What would success look like in this ‘climate super year’?

A recording of a Chatham House panel on the state of climate action and negotiations in the run up to the COP26 climate talks this autumn

As part of London Climate Action Week, on 1 July Chatham House experts shared their views on what has been dubbed the “climate super year”. They discussed progress so far on the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5C, various new pledges for reducing carbon emissions to net zero, some improved NDCs (nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement), vaccine diplomacy, climate finance and more.

This recording is published with the permission of Chatham House. Parts of the video and the quotes below have been edited for clarity.

Event speakers:

Antony Froggatt (chair), senior research fellow, Chatham House
Anna Åberg, research analyst, Chatham House
Dr Sam Geall
, associate fellow, Chatham House; chief executive, China Dialogue
Farhana Yamin, climate lawyer; associate fellow, Chatham House

Some interesting excerpts:

Dr Sam Geall

5:54: Why the super year is important comes down to a simple idea that global problems require global solutions. The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated very vividly how international cooperation, action and ambition can be obstructed by competition, by suspicion, by protectionism, and how costly the results of those failures can be.

8.25: Just as failure to act within one system can obstruct action within others, positive interplays can be created by coordinating multiple levers for change between systems. So where an action towards a policy goal actually strengthens the likely achievement of other goals, rather than creating trade-offs. That is the promise of a super year.

8.47: You could realise that kind of green recovery in 2021 by achieving a coordination between multilateral organisations, national governments, regional organisations to exercise greater leadership and pursue a shared vision for global coordination… I would see those primarily across, for example, the three Rio conventions, all of which have their summits this year; COP15 taking place in Kunming in the autumn for the Convention on Biological Diversity; UNFCCC COP26, of course; the UN Food Summit; as well as the Desertification Convention. You also see the rollout of China’s 14th Five Year Plan this year; the European Green Deal; the G7; the G20; President Biden’s climate leaders’ summit.

9:57: The concept of the super year is not to suggest that it is a silver bullet, but that there is a need for a multilateral approach and for iterative approaches across multilateral systems, that are responsive to feedback, that make these links, that bind together and intensify the coordination that’s needed.

10.20: In terms of the state of play, on the positive side, we have seen a lot of momentum around the net zero pledges.

11:36: But there is a really long way to go and there are a lot of open questions about whether this potential can be achieved… We are a really long way from 1.5C on the climate targets and it’s very unclear how we are supposed to close that gap without much higher ambition coming from the COP26 host.

12:14: The second big question is how do we get to a better deal for nature. One of the big promises of the super year was to try and make the link around nature-based solutions between climate and biodiversity. But so far the momentum around the CBD process is very lacking and Covid hasn’t helped. Neither the CBD executive and secretariat, nor the host, China, seem to be putting adequate force behind this to produce the kind of momentum that will be needed for a new global deal for nature in Kunming.

13:51: Without an adequate offer from rich countries on this, at the very least addressing the US$100 billion per year target announced in 2015, as well as the other major concerns of the climate-vulnerable countries, like loss and damage, and adaptation, we are missing out on an opportunity to see progress.

Anna Åberg

15:21: We really need to make progress in a few different areas. The first is on mitigation. The Paris Agreement is designed to increase ambition over time and one key benchmark for success at Glasgow COP26 is that all countries submit new or updated NDCs and that these are much more ambitious than in the last round, so that we get on track for a 1.5C pathway.

15:51: Quite a lot of parties have submitted new or updated NDCs, and some of these have been relatively ambitious, but we are still far away from where we need to be. We really need governments to ramp up their action in the last few months before COP26, and we are still waiting for NDCs from a few large emitters.

16:13: COP26 is also about being more ambitious on finance, on adaptation, on loss and damage, and it’s about finalising the so-called Paris rulebook, an implementation guide for the Paris Agreement. In terms of finance, developed countries need to honour a pledge they made of mobilising US$100 billion per year for climate action in developing countries.

16:42: So far, developed countries have not been able to demonstrate that this goal has been met, or how they will achieve it over the coming years. It’s not just about mobilising this one year, it needs to be delivered every single year up to 2025.

16:54: There was hope that G7 leaders would provide greater clarity on this when they met in Cornwall a few weeks ago. Some commitments were made, but it was not enough. Climate-vulnerable countries need a lot more than US$100 billion in climate finance and it’s also very much an issue of trust, which is critical in the UN climate negotiations.

18:05: The deliberations on the new finance goal are due to start at COP26 for the period after 2025, and it is important that these discussions get off on a good start. Other important issues related to adaptation, and to loss and damage, include making progress on developing guidelines for metrics for assessing the global goal on adaptation in the Paris Agreement and fully operationalising the Santiago network on loss and damage, the purpose of which is to catalyse technical assistance for loss and damage.

19:35: The pandemic throws up another enormous challenge. In large parts of the world vaccination rates are still incredibly low, and it’s difficult to prioritise, let alone afford, climate adaptation and mitigation when you have to deal with a massive health catastrophe.

20:08: This inequity we’re seeing in global vaccine access also undermines trust between countries. That can also spill into the climate talks.

22:35: The economics of acting on climate change have really improved, the cost of renewable energy has fallen dramatically. In some countries it is seen as an issue of being economically competitive to invest in climate action, to be at the frontier of green technologies, both in the economy of today, but especially in the economy of tomorrow.

23:21: Finally, there’s so much public engagement around these issues now, and it’s fantastic seeing the youth movements all over the world that are demanding action from governments and politicians to do more. That’s a big source of hope.

Farhana Yamin

25:39: The reckoning we’re seeing now in terms of the Earth’s tipping points and the legal reckoning that’s coming now via the courts, including demands for new concepts like ecocide, is the result of a huge degree of frustration and our failure collectively to have delivered the objectives of all of the Rio conventions.

26:37: More than ever we need at COP26 to bring the full weight of our understanding and our history and our judgment on why things have been delayed and why we are at this grave point, in terms of the future of most parts of the world, especially vulnerable countries.

29:02: We are miles away from that [1.5C degrees] despite the huge reduction in cost of renewables, despite the huge gains that have been made in our understanding of the role of buildings, transport and decarbonising all of this. Progress is not accelerating fast enough because we have this dead hand of political power and incumbency and huge lobbying efforts.

30:18: The veneer of action from oil companies, this co-opting of language, this deliberate acceptance of tools that are then either undermined or they know are not going to be taken forward like carbon pricing, is one of the reasons why COP26 is in danger.

30:36: We have to adjust the Paris pathway, we cannot stick to the timelines that the Paris Agreement had… Paris is not working, and we need to put faith back in the system and have an earlier – much earlier than 2025 – enhancement of ambition, whether it’s through the formalised NDCs or another platform or set of mechanisms.