COP26 – Goal Four: Averting disaster?

COP26 – Goal Four: Averting disaster?

We examined the first three goals for COP26 in previous blogposts. We concluded that Goal 1 (the climate goal proper) was too little, delivered too slowly. Goal 2, we said, was victim to what happens when ambition meets politics. Goal Three, the finance goal, was achievable if the private sector could be adequately engaged.

Goal Four seeks to achieve what was laid out in the previous three goals. “Working together to deliver” aims to bring together government, business and civil society to meet the climate crisis in the context of finalising the Paris Rulebook.

From experience, we’re expecting fine words and less fine actions. Fraser Nelson puts it well: “Glasgow has ended up with the classic climate-change summit problem: plenty of protests, but most leaders in no position to make promises – their power limited by parliaments and public consent”.

For example, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (the finance minister) delivered a budget on 27 October – a few days before COP26 starts. As Carbon Briefing points out, “In a budget speech that failed to use the word “climate” even once, Sunak said he would cut the rate of “air passenger duty” on domestic flights and freeze fuel duty for a twelfth consecutive year.” The Financial Times pointed out, “Sunak offered no major new green spending promises. Instead, he re-announced an array of previous commitments.”

“By their deeds shall ye know them,” indeed.

Goal Four reads like this.

  1. Work together to deliver

We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

At COP26 we must:

– finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational)
– accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

Building a scenario set for Goal Four

This goal has two priorities, and we can do some “traditional” scenario work here. The two axes here allow us to develop a scenario cross.

Scenario crosses are the basic foresight model. Indeed, it is where SAMI starts. Our initials stand for St Andrews Management Institute, a joint venture by St Andrews University and Royal Dutch Shell some thirty years ago, at the point when scenario planning was moving into the business world.

Two axes give four quadrants, describing four possible futures. Our first axis is the finalisation of the Paris Rulebook. Let us take the extremes as being from “no agreement” to “full agreement”. The second axis is “collaboration”; here, we can go from “no collaboration” to “full collaboration”. Plotting them onto our four-quadrant cross gives us four scenarios.

Understanding the quadrants

Bottom left is where no agreement and no collaboration meet. The Paris Rulebook is not put in place. Action is not accelerated. Governments cannot agree, let alone establish a framework to connect with business and civil society. The consequences are dire: as we move towards +4.5C, climate impacts start rendering parts of the globe both uninhabitable and unfarmable. Millions begin to move in search of food and security. Sea level rise is inexorable.

The top left is where we agree on what we must do, but Goal 4 fails. We cannot collaborate internationally (because of Nelson’s “power limited by parliaments and public consent”). Whilst each individual country does act, it is patchy and uncoordinated. All we need is for two or three large emitters to fail to move at the same speed as the others, and the goals are missed. We project this is the second worse option. Everyone’s signed up to Paris, but it means nothing if they do not do it together.

The bottom right is almost the same, but for different reasons. We’ve all seen a children’s football game – everyone chases the ball, but there is no plan, so all you get is a lot of running around but no goals. The same holds true here. There is no agreement for enforcing the Paris Agreement, but everyone is trying to do something. Potentially, the benefit in this scenario over “Everyone for themselves” is that the collaboration and good intent gives rise to technological solutions which could be game-changers. Equally, this scenario – which implies collaboration and therefore goodwill – also opens the door to Paris being finally agreed, but very late. It is this hope which makes us project this scenario at +2.5C – awful but not catastrophic.

Top right is “Disaster averted”. Both of Goal Four’s objectives are met, in full. There is complete agreement on the Paris Rulebook, so the ground rules are clear. Governments work together, establishing the targets and regulatory frameworks that business needs. Citizens are fully engaged and press both governments and industry to play their part. +1.5C is met. Most severely affected by climate change, developing nations are supported, while the G20 swings firmly behind renewables.

Which scenario seems most likely – and why?

The signs of which of these scenarios develops are, at best, contradictory. Three signals serve to illustrate the confusing nature of the future:

Our scenario cross shows that if we can only have one of the Goal Four subgoals, it should be collaboration. Unfortunately, it is in collaboration where politics sits.

Ironically, the most significant goal of COP26 is a subsidiary objective of Goal Four. But there is, in truth, little debate about what needs to be done. Where the genuine hurdle lies is in how to achieve the consensus to do it. And that is a political problem, finely balancing what countries need to do with what their governments believe in and achieve.

Readers of this short series will know that we understand the complexity of achieving that delicate balance and our suspicion that it may not be possible. Instead of “Disaster averted”, we suspect the future looks like “Children’s football” or “Everyone for themselves”. The consequences of either scenario, in lives, economies, peace and war, and what world we leave our children, are grave.

Written by Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow and Director

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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