One of the highlights of COP, in addition to viewing climate diplomacy at close quarters, is the chance to resume acquaintances with long-standing colleagues and friends. Working in sustainability and climate has yet to become a “mainstream” career, and so it has been more or less a “niche” since its emergence.
And that means that the climate business community has been relatively stable for many years. The company names may have changed for many of us, but our work remains the same and we pursue it with the same, if not greater, determination over time. It’s a community in the truest sense of the word.
Walking around the halls at COP26 in Glasgow, as at so many COPs beforehand, I was struck by the number of friendly meetings and encounters between people who clearly had known each other for many years. Yes, there was a packed agenda and a lot of business to do for many participants, but there was also time to stop and catch up, congratulate and commiserate in between the serious stuff.
And it’s not just the business community. The negotiators, too, have long-standing formal and informal relationships. Todd Stern, the long-time lead negotiator for the United States, spoke after COP21 in Paris of spending time with his Chinese counterpart Xie Shenhua away from the negotiating table and developing a friendship that went beyond their respective missions.
COP26 was a chance for many to rekindle those relationships with business partners and colleagues in-person after two years of enforced distancing, and it was probably no coincidence that the long work of setting the ground rules for Article 6 was finally achieved in Glasgow.
There was also a sense of community in many of the announcements that were made and initiatives that were unveiled at COP26. For many years, it has been common for governments to announce new national climate initiatives at COPs, but this year what was more striking was the number of multilateral commitments that were made.
The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use; the Global Methane Pledge; the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance; the First Movers Coalition; and the Just Energy Transition Partnership were just five of the major pledges announced during the COP, and they brought together hundreds of countries and businesses in collective efforts to go above and beyond Nationally Determined Contributions.
For all of us, the agreement in Glasgow brings a powerful sense of relief and of purpose – that we can all now get on with the work of reaching the Paris goals and keeping the average global temperature increase to no more than 1.5°C.
Implementing Article 6 will take even more cooperation among nations. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement calls for all nations to undertake climate action using “cooperative activities”. There is no Annex B that gives targets to a subset of countries.
And while the Kyoto Protocol did of course establish relationships between countries, Paris will require many, many more, and more complex linkages. There will be opportunities to connect emissions trading systems using the accounting provisions of Article 6.2, which could bring existing markets as far afield as New Zealand and Europe closer together, for example.
And more emissions markets will emerge as well. We have heard of countries ranging from Indonesia to Kenya considering using market mechanisms to achieve their Paris goals; new entrants like these and others will build additional relationships that spread knowledge and deepen relationships between regulators and private sector alike.
All of which means future COPs will continue to be places where people from all corners of the world come together to build relationships, deepen their friendships and work for a common goal – and continue to contribute to the global community.
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