COP27 Daily Insights - Day 9: Energy and ACE & Civil Society Day
Output from COP was a little quieter today as world leaders moved attention to the G20 in Bali and officials thrash out final details behind the scenes in Sharm El Sheikh. Today’s themes were Energy and ACE & Civil Society, with Energy being the dominant issue.
By Greg Rosen
COP Energy Day has provided a salient reminder for the UK Net Zero debate of the global context for the measures needed to save our planet.
While the UK political debate has been fierce on electricity decarbonisation, with noisily vociferous political and media opposition to wind and solar farms from some quarters, progress on electricity decarbonisation has been substantial and compared to heat, transport, and other sectors it has been the most straightforward. Getting Britain off coal-fired electricity has been domestically uncontroversial. Unlike in India for example, there has not been for some decades a powerful UK domestic coal lobby.
It was not always thus. Few UK commentators now recall the great battle to secure the Clean Air Act of 1956. It came in reaction to the Great Smog of 1952. Great it was. Contemporary Government medical reports estimated that up to 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were made ill. More recent research suggests that total fatalities may have been much greater.
But it was not an isolated tragedy. Smogs had been regular and deaths accepted for decades. Shockingly few UK politicians pushed hard for action. And the vested interests for UK coal fought their corner. The then British Electricity Authority (the precursor of the more well-known CEGB) branded calls to clean up coal power stations “a damaging blow against the economy of electricity development in this country” and that the financial implications of doing so “are potentially more serious than those of any previous restrictions or control imposed upon the Authority’s activities”. In Parliament, action had for decades been stymied by the timidity of political leaders in the face of what one 1930s Cabinet minister called the “prejudice of the ordinary man in favour of burning coal upon the open hearth.” Instead of seeking to shape public opinion, ministers feared action would not be possible “until public opinion is further educated in the right direction”.
The world can only hope that progress is possible more quickly as the threat of climate catastrophe grows. A new IEA report captures the core of the challenge: “The world must move quickly to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal significantly in order to avoid severe impacts from climate change” it says, calling for “immediate policy action to rapidly mobilise massive financing for clean energy alternatives to coal and to ensure secure, affordable and fair transitions, especially in emerging and developing economies.”
As the Guardian newspaper pithily put it: “It was one of the most dramatic moments at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last year when India, backed by China, made a last-minute intervention to water down the language of the final agreement, changing the commitment to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal power. Coal currently accounts for 70% of electricity generation in India, while renewables count for only about 12%. It is against that background that India is launching what is said to be its biggest ever coal mine auction.
It can only be hoped that the positive announcements elsewhere can help shift the balance. And there are some.
A coalition of countries including the USA and Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the European Union, Canada, Italy, Norway, and Denmark is to mobilise $20 billion of public and private finance to help Indonesia (the world’s 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter) the close coal power plants and accelerate the sector’s peak emissions date (by seven years) to 2030. But will they be enough? Time will tell.
ACE & Civil Society
Today, the agenda also focused on Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) and Civil Society. ACE is a term adopted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to denote work under Article 6 of the Convention and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement i.e. climate change education, training, public awareness, participation and access to information. The theme features on the COP agenda as Civil Society is recognised as an indispensable partner in the global effort to combat climate change.
Today included sessions on the role of civil society in shaping the global climate agenda and implementation of commitments and pledges, and civil society’s role in holding developed countries accountable for their climate finance obligations.
Civil society organisations called on governments to remove the threat that ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) poses to efforts to protect the environment and decarbonise. Investor-state dispute settlement is included in many trade and investment agreements and gives business the opportunity to sue governments over climate policy changes that could affect profits. The cases are brought to secretive tribunals that sit outside of the national legal system and without action against them, mean that any country can be sued for trying to protect the climate.
Tomorrow is Biodiversity Day where we also expect to hear from Brazil’s President-Elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in a much-anticipated speech where he will address protection of the Amazon rainforest.