COP26 Cables: Lights, Camera, Action!

My Competitive Enterprise Institute colleagues and I are filing brief cables on COP26, the international climate conference being held in Glasgow, Scotland. Below is our fourth dispatch.

TL;DR: Scene change at COP26; it’s time to focus on final negotiations. Adaptation is not the same as access to aid — it is measured by the creation of, and access to, capital.

Wednesday Is the Pivot to Urgency, Again

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. 
— 
William Shakespeare, As You Like It

s the COP26 meetings are nearly ready to wind down — and the pathway to “success in Glasgow” is beginning to narrow — tension has started to build. Will there be an agreement? And, if there is one, will it earn the backing of enough constituencies to be labeled a success?

Today, the official messaging began to shift. British prime minister Boris Johnson returned to Glasgow to cajole the Saudis toward “ambitious action,” and a spokesman added that all countries must be at the table with “increased ambition.” U.N. secretary general António Guterres and COP president Alok Sharma exhorted “nonstate actors to shift gear from ambition” to implementation and direct action. There was no sense of irony about recommendations from these men for five-year plans to signal state direction — if not subsidy and control — of major elements of economic life.

Since the 1995 COP1 meeting in Berlin, the COP meetings have produced the Berlin Mandate, the Kyoto Protocol, the Marrakesh Accords, the Montreal Action Plan, the Bali Road Map, the Copenhagen Accords, the Cancun Agreements, the Durban Platform, and the Paris agreement. The product of this meeting in Glasgow is likely to target coal for elimination from the global power supply — a note that John Kerry struck yesterday — and leave out any firm commitments to fund the Green Climate Fund. It is entirely possible, however, that the delegations will not reach a consensus. Moving from rhetorical ambition to actual action is tough work and requires working against national and immediate interests.

Today’s Headlines

Two documents were released this week, which provided a bit of color to the talks. The first was a report from Climate Action Tracker (CAT). Its paper predicts warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius this century, after considering the difference between countries’ goals and their NDCs — the Nationally Determined Contributions, which are the centerpiece of the Paris agreement. While the CAT models assume that all warming is due to human activity (something which is hard to reconcile with the record of global industrialization in the past 150 years), it is a respected source and was on everyone’s lips in Glasgow. In addition, the draft of a statement for release at the end of the COP26 meeting began to circulate. The activist community was not impressed; indeed, Prime Minister Johnson faces an uphill battle in convincing them to support his net-zero agenda. There are key issues that remain unresolved including whether to force the NDCs toward a 1.5 degree target immediately or to stick with the Paris agreement’s schedule for updating each country’s pledge, how to measure and monitor emissions, and the all-important question of financing. Poorer countries want more and wealthier countries want to talk about something else.

What You Won’t Read in the Next Day’s Papers

Currently, about 19 percent of the American electric grid is powered from coal plants and, in recent days, the New York Times has reported on the expected spike in home heating bills for the winter. Nothing in the story from the Times mentions the Biden administration’s policy to restrict energy production. This includes a blanket moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands, which will contribute to upward pressure on prices over time. Pointing out that connection (whether present or future) at a time when energy prices are much higher might, of course, have led some readers to think the wrong kind of thoughts — and that would never do. But the Times is not alone. Bloomberg has also recently reported on President Biden’s concerns about how rising energy prices drive inflation. No word in this story about restrictions on energy production.

Today’s Takeaway for Free-Marketers

The draft text leans heavily on the notion of adaptation. People around the world are worried about the negative consequences of potentially dramatic changes in climate. Poorer countries want money to prepare and adapt for flooding, fire, migration, and changes in agriculture. But the most important, flexible, and powerful toolkit for adaptation is neither a COP statement nor direct foreign aid. It is prosperity and the innovation that flows from a wealthy, healthier society.

Read the full article at National Review.

Opinion