Bill Gates Jets Into Glasgow

Day three of COP26 in Glasgow continued to be somewhat shambolic. Some negotiations were delayed as a result of parties being stuck in the queue outside. And just to be helpful, Extinction Rebellion blocked one of the exits.

Only 36 delegates from civil society were permitted to enter the negotiation space – but this was perhaps better than at Kyoto in 1997, where ‘non-groups’ discussed ‘non-papers’ to exclude the NGOs from key discussions.

The Leaders’ Summit came to an end, and those leaders who were so blessed headed for the 400 plus private jets waiting for them, somewhat undermining their injunctions for everyone else to minimise their carbon footprint.

The leaders of developed countries basically promised to do better in future and really, this time to deliver on the promise of $100 billion [Read here for more on what the developing countries want from the summit]. The cynical could say that the Leaders’ Summit confirmed the validity of the ‘Yes Minister!’ Law of Inverse Relevance: the less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it.

The leaders did promise action, however. In total, 110 countries committed to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use with the aim of ending deforestation by 2030. There was some irony here, with countries that owe a goodly slice of their prosperity to clearing much of their forests for agriculture in the past, persuading developing countries to forego the opportunity to do the same. One negotiator from a forested country was quoted as saying, ‘let’s hope this declaration can succeed where previous ones have failed us.’ One suspects the delivery on this aim will come at a price.

There was further irony in the Europeans pushing this measure, because for the past couple of decades their policies have exacerbated the problem. The adoption of the European Union Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in 2003 (Directive 2003/30/EC) mandated that 20% of all energy usage in the EU, including at least 10% of all energy in road transport fuels, be produced from renewable sources by 2020. The result was accelerated rainforest clearing for the establishment of palm oil plantations. RED II has increased the mandate but sought to limit the damage by freezing palm oil use at current levels and phasing it out in transport by 2030.

And the Biden-backed Global Methane Pledge attracted almost 70 new members to add to the original 20 in September. Signatories have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030, which could avert 0.2 degrees of global warming. One observer asked the pertinent question of why these pledges were not in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) made by countries – because methane is, indeed, listed as a controlled greenhouse gas.

It should also be noted that Vladimir Putin has been pointing out that Russia would dearly love to reduce gas-related methane, but sanctions against it limited its ability to do so.

Boris Johnson nevertheless saw both these developments in a positive light, and used a football analogy, suggesting the world had ‘pulled back a goal or perhaps even two’ in the fight against global warming.

This rather extreme example of wishful thinking was soon dashed. After the G20 in Rome, Xi Jinping stepped away from delivering even a video statement in Glasgow, and it was left to China’s negotiator Xie Zhenhua to pour cold water on Boris’ enthusiasm by insisting (correctly) that 1.5°C had not been agreed to in Paris in 2015, and the 2°C target agreed there had to remain the basis for discussion. He warned that ‘If we only focus on 1.5°C, we are destroying consensus and many countries would demand a reopening of the negotiations.’

Given that Mean Global Temperature (MGT) is thought to have risen about 1.2°C since preindustrial time, limiting MGT to 1.5°C is an unrealistic stretch. Billionaire Bill Gates concurs. Despite attending Glasgow to support the US campaign, he was quoted as saying:

There’s no comparable feat that mankind has ever achieved…It’s all a matter of degrees, so to speak…Hitting 2.5°C is better than hitting 3°C, hitting 2°C is better than hitting 2.5°C. 1.5°C will be very difficult. I doubt we’ll be able to achieve that.

As he saw it, the cost of subsidising countries to curb emissions was too great, and developed nations should focus instead on cutting the cost of green technology.

This is closer to the technology-first position promoted by Bjorn Lomborg and, more or less, by Scott Morrison (although the latter is now shackled by the 1.5°C target and Net Zero by 2050 pledge).