The post-summer-vacation period was busy for the Voices, with Stand Up for Nuclear in Brussels, Belgium, followed by the Stand Up in Lyon, this year called Fe(ai)tes du Nucléaire*, on September 25, and the Stand Up for Nuclear in Paris on October 9. These events coincided with a rise in gas prices since the beginning of fall, leading to skyrocketing electricity bills, which has helped to open minds to reconsider nuclear as a necessary player in the energy transition. These are the last months for the inclusion of nuclear in the European taxonomy and 11 EU member countries, including France, Finland and the Netherlands, have agreed to support that inclusion, followed by announcements to relaunch nuclear power plant construction in France, the United Kingdom, and China.
And, to get November off to a good start, the Voices participated for the first time in the UN Conference Of Parties (COP), the 26th edition held in Glasgow. The COP is the mechanism set up by the UN to coordinate the collective response to the challenge of climate change, in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as adaptation, while seeking a fair distribution of efforts among countries and regions. 25 COPs have already taken place and as the 26th came to an end, emissions continued to rise without noticeable change.
Five Voices members formed the delegation: Myrto Tripathi and Silviu Herchi from the Voices leadership, along with the very active Daniel Perez, Ana Otero and Jadwiga Najder, to represent the association during the first week of the COP. The decision to send this delegation to Glasgow served multiple goals : to prepare the Voices’ participation in the next edition, develop our international network, and share with Voices members the awareness that the climate negotiations determine the future of the planet. A few intense days, in the shadow of the Covid, filled with improbable anecdotes, passionate characters, hysterical activists, greedy or lost journalists, businessmen who are experts in green marketing (not to say greenwashing), employees at a loss to answer our (im)pertinent questions… but also the opportunity to meet our friends of the world pro-nuclear movement, among them the star coordinators of this whole little team, from the Nuclear Young Generation Network UK (NI-YGN), who came out of the exercise exhausted.
In this first part of our report on COP26, to be published in three parts, we will recall what the COP is and how it works, and explain what was achieved during this edition.
So… What exactly is the COP?
The UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was established in 1992, following the Rio Earth Summit. It brings together almost all the countries in the world. The COP, “Conference of Parties”, is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention in which all States that are party to the Convention are represented. During the Conference, they review the implementation of the Convention and all other legal instruments that the COP adopts and take the decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention.
At the COP, each country participates by submitting its emission inventories. Based on this submission, the COP takes international governance decisions that aim to improve our collective response, be it adaptation, mitigation or rebalancing (climate justice). A total of 197 countries have agreed to implement decisions taken by the UNFCCC. Unsurprisingly, these commitments have never been binding. They generally consist in claiming or promising a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without offering a credible alternative: neither nuclear nor hydro, but efficiency, sobriety, and technologies incapable of replacing the service provided by fossil fuels…. and nothing, or not much, happens.
This year, UK Member of Parliament Alok Sharma chaired the COP. He was involved in the opening and closing ceremonies, managing the order of speakers. But the most important function of the president of the COP is to provide political leadership: to serve as a facilitator between the negotiating parties, to conduct consultations on the issues, to move the negotiations forward, to set the tone for the coming year, and directing the efforts of the international community towards the achievement of the UNFCCC goals.
The COP26 lasted two weeks, from October 31 to November 12. The discussions took place at the Scottish Event Campus, a complex with five conference rooms. During COP 26, around 30,000 representatives were expected, including stakeholders such as policy makers, climate change investors, scientists, negotiators and activists. Among them, about 60 activists from Nuclear For Climate, a world federation of nuclear associations, including the five of us. This shows the importance of our ability to coordinate and of our visibility.
Nuclear For Climate had spent months preparing its activities for the two-week COP. This year, reaching out to public opinion was key to the inclusion of nuclear energy in the European taxonomy. The associations came together to set up their own stand for the first time in the heart of the COP. This stand was organized by the Canadian Nuclear Association, the Belgian Nuclear Society, FORATOM, the American Nuclear Society and its Latin American branch LAS-ANC, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum and the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC) and was manned by other associations of civil activism such as Voices of Nuclear, IN Young Generation Network and Women In Nuclear.
In addition to the stand, they organized participation in various events in the “blue zone” – the official delegates’ area – in order to submit questions to the speakers so that the issue of nuclear energy would be included in the debate. They also organized various activities aimed at other delegates and the media, such as a flashmob in the streets, a large advertising billboard to highlight the role nuclear energy can play in the electrification of transport, and placing of an ad on a bus crossing central Glasgow with the hashtag #NetZeroNeedsNuclear. We will come back to these activities in the second part of this report.
The Conference of the Parties was physically divided into two zones: the “blue zone”, reserved for country delegates, UN-accredited NGOs, institutions, and CEOs; and the “green zone”, where companies and NGOs could have a stand. In each zone, there were daily events, conferences, screenings, debates etc. More specifically, in the blue zone there were stands set up by each member country and by various institutions, as well as areas for negotiations. Those areas are where national delegates could work on a comprehensive agreement that COP members would need to endorse unanimously in order – with any luck – for the conference to announce new measures to limit global warming.
To explain a little how this great “green” meeting works: before each COP meeting, the parties decide on the main issues to be negotiated. In the first days of COP26, some 120 heads of state with their representatives attended the conference, perfectly illustrating what Greta Thunberg meant when she spoke of “blah blah” to reduce climate change. After the departure of the Heads of State, serious matters began: the country delegations, normally accompanied by their environment ministers, began to negotiate and exchange ideas to adopt their climate policies and make new commitments. Those interactions were based on discussions that took place months before the COP as well as on policy papers and proposals prepared by heads of state, United Nations staff and scientific experts. The negotiations focused on 3 main objectives:
- Guarantee a net zero level of GHG emissions globally by the middle of the century, and maintain maximum warming of 1.5º C: presentation of each country’s ambitious emissions reduction plans.
- Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.
- Raise funds. Under the Paris Agreement, developed countries pledged to spend $100 billion to finance climate adaptation and emissions reductions.
Successes and failures of the COP
As usual at each conference, major agreements were expected, especially on new goals for 2030. The Paris agreements had indeed set greenhouse gas reduction objectives too low to limit global warming to 1.5º C.
The Glasgow Climate Pact refers to coal for the first time in the UN process (you read that right, for the first time!). It calls on countries to come back with stronger climate plans in 2022. And it organizes implementation of the most controversial elements of the Paris Agreement settlement, six years after that landmark deal was struck.
But among the biggest failures of this COP is the lack of a financial plan to meet demands for climate reparations – hoped for by developing countries – as well as the refusal to allocate part of the revenue from carbon trading to financing adaptation to climate change. The United States, the European Union and other rich countries rejected the proposal to create such a funding mechanism to help victims of the climate crisis. The agreement recognizes the extent of loss and damage and agrees to step up technical assistance to affected countries. But instead of agreeing on specific funding, it calls for more dialogue, which means that a real fund may not see the light of day for several years, if at all. It should be recalled that in 2009 there were already calls to go in this direction: the rich countries had promised to pay $100 billion a year from 2009 to 2020 to help developing countries – a goal that has never been met.
Moreover, the word “emergency” was removed from the Glasgow climate pact, and there are vocabulary changes, such as from “phase out” to “phase down” in relation to fossil fuels. Experts express concern that a vague and overly tolerant vocabulary will cause countries and businesses to continue emitting GHG as usual, especially wealthy nations and big corporations that can afford bigger compensation expenditures.
Nevertheless, an agreement was reached to end by December 31, 2022 funding for foreign fossil fuel projects without carbon capture techniques (CCS). France and Spain, among others, are signatories to that agreement. However, it is only a question of ending public subsidies to such projects, so banks can continue to subsidize fossil fuels.
India’s announcements of its intention to end emissions by 2070 and agreements to reduce methane emissions led the International Energy Agency to warn that those commitments would likely lead to a rise in global temperatures of 1.8º C. According to the Climate Action Tracker, current policies put the world on the path to warming of 2.7 º C.
It should be noted that the failures of COP26 are not attributable solely to the incompetence of our representatives. The Energy Charter Treaty also poses a serious threat to governments that want to put an end to fossil fuels: that of a cascade of multi-million-dollar lawsuits brought by fossil fuel companies on the grounds of significant loss of profits due to their environmental commitments.
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