Climate change conference 2021: Simon Wilson’s Glasgow Diary – November 5

The power plays, the conflicts, the drama and the news about the weather.

“The green choice needs to be the easy choice. If there’s a barrier to doing something, you won’t get the mass change you need.” – Sir Patrick Vallance, chief science adviser to the British Government.

The scientists are scared

In a survey of climate experts who wrote the latest IPCC report, 60 per cent said they do not believe we will be able to prevent the world warming by at least 3C by 2100. If that happens, it’s estimated sea levels rises alone will displace 270 million people.

The IPCC report says even if all current commitments are all met – and that’s a big if – the average temperature will rise by 2.7C.

The survey, conducted by Nature magazine, also revealed that most of the scientists “suffer from climate-related anxiety, grief or distress”.

What's fair?

A new review sponsored by hundreds of environmental, social and faith groups worldwide, released at COP26, has called for fairer solutions to the climate crisis.

“The wealthiest polluters must contribute their fair share to solving the crisis,” it says, “by cutting emissions deeper and faster while co-operating with less wealthy nations by providing climate finance for technology, adaptation, as well as loss and damage.”

This directly addresses the idea, promoted by many wealthy countries including New Zealand, that everyone’s fair share is an average share.

But if every country is expected to do only the global average, those that did the most to cause the crisis will have relatively less pain in dealing with it.

The financial elite is excited

The “providing climate finance” bit in that review roared into action in Glasgow on Wednesday. It was finance day and, unlike the scientists, the big money people were brimming with optimism.

The new Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFA) announced it has US$130 trillion (NZ$180 trillion) of assets committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Up until today there was not enough money to finance the transition,” said Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England who is currently Boris Johnson’s financial adviser for COP26. “Today is a watershed.”

The GFA is a group of banks, investors and insurers, co-chaired by Carney and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said there was now “a historic wall of capital for the net-zero transition around the world”. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called the climate crisis urgent but also said it is “the greatest economic opportunity of our time”.

Carney called on governments and institutions to step up: now the money is there, he said, they need to put up the projects.

Glasgow participant Al Gore said that on the flip side there is also now a “subprime carbon bubble”. US$22 trillion is still invested in coal, gas and oil and, he said, it’s “an absurd assumption that all of those carbon fuels are going to be burned”.

“I think we’re in the early stages of a sustainability revolution that’s the biggest opportunity in history,” Gore said. “And those who don’t recognize that and adapt to it are in commercial risk. They’re going to be left behind.”

Not everyone is impressed.

Tom Picken of the Rainforest Action Network said banks were “driving climate chaos globally”.

“Banks signed up to net-zero pledges provided US$575 billion into the fossil-fuel industry through lending and underwriting in 2020. The disconnect between climate commitments and boardroom decisions is staggering.”

That’s nearly six times more than the US$100 billion a year the Global North has finally committed to helping countries in the Global South.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called out the financial sector for its “deficit of credibility” and announced plans for an expert panel to measure their commitments.

“Greenwash alert,” tweeted Greta Thunberg. She said banks, along with the fossil fuel industry, “are among the biggest climate villains.”

Extinction Rebellion also warned about greenwash. It pointed the finger at Google, which declared it was carbon neutral in 2007 but has “emitted 20 million tonnes of carbon” since then. That’s as much, said XR, as petrol emissions from 10 million cars over a year.

Hendrik du Toit, meanwhile, from British-South African fund manager Ninety One, called for slow progress.

“If we stop all financing of what I would call dirty assets, then other forms of finance will come in, own them and not transition at all. That is the real risk,” he said.

The European Union has signalled it will take up precisely that challenge. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told the conference the EU was going to weaponise climate action.

Countries will have to meet EU emissions standards, he said, if they want to export to Europe. “We do this because we believe this is the way we gain economic and technological advantage. But we also do it because we will use it almost as a trade weapon.”

Never fear, Leo's there!

Leonardo DiCaprio, who has championed several environmental causes, turned up to Glasgow on finance day and was allowed into the plenary session. That’s more than most of the delegates can say.

Covid, security and the crowds outside have combined to limit participation. There are big delays getting into the buildings and, for some sessions, countries have been allowed only two negotiators. Others are being told to participate remotely.

Even Mark Carney missed a session he was supposed to be speaking in, because the US Secret Service had locked the building down until Joe Biden had left.

Activists are also upset they can’t get in. “We have thousands of observers who have gone through all the accreditation stages, all registration processes, yet for environmental non-governmental organisations, four representatives have been allowed in the entire room where negotiations take place,” said one.

• Simon Wilson’s Glasgow Diary appears daily during the COP26 conference.

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