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Tackling the climate emergency at COP26

What is COP26?

In November, the UK will host COP26, an event that could be the world’s last chance to get climate change under control.

Established by the United Nations (UN) at the Earth Summit in 1992, COP – or Conference of the Parties – brings together almost every country in the world to tackle issues related to climate change. This year will be the 26th annual summit; as President, together with partner Italy, the UK is hosting the event in Glasgow.

Why is it important?

The last few COP meetings have been gathering pace in importance. Since the 1990s, climate change has gone from being a minor issue to a global priority. At the 21st meeting, which took place in Paris in 2015, 196 nations agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2°C – and ideally to 1.5°C.

The set of rules to tackle climate change have become known as the Paris Agreement. As well as limiting global warming, they include reducing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing energy generation from renewable sources.

COP26 is shaping up to be the most significant environmental meeting since Paris in 2015. Many elements of the Paris Agreement are still up for debate. Every nation has to report on how they will reduce their carbon emissions and agree on a new, ambitious emissions path for the future, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Ensuring that the Paris Agreement is implemented globally, and that countries meet their commitments, will be essential to protect our planet for future generations.

What is COP26 hoping to achieve?

Critical decisions need to be made in Glasgow this November to tackle the climate emergency. It is hoped that four key aims will be achieved at COP26:

Secure global net zero by 2050 and keep 1.5°C within reach

Countries are being asked to propose ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets – their NDCs – to help the world reach net zero emissions by the middle of the century. To deliver these targets, nations will need to accelerate the phase-out of coal, encourage investment in renewable energy, limit deforestation and speed up the switch to electric vehicles.

Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

Climate change is already having devastating effects on communities and natural habitats. At COP26, nations will need to work together to enable countries affected by climate change to protect and restore ecosystems, build defences and increase the resilience of infrastructure and agriculture to avoid further losses.

Mobilise finance

Developed countries must deliver on their promise to raise at least $100 billion in climate finance every year. International financial institutions have a role to play here, while trillions in private and public sector finance must be unlocked to secure net zero by 2050.

Work together to deliver

Tackling climate change requires a global effort, in which everyone must work together. At COP26, the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement need to be finalised, while ambitions must be turned into action by accelerating collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society to deliver global climate goals faster.

Energy Saving Trust and COP26

Energy Saving Trust was formally established in November 1992 in response to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The 1992 Earth Summit was the first of the now annual Conference of the Parties (COP).

Through our mission to address the climate emergency, we empower millions of householders to make better energy choices; deliver transformative energy programmes working with governments; and support businesses on their journey to a sustainable, net zero future.

Ahead of COP26, we have identified four areas where our independent, expert advice and support can help householders, businesses and governments reduce emissions to reach net zero by 2050: homes and buildings; transport; green finance and jobs; and energy access.

Homes and buildings

The UK’s 30 million homes account for more than 21% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, with around three-quarters of this coming from our heating systems. Decarbonising domestic heating and improving the energy efficiency of homes is a major part of reaching net zero.

The UK Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, due in Autumn, must be ambitious to meet the pace and scale of the transition ahead. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommends improving two-thirds of our housing stock to have an Energy Performance Certification of C by 2035 and installing one million heat pumps a year by 2030 to get this done.

We need to reduce the amount of energy we use to heat our homes and reduce costs for all. To ensure a fair transition – where everyone benefits – the government must consider how it will support consumers who are fuel poor, or people who cannot afford the upfront costs of energy efficiency or low carbon heating systems.

Transport

Transport is the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, accounting for 25% of all emissions. While Covid-19 lockdowns resulted in reduced travel, emissions are returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Reducing emissions in line with net zero targets requires a wholesale switch to electric vehicles and active travel options, such as cycling or walking. We welcome the government’s ambition in its Ten Point Plan to invest more in zero emissions public transport, cycling and walking as viable travel alternatives.

Ending the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, and plug-in hybrids by 2035, is another positive measure. However, the transition to low carbon transport must be fair, allowing everyone to enjoy the benefits of travelling sustainably. The transition will need to include more active travel, shared mobility, the electrification of transport, consolidation of freight, and new technologies.

Green finance and jobs

Ahead of COP26, the UK Government announced its intention to double international climate finance to help developing nations with £11.6 billion over the next five years. The scale and speed of change needed to reach net zero will require all forms of finance: public finance to develop the infrastructure needed to transition to a greener economy, as well as private finance to fund technology and innovation.

As a member of the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG), we have called on the UK Treasury to support a nationwide green homes infrastructure plan, with investment and incentives in the Spending Review and Budget. A long-term investment plan would provide certainty for industry to invest in skills and supply chains, at the same time as providing advice and protections to support consumers with the transition to low carbon homes.

The Ten Point Plan promised a total of £12 billion in investment to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs. Additionally, the measures announced as part of the £1 billion Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy are expected to create and support 80,000 jobs over the next 30 years. The funding will help cut emissions from existing industry and public buildings, as well as encourage the growth of new, low carbon industries.

At Energy Saving Trust, we have identified three areas of opportunity for a green Covid-19 recovery: energy efficiency improvements; support for low carbon technologies for homes; and the installation of 3.3 million heat pumps by 2030. Together, these opportunities could generate around £120 billion of additional investment in the economy by 2030, generate 200,000 new skilled jobs across the UK, and exceed the emissions reduction required from homes.

Energy access

At Energy Saving Trust, we work with international partners to reduce emissions globally and provide access to low carbon energy and high-performing appliances in the global south, through our efforts as part of the Efficiency for Access coalition. Efficiency for Access believes there is no trade-off between addressing climate change and meeting the living standards and aspirations of the world’s poorest people.

In the run up to COP26, Efficiency for Access will run a collaborative, global campaign that demonstrates how supporting the development of efficient, affordable solar-powered appliances and technologies can help accelerate the global clean energy transition and assist vulnerable communities in adapting to climate change and building resilience.

Opportunity for a green recovery

At Energy Saving Trust, we are now working on the basis that we have around five years before it will be too late to decisively change the trajectory of carbon emissions and keep the rise in global temperatures well below the 2°C Paris Agreement target – and ideally to 1.5°C – with all the consequences missing this target would bring.

The pandemic has shown we can make huge changes when we have to. Ahead of COP26, the next few months offer the opportunity for a green recovery from Covid-19, in which the UK and the rest of the world commit and invest to decisively move national and global economies onto a pathway to net zero carbon emissions.

With 100 days to go until COP26, Mike Thornton, CEO of Energy Saving Trust, said: “We encourage the UK and the rest of the world to recommit to and invest more greatly in addressing the climate emergency, to help reach our goal of living in a net zero society. We must act now to decisively change the trajectory of global carbon emissions and keep the rise in temperatures well below the 2°C Paris Agreement target – and ideally to 1.5°C.

“Greener homes, low carbon travel, and green finance are crucial areas needing focus, both here in the UK and internationally. While excellent progress has been made, much more can and must be done. We support the UK Government’s ambitions in these areas now and beyond COP26.”

Key events on the road to COP26

Last updated: 12 October 2021