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COP26: Did Greta Thunberg nail it with ‘blah blah blah’?

UK firms to be ‘forced to show how they will hit net zero’ in an announcement that lacks… detail

Some bright spark had the idea to take a conference about global warming, COP26 (officially known as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference), to Glasgow – a city that experiences roughly 28 minutes of direct sunlight each year.

That is not to be harsh on Glasgow. It is a wonderful city. So wonderful, in fact, that I got married there and still cannot hold a grudge against it. In fact, sitting here in the equally cold and sun-starved Berlin, I would much prefer to be over there. The people, at least, are friendlier.

So far, the platitudes and promises from the politicians and leaders attending COP26 have made little dent on the public consciousness. The only really impactful speech has come from Greta Thunberg, who seems to have said ‘blah blah blah’ quite a bit during a protest outside the event. It is a quote that said everything and nothing at the same time. If she were not so honest, she might have a burgeoning career in politics.

So. Many. Unanswered. Questions

This brings me to chancellor Rishi Sunak, who outlined proposed HM Treasury rules on Wednesday that would see UK firms ‘forced to show how they will hit net zero’. It was an announcement seemingly without substance, a destination without a roadmap on how to get there.

As the BBC reported, “By 2023, [firms] will have to set out detailed public plans for how they will move to a low-carbon future – in line with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target. An expert panel will set the standards the plans need to meet to ensure they are not just spin. Any commitments will not be mandatory. Green groups say this is not enough.”

There is a lot that we do not know in there:

  • How detailed do those plans have to be?
  • Do they have to be feasible?
  • Who are the expert panel?
  • Will the panel be internal or external?
  • What will the standards be?
  • Why are the standards not mandatory?

The BBC added: “Firms and their shareholders will be left to decide how their businesses adapt to this transition, including how they intend to decarbonise.”

So, we have non-binding, self-regulated, individual plans that everyone will sign up to and then (probably) shunt to one side to make room for the next commitment?

Frankly, more information has been imparted in a speech by Marcel Marceau. The only thing that is clear is Sunak, once again, is signalling his intention to be prime minister.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

The chancellor appeared in my inbox this morning with an embargoed press release about his hosting of Finance Day at COP26 on Wednesday.

The opening sentence of the release is, “Chancellor to set out plans for UK to be the world’s first net-zero aligned financial centre, calling for other countries to follow suit.”

That is a polite, almost-oblique way of recognising that the greatly diminished impact the UK has on the world stage. We were powerful once, but have since become old, venerated, and lacking fangs. Like Christopher Lee in his later career, but not as cool.

The rest of the statement is full of ‘wills’ and ‘targets’, things that the current government will aim to achieve but somehow not quite fully commit to deliver. But the time to make changes was 20 years ago and these intentions are, well, not enough. It is one thing for change to be glacial and another for it to go backwards.

Drop in the bucket

There were some interesting titbits in there: “The UK will seek to address barriers to finance faced by developing countries with a series of new green initiatives funded from its international climate finance (ICF) commitment, including £100m to respond to recommendations from the UK co-chaired Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance to make it faster and easier for developing countries to access finance for their climate plans.”

It continued: “In total, the UK will spend £576m on a package of initiatives to mobilise finance into emerging markets and developing economies, including £66m to expand the UK’s MOBILIST programme, which helps to develop new investment products which can be listed on public markets and attract different types of investors.”

But if this is all part of a $100bn goal, then that is not much.

So, dear reader, please do not look at COP26 to provide us with any meaningful solutions. The time for meaningful action is now. Stop flying, give up eating meat, and cycle to work. Shop locally, recycle, and repair.

And if you want to do more than just save the planet and save also time, listen to the words of a young woman from Sweden, realise that that is all the substance you will ever get from the suits around the tables, and go out and enjoy the trees and the water and the incoming November cold while you still can.

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