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COP26 Day 11: Cities lead the way to net zero

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Published 12 November 2021


In a sharp contrast to other days, there was no rush of grand announcements at the end of the discussions on Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day as this year’s UN climate summit draws to its conclusion.

One of the reasons was that the world’s largest cities have already been working together on a range of projects to achieve net zero ahead of the 2050 deadline set in Paris at COP21. These initiatives have been driven by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organisation of 97 cities across the globe, which is now chaired by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

He used his speech in Glasgow yesterday to urge nations to follow the lead of their great cities: "Compared to the slow nature of our national governments, it’s our cities that have proven to be more nimble, progressive and responsive to the needs of our citizens, rising to the challenge.

“More than two-thirds of C40 cities are already taking action exceeding the Paris Agreement targets. There’s only one country that is making similar progress – the Gambia. But by working with cities, we can still make sure that the 1.5°C target stays alive.”

He said London has been bold in its ambition to reach net zero by 2030, with the new Ultra Low Emission Zone the latest initiative taking its place alongside planting trees and introducing hundreds of zero emission buses.

But he says London’s zero-emissions target could be brought forward if it had adequate government funding. Around 550 electric buses are already on London’s roads, and a further 400 are on order. Khan said more government funding is required to electrify all 9000 vehicles by 2030.

The Mayor was able to announce a fresh co-ordinated electric bus purchase initiative to drive down the cost of buses through bulk purchasing. He also said the Breathe London air monitoring programme will be rolled out to almost 100 cities, with specific support for seven mega-cities with the worst levels of toxic air.

Some additional UK government funding was put on the table yesterday with a pledge of £27.5m for a new Urban Climate Action Programme (UCAP) which, in turn, is funded through International Climate Finance. Working in partnership with C40 Cities and GIZ, the German development agency, it will support cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America with innovative climate action plans to become carbon neutral by 2050 and prepare low-carbon infrastructure projects.

These will include low-emission public transport systems, renewable energy generation, sustainable waste management, new climate-smart buildings codes and climate risk planning.

The big picture

All eyes will now be on the fraught negotiations over the final COP26 statement with sessions expected to run late into the night, possibly even being extended into the weekend. The longer they go on, the more likely it is that the text will be tougher than the draft, which has been widely criticised for being light on hard commitments.

The current draft is aspirational but does not match the seminal closing statement at COP21 in Paris in terms of new ambitions backed by clear targets. The hopes of many that all leading nations could be persuaded to come with fresh commitments that achieved global alignment with the target of net zero by 2050 have been dashed, although there have been moments of optimism, such as when India announced its own target date for the first time, albeit 20 years later than the general target date, and the setting of bold new targets to reduce methane emissions.

The other focus of the last-minute negotiations will be the demands of the most vulnerable countries and developing nations for the major industrial nations finally to deliver on their decade-old promise of providing US$100bn a year to help them in their fight against the impacts of climate change and their transition to sustainability. They came with expectations that this would be delivered now, already a year late, and added to but have so far been disappointed in both counts.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pre-COP aim of marking the end of coal has not been achieved and the future of fossil fuels remains one of the key battlegrounds that will now be played out at next year’s COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 7 to 18 November 2022.

As everyone leaves Glasgow and looks to next year in Egypt, a furious debate will start around the world to determine whether the pledges made in Glasgow have kept the window open on the ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.