was the tail end of the Clinton administration. It seems like ancient history now, and when the Kyoto Protocol should have been all tied up, but those talks effectively collapsed. A new US administration came, in pulled America out of the Kyoto Protocol. Now everyone talks about the Paris Agreement, which is today's what Kyoto was maybe 20 years ago. Do you have any confidence that countries will deliver on Paris in a way they didn't on Kyoto?
Jennifer Morgan: First of all, what you're noting is an incredibly important thing. The United States has not been a stable ally on tackling the climate crisis ever. And therefore it is essential, it is vital, it is absolutely needed that the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress deliver something that has legal character that can build confidence around the world that the U.S. will act and reduce its emissions at the scale that's required.
What's good about the Paris Agreement is that you do have this long-term goal that countries have signed up to, and you have a ratchet mechanism built-in for every country to increase its ambition. And what the coming COP is about is will they do it, or will they do it at scale? But the other thing, I think, is just people. I think there is so much support now. There is so much urgency all around the world, from youth to grandparents, to act. And I guess I just have to continue to think that those leaders are going to listen to that in a much more direct way than they have in the past.
Robin Pomeroy: And the geopolitical situation has changed over those years, not just the American elections swinging one way or the other, but the rise of China economically. Twenty years ago, China was not the world's biggest emitter, and it was not required under Kyoto to make emissions cuts. Now it is the biggest. How important is China, and how do you assess what China is doing?
Jennifer Morgan: Well, clearly what China does is very important. I think that over the years China had made good progress in building up clean energy and renewable energy and moving forward, I think what we've seen in the past is a bit of a stall in its industrial process and then a continuation of the use of coal as a dominant energy source. I think what I would say is the words of Xi Jinping have indicated he does see this in their self-interest, which it is certainly. He has put forward and spoken recently with President Biden about it. But China, like every other country, has to step up. It needs to peak its emissions earlier by, you know, 2025 at the latest.
Robin Pomeroy: So let's look at COP26, then. What would be the ideal outcome for you? What would be the worst outcome, and what do you actually expect?
Jennifer Morgan: It's important to remember that COPs don't magically solve the problem. This COP is, though, an incredibly important moment for heads of state and others to come forward and make it clear that it's going in the right direction. First of all, every country, particularly the G20 countries, need to come forward with more ambition on their nationally determined contributions, as they're known — so, their targets — that add up to something that gets us to keep 1.5 degrees in sight. Currently, it's at 2.7. We need a lot more there, and there's a set of countries that haven't come forward with anything yet. Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, China needs to come forward, and the developed countries as well. So that's obviously a very key part.
The other part that I think is also equally fundamental is you can call it a solidarity pact, and we see it now even more with COVID, the inequalities around the world and how that creates these gaps between rich and poor. The vaccine equity problem needs to be sorted so that poor countries around the world can vaccinate their people. Climate finance is certainly a piece of that as well. Countries are not meeting the hundred billion a year goal, recently, OECD has found that. But they need to go beyond that and also be looking at what they're going to do for the countries that are already suffering loss and damage.
And then the third thing I think, which sometimes may not get as much attention, is that we have to wipe out the opportunity for greenwashing from any corporations. There is a plethora of net-zero pledges being made by companies around the world, and many of them, particularly those from the fossil fuel industry, are pure greenwash. They're depending on offsets that would allow them to plant trees and continue business as usual. And so Glasgow needs to both surface those and put in an accountability mechanism to get those to be much more in line with the science and needs to get the right rules in this Article 6, as it's called in the negotiations, which would basically say: "no countries cannot, nor their companies, go off and offset their emissions anymore. They have to reduce them." Those are key metrics for us going into the COP.
Robin Pomeroy: What are the big changes that need to happen in this decade to move this conversation away from the negotiating room into the real world? Seven percent cuts in emissions every year. It's not happening, we're nowhere near it. If we set aside the commitments and the political promises, what actually would work, do you think?
Jennifer Morgan: I think you can look at it from a broader economic perspective. What would work is actually shifting the entire dynamic so that the short-term interests of a few don't take over the long-term interests of people or planet. That can mean things like, for example, for people on the ground in developing countries that they don't have to deforest their lands in order to export it to Europe or the United States. They can actually have local models that would then bring benefits to people on the ground, rather than those extractiveism efforts. Or that we're not looking at extracting fossil fuels out of the ground, which have great harm to local communities there, but we are building up, as is possible, distributed renewable energy at scale in developing countries, certainly to bring multiple benefits, but also in developed countries where we know we can move those things.
It means a different mindset. It means really putting the climate emergency at the top table with also the social issues. So another main thing that needs to happen is for policies to go hand-in-hand that reduce the emissions but also protect the most vulnerable and the poorest at the same time. That's totally possible. It means that the companies need to pay for these transitions, not taxpayers. It means the governments need to stop exploring for new fossil fuels and invest the funds and the subsidies that go to fossil fuels into clean and renewable energy.
We have all of the policy solutions we need. That's not the issue anymore. We have the technology that moved things quickly. But what is lacking is the courage to stand up to those interests that want to keep things going the same. And I think those leaders, in the next years, have to just focus in on what's at stake and put all this other stuff aside, because it's a moment in the future of the Earth, I would say, that is standing in front of them. That requires courage, that requires ingenuity and it requires absolute determination and focus.
Robin Pomeroy: The trouble is, those other things always do get in the way, don't they? You know, in democracies or autocracies, there's always other considerations. And part of the problem, I guess, is is the time horizon of these things. Interesting what you were saying, that the difference now and 20 years ago is that we can see climate change happening right now, whereas 20 years ago it was much more theoretical. The science was pretty clear, but it was theoretical. The science is still very clear. But now it's actually happening, but still, it's still a long term problem. And politicians always deal with short term problems and short term solutions. How do we ever square that circle?
Jennifer Morgan: I think what could happen is a leader not accepting any more fossil fuel money, shutting down corruption, making it transparent how things work. This type of root cause, I think, is one part of it, so that you can make the space for the solutions that are there.
Another thing a leader could say is we need to put in place a binding law that all corporations, you know of some sort, have to reduce their emissions to zero. And if they don't, and we'll check that, we'll have an accountability system, they can't pay out dividends to their shareholders. Another thing would be leaders saying we're going to pass financial regulation to completely integrate the risks, both from the impacts and from the potential stranded assets, straight into our economies, because the greatest risk is actually failing to act and therefore we're putting in place mandatory measures to do that.
Those are the types of systems change that are possible. They're even possible in the next months, they are possible now, that could move things forward. The other thing that I think could happen is if a leader said: "we're going to hold the companies that caused this problem liable and they're going to have to pay into a fund, we'll go through a process and that's going to have to support the loss and the damage of the millions of people around the world."
That sounds farfetched. It's happening on the ground. There are so many law cases and litigation happening now that are being found corporations are liable, but we need more of those and we need leaders to be putting those types of things forward.
Robin Pomeroy: Yeah, we did an episode a couple of months ago about the court cases, including the one — I believe Greenpeace was involved? — in the one in The Hague. Is that an important battleground for you now? Is it the courts?
Jennifer Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's an important battleground for Greenpeace, but I think for people as a whole and there are more than a thousand cases already underway. And I think what we're seeing is both on the corporate level, but then also on the governmental level a recent very important decision by the German Constitutional Court on intergenerational equity, where they just found that the government had to increase its target quickly. Because if they didn't, then you have young people today who would be both suffering even more, like the type of events that we're seeing now would be happening more and more intensively and regularly, and in order to respond, they're going to have to reduce emissions even more. It would be so disruptive in their lives. That's what I expect more and more of. If the governments can't handle it and all the different private interests that are coming in, it seems like the courts are able to stick more to the facts.
Robin Pomeroy: Last question: what will we all be looking at, those of us following climate change, after Glasgow, after COP26? What's the next step?
Jennifer Morgan: Well, I think that hopefully this COP can be one that then sets the ambition and builds that confidence that both the emission reductions and the solidarity pact with developing countries will happen. Then it's really about its implementation, implementation, implementation. It's seeing the laws passed in the United States. It's seeing China and other countries move away from coal. It's seeing the banks, you know, being regulated and moving away from carbon intensive and deforestation intensive investments. It's the action on the ground. And I think it also is the action in the streets, the action in the courtrooms, the action in the hallways. That, I think, will just keep keep going up. That's for sure.
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