IEMA's Martin Baxter reflects on the first week of COP26

8th November 2021


IEMA's director of policy and external affairs, Martin Baxter, reflects on the first week of COP26, and outlines what commitments he hopes to see going forward.

What are your feelings about the first week of the conference?

There has definitely been an increase in ambition, which is welcome. Unfortunately, there still aren't detailed plans from many countries to translate that ambition into action. That is the challenge that overhangs everything. So for example, Australia came out with a 2050 net-zero target, but that doesn't have any substance behind it at all.

What are some of the most important announcements made so far?

It was really good to see India come forward with its 2070 target. That's important because it is the first time India has come forward with a target like that. The pledge to end deforestation by 2030 is a high-level target, and if it's delivered, great. The question is whether leaders will go back to their countries and actually accelerate implementation. The mechanisms to drive implementation will be absolutely critical, particularly in Brazil, Indonesia and Canada. Commitments from the UK's finance sector, and the way they have been structured, are really important, because if we can shape the way money is allocated, that will help us drive the transition and bring in private sector finance, capital and investment to help companies make the transition. The draft sustainability and climate change education strategy is also really important from the UK's Department for Education, because we need to build the capacity and capability of the workforce of the future to tackle the climate and environmental emergency.

So has the UK been showing up some other countries?

I wouldn't say showing up, but instead showing the way. We shouldn't try to shame people. It's better to be proactive, and show that you can make this transition work in practice. But the UK has a fairly detailed, wide-ranging plan across the whole economy to move towards a net-zero future. Very few countries have got anything as comprehensive as we have here.

What are the key announcements to look out for in the second week?

For the UK, it will be very interesting to see what comes out on transport. There have been big moves around the electrification of vehicles, which was one of the areas highlighted by the COP president in the run up to the conference, so it will be interesting to see how much additional commitment there will be to that. But one of the biggest challenges is resilience to climate change and extreme weather events for communities all around the world. Developed countries have already failed to deliver the $100bn a year for loss and damage support promised to developing nations – which is disgraceful. People will be sceptical about new announcements in this area, but it will be interesting to see what happens with adaptation.

Boris Johnson has said that he is “cautiously optimistic” about reaching a 1.5°C deal. Do you share that optimism?

The analysis around getting to 1.5°C is based on how the Nationally Determined Contributions add up. But the question is, when does that become achievable, and to what extent does that rely on massive increases in negative emissions technologies? That is a key consideration. I would question anybody who would think we are currently on track to hit 1.5°C. I don't think the underlying policy mechanisms and investment are there yet for 1.5°C, or that we can be cautiously optimistic at all.

Has COP26 lived up to your expectations?

The announcements in the first week are welcome. The net-zero finance announcements, and the private sector stepping up, are really important. But my concern would be that countries around the world are not going fast enough to rapidly reduce emissions – ambition without action is meaningless. You can set as many targets as you like, but you have to do the hard work of developing plans with a governance framework to deliver it. It is about aligning all parts of every economy to deliver it, and that doesn't happen overnight. That's what we need to see going forward.

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