Economic growth measure fails on green front

The UK economy shrank by 9% in 2020 but bounced back in 2021, growing by 7.5%. This year, it is expected to grow by 3.6%. These numbers matter a lot to the government, but there is increasing debate about how relevant they are to setting economic policies to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies.

That’s because our national prosperity is measured purely by the rise or fall in the market value of all the goods and services we produce (known as gross domestic product, or GDP). There is no consideration of anything that can’t be measured in price terms, including environmental and social matters. And that is a problem, according to climate focused economists called on to give evidence to the government’s Environmental Audit Committee earlier this year.

For example, the value of planting trees will only be measured if and when those trees are cut down and sold as timber. They are not valued for the shade they provide, the carbon they sequester, or the habitats they offer to wildlife. Even more perversely, the likelihood of more severe storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires due to climate change will be good for economic growth because cleaning up after such events will add to GDP. There is no accounting for the loss of life, livelihoods, housing or infrastructure.  

Similarly, GDP, which was developed as a measuring tool in the 1930s, ignores both the environmental damage caused by extracting fossil fuels and the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning them. And what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed, as the well-known saying goes.

Another critical aspect in tackling climate change is that of equity. Richer nations have caused the problem while poorer nations not only suffer most from the effects but are also less able to adapt. This is recognised in environmental treaties, with richer nations committing to help poorer ones develop and cope with adaptation. 

GDP also ignores distributional issues. This is most obvious when the government celebrates a rise in GDP whilst a majority of the population see a stagnation in their income and a drop in living standards. But it is also present when importing natural resources and value from poorer nations without properly compensating them.

Given these defects, the Environmental Audit Committee asked its five witnesses whether GDP is still up to the job of guiding economic targets. Only one declared support for GDP remaining a key metric, with perhaps some enhancement for environmental effects. The other four said it was no longer fit for purpose and we need to employ a range of measures, perhaps in the form of a dashboard, to record financial, social and environmental elements of prosperity or damage. 

Many such measures are readily available, including sustainable development goals, environmental and planetary boundaries and measures of social wellbeing, but few countries build them into their economic plans or give them any prominence.

Some witnesses also threw doubt on the goal of ever increasing economic growth in rich countries like the UK, with research quoted showing that the richer a nation becomes, the less beneficial is additional wealth. 

The ability to grow our economy whilst reducing carbon emissions, a process known as “decoupling”, was another topic of discussion. Witnesses criticised the government’s claim to have achieved significant decoupling, pointing out that the emissions embedded in our imports are not counted. We should also take account of our historic emissions and our material (non-carbon) footprint on the environment and planet, they said.

It will be hard to move away from the metric of economic growth as it is built into many of our social structures, and much work is needed to imagine how a post-growth society and economy would operate. But the consensus among the witnesses to the committee was that it needs to be done.

IPCC Working Group lll report on mitigation of climate change

António Guterres

Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.

Christiana Figueres

The IPCC report tells us we are on a suicidal path. Change or kiss stability goodbye.

There is a wealth of analysis and opinion on this report in the press and professional journals but CarbonBrief’s comprehensive detailed question and answer paper covers the main aspects. 

Much more has still to be written but here is a summary highlighting some key areas of interest.

Introduction

On 4 April the IPCC released its third report, by Working Group lll (WG3), from its 6th Assessment Report, with an updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress, explaining developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts and assessing the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals.

As is always the case, the main report from the scientists, of about 3,000 pages, was then summarised with every line of the summary discussed, and where necessary amended or removed, in order to gain the approval of 195 countries. The result is the 64 page  “Summary For Policymakers” (SPM). 

At two weeks, the discussions over the SPM were the longest of any such report with key text such as “vested interests”, “lobbying”, “degrowth”, “media” and even “economic growth” all appearing multiple times in the main report but missing in the SPM, reflecting the influence in the review process of vested interests determined to avoid publishing issues that reflect badly on their activities.

Based on current policies the report gives a likely increase in temperature over pre-industrial levels of 3C (2.2C to 3.5C) by 2100 and says that if we are to stay below 1.5C, with limited or no overshoot (ie exceeding 1.5C before 2100), greenhouse gas emissions must fall 43% below 2019 emissions by 2030 – on the whole that’s  48% for carbon dioxide and 34% for methane. 

It’s worth noting that, as a result of the pandemic, CO2 emissions dropped by about 6% in 2020 but they have since bounced back meaning that, effectively, from the start of 2022 the report says we have to match 2020’s reduction in each of the remaining eight years of the decade.

One aspect of the report that has been widely misreported in the press is the point at which emissions must peak, covered in the report as:

Global greenhouse gases are projected to peak between 2020 and at the latest by 2025, in global modelled pathways that limit warming to 1.5C 

This was taken to mean that we can continue to increase emissions for another  three years whereas, in reality, emissions should have peaked closer to 2020. It is explained here

What the new IPCC report says about how to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C 

(based on: CarbonBrief analysis)

The report provides a detailed view of possible futures and potential solutions  based on 1,200 scenarios from the IPCC’s database that were considered suitable to calculate a broad range of future greenhouse gas emissions and global climate outcomes. 

In other words, the report doesn’t offer a projection of where we are going but, given where we are and promises made, provides a detailed view of possible futures, with emphasis on those indicating temperature outcomes of below 1.5C and 2C. So, for example, some will involve rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and others rapid reductions in energy demand.

Nearly all scenarios however rely, in differing degrees, on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) either to cater for residual emissions of CO2 and non-CO2 gases (eg Methane) or to reverse interim temperature “overshoots”, say to 1.6C, by anticipating “net-negative” emissions, to bring the average temperature back down to the target by the end of the century.

The CDR envisioned is a mix of natural, eg afforestation (planting on new ground) & reforestation (replacing trees lost), and technological, eg Bioenergy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS) & Direct Air Capture & Carbon Storage (DACCS). 

There are no scenarios where large deployments of CDR avoid the need to substantially reduce emissions over the course of the 21st century, if warming is to be limited below 2C.

Nevertheless the authors caution that CDR “cannot serve as a substitute for deep emissions reductions” pointing out that the role of CO2 removal can at times be over promoted in some scenarios due to insufficient reliance on renewables, such as wind and solar, limited use of demand-side options (reducing the energy we use) and understating the future costs of CDR technologies.

Concerns are also expressed that: 

..the prospect of large-scale CDR could…obstruct near-term emission reduction efforts, mask insufficient policy interventions, might lead to an overreliance on technologies that are still in their infancy, could overburden future generations, might evoke new conflicts over equitable burden-sharing, [and] could impact food security, biodiversity or land rights.

Despite these warnings scientists and environmentalists see CDR, and now larger overshoots, to say 1.7C or 1.8C, as just another way for policy makers to kick the can further down the road, rather than take the radical action needed today to both replace fossil fuels with renewables and reduce energy demand.

It is also noticeable that with the IPCC judging that 1.5C is now likely to be reached early in the next decade; statements by policymakers and media are shifting from emphasising a 67% likelihood of staying below 1.5C and “keeping 1.5 alive” to a 50% chance of 1.5C and a 67% chance for 2C. The report indicates that, with current policies, the chance of remaining below 1.5C with little if any overshoot, is now around 33% and some academics are now indicating that 1.5 is no longer achievable.

As an aside, research subsequently published in Nature assessed and plotted all national pledges (promises) currently on the table and surmised that if all came to fruition (action) temperature at the end of the century could be limited to just below 2C. Unfortunately some in the media have painted this in an over optimistic light, ignoring both the poor history of turning pledges into policy, then action and warnings of the threats in a +2C world. Here is a more balanced opinion by Christiana Figueres

Summary of mitigations

Section C12 of the SPM (page SPM-48) sets out the costs and savings associated with each mitigation option, making the point that no account is taken of the costs of doing no more than is already in place.

It ends with this chart which shows, for each type of mitigation, its potential for reducing emissions by 2030, so the longer the bar the better the result, with the colour gradation indicating the relative costs, blue = saving  and red = the costliest.

Chapter 5: Demand, services and social aspects of mitigation

The title of this chapter in the main report belies its importance. This is the first time a WG3 report has contained a section on the realities of demand in terms of what people currently consume and what they need, rather than what suppliers, eg the fossil fuel industry, say drives them to keep supplying more, a given in all the climate models.  

The chapter dispels the myth, again favoured by fossil fuel companies, that poorer nations will need to continue to use fossil fuelled energy to improve their wellbeing, before being able to switch to renewables and other forms of mitigation.

The environmental movement has always promoted circular economies of reuse, sharing, more efficient alternatives and the need to stop overconsumption and it’s now official, scientific research not only backs this up but takes it to the wider global economic level best summed up by one of the chapter’s co-lead authors, Prof Joyashree Roy :

Assessment of social science literature from various disciplines helped this report to mention with high confidence that people do not need energy per se but they need a set of services to meet their basic needs such as comfortable homes, mobility and nutrition.  

A paradigm shift in the way we think about climate action is reported for the first time in this IPCC report. If people are provided with opportunities to make choices supported by policies, infrastructure and technologies, there is an untapped mitigation potential to bring down global emissions by between 40 and 70% by 2050 compared to baseline scenarios.

The evidence described in the chapter dispels the myth that demand drives supply and economic growth, rather suppliers drive increasing supply, economic growth, overproduction, built in obsolescence and waste (in resources and money). Similarly it highlights that, by using the potential of demand side mitigations, the need for CDR technologies could be minimised. 

Environmental economist Prof Julia Steinberger, a contributing author to chapter 5 commented:

This is the first time we’ve ever had a chapter on demand because this idea about economic growth and demand being linked was just untouchable. Everybody wants economic growth, so everybody wants demand to increase and that’s it. But as soon as you start questioning it, you realize that it’s a God with clay feet. That you can actually do a lot better with a lot less. There’s nothing preventing us from doing a lot better and using a lot less, including resolving poverty and deprivation around the world.

Recognising the inequitable use of energy, and greenhouse gas emissions of wealthier regions and households, the chapter describes how the global population could be provided with the essential services it needs for decent living standards with half of the energy currently expended.

Not surprisingly, considering the need for international approval, including by vested interests, much of Chapter 5 didn’t make it to the SPM however a few seeds were sown including, in Section B, regional and societal disparities summed up in this extract from B.3.3:

In 2019, around 48% of the global population lives in countries emitting on average more than 6t CO2-eq per capita….35% live in countries emitting more than 9 tCO2-eq per capita. Another 41% live in countries emitting less than 3 tCO2-eq per capita. A substantial share of the population in these low emitting countries lack access to modern energy services. Eradicating extreme poverty, energy poverty, and providing decent living standards* to all in these regions in the context of achieving sustainable development objectives, in the near-term, can be achieved without significant global emissions growth. (high confidence).

*Decent living standards are defined as a set of minimum material requirements essential for achieving basic human well-being, including nutrition, shelter, basic living conditions, clothing, health care, education, and mobility.

In addition to the chapter 5 download there’s an easier read starting on page 101 of the Technical Summary.

Other reference material:

CarbonBrief: Scientists react: What are the key new insights from the WG3?

Dr Gilbz: 6 minute video

Guardian: “Now or never

Discussions with Amy Westervelt: Economics, Conflicts of Interest, Media Manipulation & More (including Chapter 5)

Environmental Audit Committee: Call for emissions to be published with GDP figures to measure progress towards net zero

Following the committee’s inquiries in February & March into “Aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability” and, in particular, how the reliance on GDP as a sole measure of prosperity can hide the climate and ecological impacts of economic growth, the committee has written to both the Chancellor and the ONS to call for estimates of greenhouse gas emissions to be published alongside GDP figures to indicate whether economic growth and slashing emissions can be achieved together.

The letters highlight in general the isolation of climate and ecological data reporting from fiscal reporting and how a true picture of how the country is progressing in all aspects of the economy, the environment and net zero targets is impossible unless integrated reporting is provided. 

Much is made of the failure to implement the recommendations of the “Dasgupta” review into our economy’s reliance and impact on the natural world.  This was a review commissioned by the Chancellor and had these headline messages

The two letters are similar in content but the one to the Chancellor provides the main thrust of the committee’s recommendations.

Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry on Aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability: Part 2 – 2 March 2022

Following Part 1 of the enquiry this part questioned witnesses on how environmental sustainability could be incorporated better into the economic measurements that guide Government policy.

The full inquiry of over an hour can be viewed on parliamentlive.tv however we have separated out the following clips covering the discussions around the use of GDP and how it does, or doesn’t, represent a valid measure of prosperity and how other measures should now be regarded as more fit for purpose in the 21st century. The witnesses in this session were as follows:

  • Professor Kate Raworth (KR) – Co-founder and Conceptual Lead, and author of Doughnut Economics at Doughnut Economics Action Lab.
  • Professor Henrietta Moore (HM) – Founder and Director at Institute for Global Prosperity, and Chair in Culture, Philosophy and Design at University College London (UCL).
  • Matthew Lesh (ML) – Head of Public Policy at Institute of Economic Affairs.

Clip 1 (15 mins) How useful is GDP as the primary methodology and can it cope with the increasing demands of how we view prosperity in our economies?

ML: who, as a traditional economist, accepts that GDP as a measure is flawed but believes it’s still the least worst option as a measure of prosperity. He extols the virtues of GDP and also mentions the UK’s track record in decoupling economic growth from its carbon emissions (see clip 2).

KR: who isn’t a traditional economist, puts the case for a dashboard of measures, in addition to GDP, and also introduces an element of Modern Money Theory surrounding the ability of governments, like the UK, to pay for essentials without worrying about tax revenues.

HM: GDP is not a good proxy for prosperity, it’s a 20th century metric not fit for the 21st century as it tells us nothing about distribution (of income), sustainability, inequality and environmental degradation. She talks about speaking to people in regions over what’s important to them for their prosperity.

Clip 2 (17 mins) Are policy makers trying to have their cake & eat it, when they argue that it’s possible to tackle the climate & nature crisis whilst continuing with economic growth?

KR: Yes they are. She dismisses stories of “Green Growth” and points out that there’s little evidence that we can decouple carbon emissions and our material footprint from economic growth at anything like the speed or scale needed. She goes on to dispute ML’s earlier opinion on the UK’s record on  decoupling and how our structural dependency on GDP growth will hamper our ability to deal with the climate & nature crisis.

ML: continues his support for economic growth as a solution to environmental and social problems, (as predicted by the Kuznets Curve*) but that we need to price carbon, and find ways to price other damage to the natural world, in order to bring them into the economic (GDP) equation.

HM: we need to recouple social and economic prosperity and embed it into environmental prosperity and that market solutions alone can not achieve this. We also need to reshape and create new markets dependent on regions. 

KR: As a follow on to HM, the Doughnut Economics model is being used in cities, regions and local governments around the world, in the way that HM describes.

Clip 3 (5 mins) A question to KR – how could policy makers reduce the dependencies on growth built into our economic systems?

*The environmental Kuznets curve suggests that economic development initially leads to a deterioration in the environment (and an increase in inequality) but, after a certain level of economic growth, a society begins to improve its relationship with the environment and reduce levels of environmental degradation (and inequality).

February Newsletter

Hello Everyone

Here is our February Newsletter covering the following topics:

  • Cutting carbon emissions: a new district-wide climate project
  • Liaison meeting presentations
  • Environmental & social health v Economic development
  • The Home Energy Saving Forum – Sustainable Dawlish event
  • Keeping the public informed and/or confused
  • Did you know? (hopefully not)

Please feel free to send us details of any climate & nature stories, especially local ones or ones that lift the spirits.

Similarly keep telling the stories of why you care about the climate and nature to those who may not not appreciate the issues. You may be struggling to be less carbon intensive or more biophilic (had to look that up), so enlightening someone else to start their journey is a great alternative.

Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry on Aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability: Part 1 – 9 Feb 2022

A fascinating in depth inquiry into how government policy could move away from GDP as the prime measure of national prosperity to encompass other, more meaningful, measures for social and environmental wellbeing and to consider issues such as a post-growth world, non-monetary capital and inequality.

The remit of the Environmental Audit Committee is to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, and to audit their performance against sustainable development and environmental protection targets.

The full inquiry (76 minutes) can be viewed on parliamentlive.tv however we have broken it up into the following clips, each concerned with themed questions to the following two witnesses.

  • Dr Matthew Agarwala (MA), Project Leader, The Wealth Economy, Bennett Institute for Public Policy, University of Cambridge. 
  • Prof Tim Jackson (TJ), Professor of Sustainable Development and Director, Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), University of Surrey.

Clip 1(6 Mins) Question to MA, “whether you think that the current measurements of economic success take into account, sufficiently, the role that’s required in order to achieve a decarbonised economy?”

MA explains why GDP was fit for the 20th century but is not for the 21st, it’s a backward looking “flow” measure whereas what we need are forward looking “capital” measures.  Using the analogy of assessing a bakery’s pantry of ingredients today in order to determine the quality and quantity of tomorrow’s pies. So, looking at the wealth available, net of any inherent harm, assessing natural assets & ecosystems, healthy & well educated human assets, physical and social infrastructures with strong communities and degrees of trust between people, business and government.

Clip 2(3 mins) Question to TJ about whether growing GDP is compatible with the challenge of the government’s sustainability plans. 

TJ discusses the history and difficulties of the UK decoupling its GDP growth from its emissions and says how its historic responsibilities for emissions should also be factored in. Also brief reference to how carbon taxes can incentivise decarbonisation. 

Clip 3(8 mins) Question and discussions over the benefits and pitfalls of GDP and the other measures we should be considering to judge our prosperity.

MA talks more on the history of GDP and expands on the pantry/portfolio approach raised in clip 1 and the excellent statistics, data and accounting available in the UK to measure the various elements.

TJ points out the importance of not just looking at the portfolio of financial, natural and social capital but also at its distribution across society, something GDP ignores, and how an unequal society puts social cohesion at risk. He goes on to explain how GDP takes no account of housework or the true value of care work, most often undertaken by women.

Clip 4 (14 mins) Question and discussions on alternative measures to GDP.

TJ explains dashboards of non-monetary indicators, such as climate, health, inequality etc, and how they are already available around the world and how they can be aggregated into single measures.

He describes more subjective measures like wellbeing and how measures can be assigned prices to come up with a single monetary measure, as happens with GDP, and how, being subjective, some measures and how they are used will involve policy decisions.

MA discusses the challenges of defining and measuring social capital, especially as it can’t be assigned a £ value. How it involves measuring trust in, for example, the ability of communities to come together, after say a flood or during the pandemic. It is measured through regular surveys of how people feel in their neighbourhood and about their neighbours, taking into account cultural differences and using scales of 1-10 over trust in people and institutions.

Clip 5 (17 minutes) Question over the comparison of monetary values  determined by “the market” and those assigned to non-market measures and whether these will always be swayed by political rather than economic decisions, thus bringing in issues over trust.

TJ pushes back by saying that we already have a political element in market prices in that political rules and policies will determine how markets work and discusses existing national satellite accounting by the ONS, for non-market statistics, and how this doesn’t currently make it to policy.

By going back to the origins of GDP, MA explains how its construction and measurement has always involved politics.

TJ discusses carbon targets and the need to put a value on carbon in the economy to encourage or discourage behaviours, but how this must factor in inequality, eg lower income families spending a larger proportion of their income on carbon intensive purchases. He also comments on the importance of some kind of hypothecation in carbon taxes, ie in knowing where the tax comes from and where it is then applied.

MA discusses the UK’s ability to influence international environmental and natural capital accounting including the move away from GDP and how the UN’s system for national accounting for GDP is currently under review to recognise human & natural capital.

Clip 6 (12 mins) Question 1 to MA over whether the Treasury is making full use of existing alternative accounting statistics and if not, why not.

MA points out that the recent leveling up approach takes into account various capital approaches but misses out natural capital, a “missed opportunity”. He then goes on to discuss the potential for the UK Treasury to take advantage of its national Green Bonds by underpinning them with the good science and statistics we already have.

Question 2 “As tax revenues are tied to income & spending would it be economically disastrous for government to deprioritise GDP growth?” (Government relies on GDP growth as it believes it needs  an ever increasing tax take to help it pay off ever increasing government spending).

TJ starts by explaining the importance of GDP as an accounting measure, and how he is not calling for it to be removed, but expands on his previous comments on where it falls down in recognising the distribution of wealth and the changes in the assets, and environmental impacts, that go to create it.

He says that, in order to move away from GDP as the sole measure, we first have to unravel infrastructures and institutions that are growth dependent and which therefore drive the need for GDP growth, eg privatised social care, and imagine what a post-growth welfare state would look like, pointing out that, with production growth already having fallen, we are, in effect, already there.

Question 3 then explores how the government might square the promotion of green and net-zero policies, eg switching to electric vehicles, with the resulting drop in tax and duty.

Clip 7(6 mins) Question about the Treasury’s response to the DasGupta report on The Economics of Biodiversity, in particular, that relying on GDP growth as a measure of our success ignores the reliance we have on nature and its resources.

TJ points out that whilst the report rightly calls for “inclusive” accounting, again it misses social inclusion in terms of the distribution of wealth and environmental/social harms.  

MA discusses the lack of government response to the report and how this could be achieved within this parliament, warning that if we keep relying on GDP, the increasing gap between what GDP is telling us about the world and what people are experiencing will diminish public trust in statistics.

“The difference between using wealth versus GDP as a measure of the economy is the difference between getting a backwards, after the fact, diagnosis at an autopsy from a coroner versus getting one ahead of time from the doctor in their surgery that you can then treat”  

Other resources: 

DasGupta review – report to UK Treasury February 2021 – “The Economics of Biodiversity”

APPG on Limits to Growth – briefing paper “Wellbeing matters-Tackling growth dependency”

December Newsletter

Here is our last Newsletter of 2021 covering the following topics:

  • COP26
  • Teignbridge District Council’s consultation on renewable energy
  • Beach Labyrinth
  • Don’t Look Up – the Netflix movie
  • ACT Wildlife Wardens
  • House of commons – Wellbeing Economy debate
  • Teignbridge Newsletters

With much fear, anxiety and frustration about it’s important to remember that staying in contact, sharing and supporting each other, is so important.

This is particularly relevant in the Climate & Nature Emergency where our “leaders”, the media and so called influencers are reluctant to address and participate in the action and guidance needed. By working together therefore and sharing information, ideas and kindness with others, we can make a difference.

Lots to do in 22!

COP26 unplugged

In the lead up to, and through, the COP fortnight media and politicians were alive with all things environmental with speeches emphasising the “last chance” to make a difference but, as with any Wimbledon fortnight, it wasn’t long before attention returned to other matters. 

Many attendees, especially those from poorer nations, were of the opinion that, after 26 such events, urgent action in both mitigation and adaptation will not result from the formal COP process, and that attending meetings and events outside the main agenda were more beneficial.

Time will tell but there is now an increasing belief that change is more likely to come “bottom up”, ie from individuals, businesses, cities and regions.

A brief summary of the key issues at the COP:

2°C & 1.5°C 

The COP26 communique known as The Glasgow Pact “Reaffirms the Paris Agreement (COP21) temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”

However, with updated “best available science” and with increasing emissions and impacts now evident, COP26 “resolved to” pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. In other words, after six years, the safe limit, for COP purposes, has moved from 2°C to 1.5°C.

National emissions commitments

Despite the requirements of the Paris agreement, only 151 countries submitted new or updated National Determined Contributions (NDCs) before the COP, with India announcing new targets during the event, but outside an official NDC. 

The Paris agreement required new NDCs every five years initially working towards a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, compared to 2010, however assessments of the NDCs submitted gave a 13.7% increase by that date, with a likely 2.4°C outcome, and so countries are “urged” to revisit and improve on NDCs by COP27 next year.

Coal

It may seem incredible but this was the first COP to make any mention of reducing fossil fuel use.  In this case it is the “phasing down” of coal. Up until the last minute this was to be “phasing out” but India objected and was accused of watering down the commitment but this is not the full story in that, at the beginning of the COP, India was calling for an equitable phase out of all fossil fuels.

The mention of coal was regarded by leaders as a success of the negotiations but given reports, most recently by the International Energy Agency and in the Journal Nature, making it clear we will miss our 1.5°C target without immediate reductions in fossil fuel use, many see the COP as having failed in a prime objective.

Finance

The final agreement “Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met” and “urges” developed nations to meet the pledge through to 2025.

The provision of finance by the richer to the poorer nations has been a factor within COP negotiations for decades with the $100bn pledge having been made in 2009. Of added concern was how actual finance was being given firstly in funding mitigation rather than adaptation and secondly in being represented by high interest loans rather than grants.

Loss and Damage 

The term “loss and damage” refers to the past and present destruction of lives, livelihoods and communities from the impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, with the most impacted poorer nations calling on the richer, and most polluting, nations for financial compensation often referred to as “climate reparations”.

With this issue having been on the table for a decade and COP25 establishing a recording and reporting system, there was great hope that COP26 would finally see an agreement on loss and damage finance however, as in the past, with the fear of never-ending litigation, wealthier nations were happy to just leave it on the table with a continuing acknowledgement that Climate Change “will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat”.

Some other announcements:

Finalising the Paris Rulebook

Several technical aspects of the Paris agreement have been left unresolved but were finalised during the COP, including international cooperation over “Article 6” – carbon markets and offsetting.

Announcements on deforestation

The Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use, was signed by more than 130 countries promising to work “collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.

A new Forest, agriculture and commodity trade (FACT) statement, was jointly led by the UK and Indonesia and aims to support sustainable trade between commodity-producing and -consuming countries. 

Global methane pledge

US president Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the formal launch of the Global methane pledge. Originally announced in September, the pledge asks countries to cut their methane emissions by 30% over 2020-30 and move towards using the “best available inventory methodologies” to quantify emissions.

Further reading & listening:

October Newsletter

Here is this month’s Newsletter dominated by two COPs, ie one more than you’ll see in the news. These and other topics covered are:

  • Devon-wide Retrofit survey
  • COP26 is almost upon us
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity and COP15
  • A joint approach to Climate & Ecology
  • The Devon Climate Assembly Report
  • ACT Wildlife Wardens
  • How to farm sustainably
  • What more can we do about Climate Change?

We’d really appreciate some feedback on the general depth, contents and structure of our newsletters.  Do they match your needs, go over/under your head, what are we missing or overdoing? Please feel free to comment below or email Paul, with any thoughts and suggestions.