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COP26: it’s time to deliver

This is an extract from a speech by the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, to Green Alliance on 13 October 2021.

I want to try to draw lessons for Glasgow from the ill-fated Copenhagen summit, which I attended as UK climate change secretary, and the successful Paris Summit of 2015. Copenhagen ended in acrimony for a whole range of reasons, but partly it was the result of a breakdown in trust between developing and vulnerable countries on one hand and developed countries on the other.

Paris was very different in its outcomes because the hosts learned the central lesson of Copenhagen. The French presidency, alongside a number of countries, including the UK, understood the need to build a ‘high ambition coalition’ of vulnerable countries and developed countries committed to the climate cause over a long period.

A high ambition coalition hasn’t been built
That powerful axis moved the world forward, pressuring all countries to support an agreement, one which included the commitment to 1.5 degrees. This is, once again, the coalition that can unlock success in Glasgow. Because only with this coalition can the big emitters and the low ambition countries be put under real pressure to do more. No one wants to look like they are derailing progress on climate action; but many are reluctant to act. Only with this coalition do we shut down the avenues for them to get away with it.

So where are we now?  Unfortunately, the high ambition coalition has not been built.

The $100 billion of public and private finance by 2020 for developing countries promised at Copenhagen more than a decade ago and again in Paris, still not delivered.

The issue of loss and damage from climate catastrophe which will hit developing countries hardest, is still not addressed. And most appallingly of all in many ways, vaccine nationalism leaving just two per cent of the population of developing countries vaccinated. This is an act of moral shame. But it is also an act of self harm on behalf of the developed world.

The risk of deadly variants coming from the virus spreading through the developing world is something we should rightly fear. And yet we are making it all the more likely in our actions. The COP requires unanimity.

Quite apart from the morality, we are taking a terrible risk by asking the world’s poorest countries to reach a global agreement when we are leaving them on their own to face the ravages of Covid. For all these reasons, we have not built the high ambition coalition we need.

The UK is undermining its standing
It would not be fair to attribute all these failings to the UK government. They cannot be held responsible for the US-China relationship, which is far worse than it was at the time of Paris, and all the failings of the developed world to deliver. COP26 President Alok Sharma deserves credit for his seriousness, his integrity and commitment. But the problem is that, having volunteered for the sacred responsibility of the presidency of this critical COP, the rest of the government have been, at best, bystanders and, at worst, contributors to this global inaction.  Above all, they have undermined our moral standing with a series of actions which cut right against climate integrity.

When trust between developing and developed countries is the key to success, and we need to persuade others to step up on climate finance, the UK took the disastrous decision to cut the aid budget, the only G7 country to do so.  When we are telling every major emitter they must act, the UK has done a trade deal with Australia allowing them to delete Paris temperature commitments from the text. When we have rightly made powering past coal a focus of our presidency, at the very same time the government has flirted with a new coal mine in Cumbria. When we know moving past fossil fuels is an essential part of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees, the government has chosen this moment to back the Cambo oil field, the equivalent of running 18 coal-fired power stations for a year.  And when the UNEP emissions gap report tells us that a global green recovery could close a quarter of the emissions gap on its own, this government brought forward just £4 billion of new green spending for the next decade.

These things matter, not simply because of what the government has done wrong but because they indicate how they need to act in the remaining short weeks. At this late stage, I want to constructively suggest where the government should be focusing its efforts in the short time left. The starting point is that we should be crystal clear about the goal: global warming must be limited to 1.5oC. The G20 should set the standard here with an explicit commitment to 1.5oC, and that should be endorsed by all parties at Glasgow too.

Five asks to keep the 1.5 goal alive
To keep 1.5 alive, Labour is setting out five asks of the government.

First, there is no route to success without reassembling the high ambition coalition and getting vulnerable countries on board. So we need to deliver and exceed the $100 billion of finance promised at Copenhagen, with a 50:50 split between mitigation and adaptation. We need to recognise the need for additional funding in the future for loss and damage since it is developing countries who will be hit hardest by climate breakdown. And, crucially, we need to deliver on the promise Boris Johnson himself made at the G7 summit to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022. We must drive these things forward before we get to Glasgow, including at the G20. If the government was really serious about changing the atmosphere, as we so obviously need to do, to restore some of our standing, they could and should reinstate our overseas aid commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP.

Second, we need to demand every big emitter delivers on 1.5 degree compliant targets. We should not be doing trade deals with countries without clear climate commitments.  It’s time to say to every country loud and clear that we will not turn a blind eye to failure. Being part of the club of nations means acting on climate.

Third, we need to mobilise every major business and financial centre behind Paris compliance.

Fourth, nature is essential to both quality of life, our responsibility to future generations and cutting emissions. That is why we should be protecting nature by ending deforestation and ensuring that all climate mitigation and adaptation is nature positive.

Finally, the power of example really matters. What we do at home is crucial to these negotiations. Why is the UK not rated as Paris compliant by Climate Action Tracker? Because we are simply not delivering on our targets. We are sending a signal that setting targets is the important part, delivery is secondary, and other countries are following suit.

The next fortnight presents the ideal opportunity to change this.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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