Insights from COP26: Day 4 – Energy Day and the demise of coal

By Andrew Adie & Dafydd Rees

Alok Sharma, President of COP26, started Day 4 (Energy Day) by declaring that ‘the end of coal is in sight’ as more than 40 countries signed up to pledge that they would phase out the use of coal fired power generation.

While the news provided a positive backdrop to discussions, the countries joining the pledge did not include major coal users such as Australia, China, India or the US. The UK Government says more than 190 nations and organisations have now vowed to quit the use of coal.

Around 20 countries (including the UK, US and Canada) have also signed up to a deal to stop public funding of ‘unabated’ fossil fuel projects in other countries.

There has also been positive news with research from the University of Melbourne finding that the pledges to limit carbon emissions made in Glasgow could keep world temperature rises to below 2C. Separate analysis from the International Energy Agency into the impact of the pledges made so far at COP26 has calculated that they will be enough to allow the world to keep to a 1.8C degree rise in global temperatures (assuming that the pledges are met).

While above the 1.5C global warming ceiling that is the aim of COP26 (and delivers to the Paris Agreement levels) it provides encouraging signs that progress being made could have a tangible impact.

However other data out today underlines why COP26 needs to deliver, with the Global Carbon Project releasing a report that has predicted that CO2 emissions will spike again this year, rising by 4.9% in 2021 having fallen by 5.4% in 2020 as a result of Covid driven lockdowns and reduced economic activity. China accounts for almost a third of global carbon emissions.

COP26 has also seen significant discussions about the development of new energy infrastructure, from renewables to green and blue hydrogen, and to the need to accelerate the roll out of energy storage and carbon capture technology.

It feels like the elephant in the room is now consumers. SEC Newgate’s own ESG Monitor survey (released last month) showed that the environment and climate top public concerns. Yet if industry and politicians are making significant moves to channel finance and action in decarbonising the energy sector and global economy (albeit with significant work still needed) the next ‘workstream’ is individual consumers (heating, transport, lifestyle and consumption).

While decarbonising our lives demands clear policy direction and the availability of infrastructure, products and services that enable that net zero transition, post-COP the world’s consumers (particularly those in G20 countries) will also be expected to start driving changes in their lives in the road to a green future. Energy Day has laid some foundations for that move.

Tomorrow is Youth & Public Empowerment day and will see the Friday for Future marches through Glasgow. It’s likely to be a moment when those consumer voices rise to the fore.