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Earlier this week, when I was waiting to get into the conference venue, I was standing between a group of women from the Marshall Islands and indigenous people from the Amazon. These are the people who are on the frontline of climate change – islands that will disappear under the sea because of our addiction to coal, oil and gas, or who are losing their homes because of our appetite for beef and palm oil.
Almost all of the carbon emissions come from big economies, so just getting the big economies on board delivers most of the required carbon reduction. Although all of us want to tackle climate change, we don’t want it to cost us more, or to stop eating meat, and this makes it politically difficult for democratic countries who need to take their voters with them. Countries like China are already facing power outages which makes it hard to commit to switching off their coal power stations. And it is made more difficult because as poorer countries develop they want to a better quality of life which includes more urban development, driving more cars, building more roads, and potentially eating more meat, which adds to the global carbon challenge.
There are two sides to COP. One is creating the right environment for a series of ambitious agreements. This is where politicians set the tone, and the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm and humour have been very effective at this. He defined success as agreement on “cash, cars, coal and trees”. Then the discussions, presentations, and even the protests outside the conference keep the objectives at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
The second side to COP, is a series of negotiations on actions that will be taken to keep global warming down to 1.5 degrees. This takes place privately between 180 different countries with a different focus each day– yesterday was Finance Day, next Wednesday is Transport Day.
COPs are normally focused on political negotiations, and what is different this time is the involvement of business. Politicians have realised that the public sector can’t afford to pay for a transition of global energy systems away from fossil fuels, but the private sector has hundreds of trillions of dollars to invest. It is business that will decarbonise the world, paid for with private finance but within a policy framework set by governments. Government funding will help kick start the transition and provide aid to developing countries to ensure a just transition.
The expectations for this COP were low, but the mood is now increasingly positive – already we have heard commitments to end deforestation by 2030 (“trees”), to put $130 trillion dollars of private capital to manage the transition to clean energy (“cash”) and commitment from 40 countries to phase out coal – good progress on three of Prime Minister’s objectives with more work to do- and the last (“cars”) will hopefully be covered on Transport day next Wednesday.
By getting governments and businesses together in Glasgow, there is a real possibility of limiting global warming. Provided we deliver on commitments already made, global warming could be kept to below two degrees. Almost everyone who has come here to make these agreements happen had to fly in, so despite the criticism of delegates using private jets, aviation has a crucial role to play in tackling climate change, as well as being essential for the global economy to fund the transition. If delegates connected through Heathrow, their flights will have been powered in part with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), thanks to a partnership between BP and British Airways which we were also involved in.
Climate change is an existential risk for all of us personally as well as for our business, which is why I am here. If sea levels keep rising, and places like the Maldives disappear, there will be nowhere to fly to and no one to fly – exactly what we experienced in the last 18 months. Our challenge is to decarbonise global aviation, replacing fossil fuels with sustainable fuels, and I will say more about that in tomorrow’s blog.
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