Press Briefing: COP26 Goals and Stories to Tell

Our panel of experts discussed what a successful summit in Glasgow would look like. See video and a transcript of the event.

On October 28, CCNow and Climate Central hosted a second press briefing about the upcoming COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow. Our first briefing covered why limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is so important.

This second briefing addressed why COP26 is not just one more international meeting but a crucial follow-up to the 2015 summit that produced the Paris Agreement—an agreement that governments are supposed to strengthen at COP26. Whether you’re covering COP26 in person or remotely, this briefing will help you gain a better understanding of how to tell the most important stories about COP26: how the world can get to 1.5 C, how we can live with 1.5 C, how we pay for 1.5 C, and what all of this means for your audience.

As required by the Paris Agreement, governments have been submitting updates of their climate action plans, known in UN lingo as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). A key question for media coverage to answer: will these NDCs lead to a 1.5 C future? (Hint: not yet, not even close). The UN has outlined key goals for COP26: managing emissions, adapting to a warming world and mobilizing finance. Our panel of experts provided fact-based insights on these topics and answered questions from journalists during the briefing.

PANELISTS

Kingsmill Bond, CFA is the Energy Strategist for Carbon Tracker. Kingsmill has worked as a sell-side City equity analyst and strategist around the world for 25 years. He joined Carbon Tracker in 2017 to write analysis on the impact of the energy transition on financial markets. He is also a member of the Global Future Council on energy transition for the World Economic Forum.

Sunita Narain is the Director-General at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi, which she joined in 1982. She is also the editor of the widely read fortnightly, Down To Earth magazine. In 2016, Time Magazine featured her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for her advocacy work around impoverished communities, climate change and environmental issues in India.

Moderators: Mark Hertsgaard, CCNow’s executive director and environment correspondent for The Nation. And, Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central chief meteorologist, Climate Matters director.

COP26 resources

Climate Central’s tools to localize the story

Transcript

Bernadette Woods Placky: Hello everybody, and welcome to this COP press briefing that is jointly being hosted by Covering Climate Now and Climate Central. I’m Bernadette Woods Placky, chief meteorologist at Climate Central and director of our Climate Matters program, where we’re working with thousands of meteorologists and journalists, providing climate reporting resources, ideas, often localized, to help you tell this climate story. And Climate Central is an independent organization of scientists and journalists, helping to make science clear and climate local. I’m joined by my dear colleague Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now, and an environment correspondent for The Nation.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Covering Climate Now is a global consortium of more than 400 news outlets, we may need to update that number, I see that it’s been popping the past couple of days, working to improve media coverage of climate change, organized by journalists, for journalists. And next week, covering climate now is headed into its next joint coverage week, Code Red: Countdown to COP26. During the joint coverage weeks, hundreds of partner outlets are invited to boost the climate story’s profile. And you can learn more at coveringclimatenow.org.

Bernadette Woods Placky: So today, we have a unique opportunity. We’re heading into COP26. Climate change is the biggest story of our time and COP is the ultimate news hook to tell that story. Climate change may be a global challenge, but it impacts people differently around the world. And the most effective solutions vary from place to place. You’re in a unique position to deliver those stories, even if you aren’t traveling to Glasgow. Climate Central and Covering Climate Now will be sharing many resources to support the reporting remotely. And as you listen to today’s briefing, it’s going to be a really good discussion. We’d also like you to use the chat function actively. We want to use this as a place to really brainstorm new story ideas, and hone in on some of the ideas you’ve been thinking about for your COP storytelling.

Bernadette Woods Placky: So we want to see a lot of action there. And if you have questions about resources, data sets, experts: ask us. We can help you with those. There are so many stories to tell, and we’re going to navigate this together.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Now, here’s how today’s briefing is going to go. After a few words and introductions by Mark, we’re going to get into a great discussion with an esteemed group of colleagues here. 1.5, why that number, paying for it, and living with it. These are really big topics we need to learn more about, and bring them to our audiences. Then Mark is going to open up your questions. Many of you have already submitted some fantastic ones, but don’t let that stop you from asking more. Again, jump into the Q&A feature, or the chat function, and we can get those questions for you. Note, this session is going to be recorded. Well, it is being recorded. And the video will be posted later, along with a written summary of highlights, in the websites of Covering Climate Now, and Climate Central. So at this point, I’d like to hand it over to you, Mark.

Mark Hertsgaard: Sorry, folks. Took a little second for me to unmute myself. Thank you so much, Bernadette. It’s really great to be here, and thank you to all my colleagues who are on this call, and everybody who’s not on the call, but will be watching this video afterwards. There’s a lot going on right now, as we go into COP. And of course, right now, at this hour in Washington DC, the heads, the CEOs of four of the biggest private oil companies on earth are giving testimony, and taking questions in Congress, under oath, about their 40 years of lying about climate science. Not a small reason why we face a climate emergency around the world right now.

Mark Hertsgaard: So as Bernadette said, there’s a lot of story ideas rolling out on an almost hourly basis now. The goal of this seminar is to try and help you focus your coverage of COP26, whether you are in Glasgow, or most of us will not be in Glasgow. You can cover it both ways. I believe that there’ll be in the chat, you can have the link to the live video that comes out of Glasgow. And that begins on October 31st, which is Sunday. But the real events that you want to watch would be November 1st and 2nd, next Monday and Tuesday. Those are the days when all of the heads of state and government from around the world will be giving their opening remarks, and in essence, laying out their country’s position on COP26.

Mark Hertsgaard: So briefly, why should we care about COP26? If there’s one point I want to get across to you today is that this is not just one more international meeting, where a bunch of heads of state get together and “blah, blah, blah,” as Greta Thunberg memorably put it not long ago. Believe me, having covered many COPs in my career, there is certainly a lot of blah, blah, blah. But, there is also really important, indeed, history-making decisions and negotiations that happen there.

Mark Hertsgaard: Bernadette mentioned the 1.5 celsius number that is the most important number at COP26. That is the temperature level that scientists say we must keep the earth below that temperature level, or at that temperature level, rather, in order to avoid the worst of climate change that sets out ahead of us. And we’re going to talk today about, as Bernadette said, three aspects of 1.5. How do we get to 1.5? How do we pay for 1.5? And how do we live with 1.5? And by reference, we’re now at 1.1, and look around. We can see that the extreme weather events that are already happening around the world are pretty hard to take. And a certain amount of that is already locked in, going forward. So the test for humanity is can we keep it to 1.5. That’s what these negotiations are about in Glasgow.

Mark Hertsgaard: And again, a caution against the sort of the normal cynicism that often infects newsrooms, to think, “Oh, these talks don’t matter.” The 1.5 degree figure itself disproves that. The reason that we are talking about 1.5 today, and the world as a whole is talking about 1.5, and the theme of this conference is keep 1.5 alive—that is only because the last big conference, the Paris Summit of 2015, enshrined 1.5 degrees into the Paris Agreement. And that was because of a big push from the Global South countries, and especially the civil society groups, and the governments of the most vulnerable countries around the world to climate change. They forced 1.5 into that Paris Agreement. There’s a terrific podcast coming, I think, later this week, actually, from Gimlet of Spotify, you can find it, that gives a terrific history of why 1.5 matters. And that 1.5 is again because of the Paris Agreement.

Mark Hertsgaard: So don’t fall for that cheap thinking that somehow these summits do not matter. They matter a lot, and they matter especially to people in the Global South, and to young people. Also today in Washington, a day of high climate drama, not just at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where these CEOs of big oil are testifying, but also at the other end, at the White House end, where five young people, ages 18 to 26, are now in the ninth day of a hunger strike outside the White House, in a desperate plea for a survivable future. And these are just the young people in this country.

Mark Hertsgaard: As a reporter, I’ve been privileged to travel in many parts of the global south. And the sad thing about climate change is that it is so unjust, that the countries that did the least, the people that did the least to cause these problems are the ones who suffer first and worst. So all of these issues, that’s what we’re going to be talking about here today, and how you can illuminate that in your coverage. We’re not going to tell you how to do journalism. You’re all pros. You know how to do journalism. What we are going to give you, though, today are tools for understanding COP26, and how to tell the climate story in a way that really reaches your audiences.

Mark Hertsgaard: And one final note on that, don’t doubt that people want this news. If you still think, or if your news manager, or your executive producers are telling you that people don’t want the climate story, you need to tell them they are out of date. That is not what the social science and the research and the public opinion polling shows anymore. Most people, 70% of people, want more climate news, and that is especially true for people under the age of 40, for obvious reasons.

Mark Hertsgaard: So to help us with this task of getting through 1.5, how do we get to 1.5? How do we pay for 1.5? How do we live with 1.5? We have two excellent panelists who will be joining us for the hour here. I’ll introduce them and then Bernadette will take us through some questioning. First is Kingsmill Bond, he is with Carbon Tracker, and that is an excellent NGO based in London. If you don’t already have them on your screen, so to speak, you need to check in with them. They do excellent work tracking, as their name would suggest, how emissions are promised, promised reductions, how that measures up against reality and so forth. And he joins us, I believe, from London.

Mark Hertsgaard: And then Sunita Narain, she is with the Center for Environment and … I can’t read that. Maybe you can help me with that.

Sunita Narain: Sorry, Mark. It’s Center for Science and Environment, and the Magazine Down to Earth. 

Mark Hertsgaard: Yeah. Center for Science and the Environment. I’m sorry I blew that line. We are so thrilled to have her with us from India. And as she mentioned, she is one of the partners of Covering Climate Now. Covering Climate Now has over 400 partners from over 57 countries. And Sunita is going to be talking about all of these questions, especially the mitigation and the finance, and has the perspective out of the global south, which again, folks, if you are not in the global south, that is the essence of these stories, and has been since 1992, is the dynamic between the rich countries and the poor countries.

Mark Hertsgaard: I’ll finish by just quoting our colleague at Rolling Stone Magazine, Jeff Goodell, who kind of summarized the last 30 years of global negotiations in these words, “The rich pollute, the poor suffer, and the rich really don’t care.” That has too often been the story at COPs, and COP26 cannot have that continue to be the story, or we simply will not get where we need to go.

Mark Hertsgaard: So welcome again, and I’ll turn it back to Bernadette, and she’ll take us through the presentations. Bernadette.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Thanks, Mark. So there’s so much to dig in here. We’re going to get started from the getting to 1.5. 1.5 degrees celsius, we’ve all heard that number a lot. So there’s a lot banged into that 1.5. And as Mark said, we’re already at 1.1, and look at what we’re seeing. So I’m going to start out with Kingsmill here, and bring him into the conversation. Kingsmill, the IPCC, in its big 1.5 report that it released, explained how we need to drastically cut our current emissions by about 45% in just the next few years, if we want to be on track to hit that 1.5 sort of limit of warming globally.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Now, the thing is, we’ve come a long way from starting these negotiations decades ago, to where we were in Paris, to where we’re heading into this current negotiations. Can you sort of set the stage on what that path has been?

Kingsmill Bond: Great. Thanks, Bernadette. Thanks for having me from Carbon Tracker. So in broad terms, before Paris, the world was looking like we were going to get to 3.6 degrees by the end of the century. Paris essentially dragged that down to 2.6 degrees. I take here the IEA latest numbers. The aspirations of current global leaders, the announced pledges would take us to 2.1 degrees, and obviously we have to get to 1.5, but that’s the framing. We were at 3.6. We’re now at 2.6, aiming for 2.1. We have to get to 2.1, and then we have to push the envelope further to get to 1.5. That’s the context of this debate.

Bernadette Woods Placky: That so nicely frames the entire conversation going into Glasgow. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. So Sunita, the scientific journal Nature really laid out one of the ways we have to make transitions, to be on that path for 1.5, and it focused on fossil fuels. This is a big part of the conversation, not the only part, we’ll get into the rest of it, but a big part is fossil fuels. And Nature laid out that the numbers were 90% of the earth’s coal needs to stay in the ground. 60% of oil and gas unburned. How do we make that happen?

Sunita Narain: Let me unmute myself. Yeah. That’s the conundrum, because the fact is, it’s not about just oil and gas, and about local pollution. Climate change is an extraordinarily inconvenient issue, because it’s not about the coal and the oil and gas of today. It’s also about the past. And this is why the question about keeping in the ground makes it a highly inequitable debate. It’s a climate unjust debate, because the fact is the world has burned tons and tons of coal for its wealth. The world continues to burn tons and tons of oil and gas for its growth. If you look at the United States, I mean, incredible shift away from coal, but to what? Gas. Gas is equally a fossil fuel. And yet, today when you’re talking about keeping it in the ground, it’s really keeping it in the ground means what happens to energy access for the very poor in the world?

Sunita Narain: Now, there is no doubt in my mind that coal is a problem. We need to deal with coal. But you cannot deal with coal in this sort of preachy manner of saying, “We did it in the past, and we made the mistakes in the past, but you must not burn it in the future.” And that’s really that preachy debate that has to move towards a real discussion that says, “What’s the timeline, so that the countries which used coal in the past phase it out completely?” I mean, the tragedy of today is that, when we meet in Glasgow, given the high gas prices, the host, UK, has turned back some of its coal-based power plants.

Sunita Narain: China, which has said that it will not build coal-based power plants in other parts of the world, continues to build them in China. And it’s about Africa. It’s about India, which has huge energy scarcity, and the need for clean energy, and that’s the discussion we should be having. What happens to future energy needs? Can we actually make sure that, instead of coal, we can supply them with other sources, and that’s where the transformation of the energy system has to be part of the discussion in Glasgow. It’s not charity. It’s not about trying to do something for Africa, because they didn’t get their act together. It’s about making sure that we have a planet in which we can survive together.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Thank you, Sunita. And for all of our journalists, obviously, the way we access energy from location to location really varies. This is a great way to dive into our local story, is how does your community access energy? And how does your community feed into other people’s access of energy? What can we do going forward?

Bernadette Woods Placky: So to Kingsmill, I am going to shift over here because it is more than just fossil fuels, right? You’ve spoken about four key steps that need to be made to achieve that 1.5 degree target. Could you briefly outline those steps for us?

Kingsmill Bond: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Thank you very much. So before I plunge into that, I think it’s worth just quickly reminding ourselves how much the world has changed since Paris. And that, if I may, informs this debate as well. Because there are three big things that have changed since Paris, which actually make this debate very, very different to what previous primary COPs have faced. First of all, Paris, basically nobody had net zero targets. Now 84% of the world does. So you’ve had a big political shift. Secondly, and actually, more importantly, you’ve had an extraordinary technology shift. The cost of these technologies has fallen since Paris by about 60%, been a collapse in the cost of the renewable energy technologies to below that of fossil fuels. And that means that, actually, you now have economics on your side for change. And it’s also unlocked, to address Sunita’s very, very valid points, it’s unlocked an enormous new energy resource of 100 times the size of fossil fuel. So we’ve had a big technology shift.

Kingsmill Bond: And then thirdly, we’ve had a materiality shift. So when Paris took place, renewable energy technology, specifically solar and wind, the instruments of change, were tiny. They were less than 1% of global energy demand and a fraction of the change. Today, they’re already about 5% of the total and almost 100% of the structural growth that’s taking place in energy demand. So you’ve had an absolutely extraordinary change in the materiality and the significance of these technologies. So that’s, I think, an important aspect of framing, and I want to come to the point.

Kingsmill Bond: So many people have laid out what needs to happen at Paris. I’ll quickly scoop through the points. The IEA talks about four. The Energy Transitions Commission talks about six. I’ll just quickly lay out the six. So, the first one is to enable the continued rapid growth of solar and wind. So to be clear, these technologies have been growing on exponential growth curves, called S curves, for the last 20 or 30 years. Solar is still growing at 25% a year. You don’t actually have to do anything. You just have to let it happen. And that does, of course, require very significant policy changes. And it requires you to remove some of the blockages, but it doesn’t actually require a huge amount of effort. So that’s the first thing that needs to happen.

Kingsmill Bond: The second, and this is actually a really new debate at COP, is we have to sort out methane leakages because that’s a very significant aspect and a very easy to solve aspect of global warming. You can cut about 90% of methane leakages at zero cost. So that’s the second thing that they want to, or need to, do. The third that ETC talks about is to stop deforestation. The fourth is to roll out electric vehicles. And then finally, you’ve got the, where again, the narrative very different to Paris. Back in Paris, a Tesla would set you back $100,000. Now, you can buy an electric car for 20,000. So it’s a completely different debate.

Kingsmill Bond: Anyway, the fifth is efficiency, as usual. And then finally, ways to address these hard-to-abate sectors. So I think it’s worth stressing that there are some very good, good analytical groups out there coming out with very clear answers. I recognize that’s not necessarily giving you all of the answers, but there are some good, easy-to-achieve, cheap solutions to cut emissions right now in the 2020s.

Bernadette Woods Placky: And there are many ways we can dive into those in the Q&A section, but it’s good to really lay out those big sectors because those are the ones we need to focus on most for this transition. And again, just kind of calling out some of these story ideas. There are so many there. I even saw a note from one of the chats flying through here about—it’s a great chat, questions going on already—about how to make this a positive story, not just doom and gloom.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Well, Kingsmill just laid out a few things. Really, the technology shift. And again, communities across the world are playing into that in a different way. Electric vehicles is fun. You know, go drive one, take one, do a story on that. So there’s a lot of positive ways to dive into this story, too, that were just laid out.

Bernadette Woods Placky: So, Sunita, net zero. It’s a big phrase being thrown around, and it can mean a lot. The general sense is a calculation, right? Balancing out our emissions to zero. However, there’s a lot that goes into play with that—is how much are we putting out versus how much are we taking out of the atmosphere? So it can be controversial the way some people use this. Could you explain a little more about what net zero means to all of our participants here, and the most effective way, really, for applying net zero in this conversation going forward so that we don’t just rely on taking too much out of the atmosphere versus cutting emissions that are going into it?

Sunita Narain: So I have to say, Bernadette, and I hope people will understand. Actually, I’m totally against net zero. I think net zero is a total, and if I can use the word, scam for the following reasons. And let me explain why. I’m sorry. Forgive me, everyone, but I’ve been in climate change for a bit too long, perhaps. I was in Rio in 1992 when we did a book called Global Warming in an Unequal World. And I followed the negotiations right through the past many decades. And I find that every decade there is a new scam that gets thrown out with an effort to divert our attention from what needs to be done today.

Sunita Narain: And let me explain why I feel net zero should really be taken off the table. Number one, what does IPCC say? IPCC says that the world must move to net zero by 2050 to keep us below the 1.5 degrees centigrade rise. Now, if you are talking about the world to be at net zero in 2050, given the extraordinary differentiation and inequity that exists in the world, you would certainly say that a country like UK, where Kingsmill is from, or you, the US, should be at net zero in 2030, which would allow China to be net zero in 2040, and perhaps India to be net zero in 2050, and the rest of the world to be at net zero in 2050. By not doing so you’re actually appropriating even a larger share of the carbon budget then should be your right, number one. So it’s iniquitous.

Sunita Narain: Number two, it’s actually a framing of the problem which allows the world to think that there are technologies, which are very romantically called “disruptive technologies,” that are going to emerge in our world, which are going to mysteriously, soak up the carbon dioxide, or pump it back into the ground. And it’s just “going happen.” It’s like a woof! It’s just going to happen. And it’s not going to happen today. It’ll happen by 2050. So don’t worry. It’ll happen.

Sunita Narain: The fact is we need disruptive action and not disruptive technologies. What net zero really means is over reliance on sinks. And the IPCC reports today clearly puts out that the sink potentially itself is going down because of climate change, which means you cannot believe that you can sequester the carbon dioxide you put out from fossil fuel and use forest as carbon sticks. It’s not going to happen at the scale we believe. The carbon capture and storage technologies just are not in operation today.

Sunita Narain: I think what Kingsmill said is what needs to be done today. The United States, the UK, with the four issues that he laid out so beautifully, that needs to be front-loaded by 2030. Why are we waiting for 2050? Why should, if electric vehicles are already on the table, why isn’t there a real plan for electric vehicle transformation to happen in the US, in UK, in Japan, in Canada, all the historical polluters? Why is it not there? We are still talking about phasing it out in 2030, 2035. And that’s about individual cars. The fact is we know that you need a mobility transformation, not to move people in individual vehicles. I could go on.

Sunita Narain: But the fact of the matter is, Bernadette, we need to front-load emissions, carbon. We need to take action now. And we should not be talking about 2050. And the last point is, if it’s really net zero and we are so hunky-dory about, “Oh, everybody needs to sign on to a net zero target.” So what will the Indian government do? Sign on to 2070? Because if the US is 2050, and China is 2060, India has to be 2070. China has 10 gigatons. US has five gigatons. India has 2.2 gigatons. So let’s get a perspective on this that we all understand the reality, and don’t let some more new fancy words divert us from the mission of saying, “Cut now. Transform now.”

Bernadette Woods Placky: Sunita, I love passion. I’m a person of passion, so thank you. And so that brings us to the next question, which I want to bring to you. Because often, being in the United States, some people have not followed this conversation as closely, and so that’s one of the reasons we’re here today. And it gives us an opportunity to bring people up to speed and help advance this conversation. And one of the big topics that comes up is financing, and it’s loaded. It’s another loaded topic, but it’s very confused, what that means. And so one of the first things I’d love to do as we dig into finance here is, can you explain with this pledge of money from rich countries to poor countries, really give some of the groundwork of why that exists?

Sunita Narain: So, Bernadette, let’s just take a walk down history. The fact is, in 1992 when the framework convention on climate change was signed, it had a framing of the problem. And the framing of the problem was rather simple at that stage, which was to say, and it was simple because the world was simple. I mean I keep telling myself, when I was in Rio, it felt like we could change the world. It was like the age of the innocence. And now it just feels like it’s so many dark forces at play, and we just can’t get our act together.

Sunita Narain: But the fact is, it framed the problem saying here was a part of the world. And it was a very clear part of the world. If you look at our new publication in Down to Earth, we have put it out very clearly. I’ve called it “the before the climate convention:” BC. BC was seven countries, and the climate convention simply said that what we want to do is that these countries must reduce and reduce first. They provide space for the other countries to grow, but so that the other countries don’t grow in a way that is business as usual. There is money, finance, and technology so that they can grow differently.

Sunita Narain: So the framing was that we have to make sure that we live within the planetary boundaries. And for that we reduce, they grow, but we provide money and technology so that they can grow differently. Now, over the last 30 years since then, we have worked overtime to dilute, erase, destroy the principle of equity in climate negotiations. The Paris Agreement got rid of even the word “historical emissions.” And I’m sorry to say this, Bernadette and Mark, it was because of, at that state, this was pre-Biden. I mean, the US, today, is a totally transformed country. But pre-Biden, the US was the country which went after to say, “We want no reference to historical emissions, no reference to climate justice, no reference to the issue of each country taking on emission reduction based on their contribution.”

Sunita Narain: Now, as a result of it, we have created a situation in which the developing countries continue to grow, and there is no space left. Now, post-2000, 2004, when China joined WTO, China’s rise has been spectacular. And if you look at the emission graph, China today has not only caught up, but has over-exceeded the US. In this decade itself, China will take up 33% of the remaining carbon budget. Now, Bernadette, the bottom line of this is this finance is not charity. This finance is to make sure that the polluters pay the cost so that they ensure that the emerging countries can actually do things differently.

Sunita Narain: So we have to get out of this conversation, which I have seen often, to say, “Why should we pay India? Why should we pay the African countries? Because it’s their business to do development.” No, this is not about that. I want to go back and finally just say this point of what Mark said. It’s a wonderful quote. “The rich pollute, the poor suffer, and the rich do not just care.” But, Mark, in an interdependent world—and right now we have understood after COVID and the war between the vaccine, the variant, and vaccination—we have understood we live in an interdependent world. If the rich polluted in the past, the poor will pollute in the future. You can’t bully and berate people not to pollute. We will have to create a system in which we can all live within that limit, to stay below 1.5 degrees. So I think the rich do care. In my own city, the rich care about air pollution, even if the poor contribute to it. And I think that’s the discussion that I think has changed in the world.

Bernadette Woods Placky: And that really is some of the path forward, is making this relevant to everyone, and understanding how it does affect everyone. And how the history lesson comes into play for people understanding why this is on the table, and why it is such a heated debate. So, thank you very much for that.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Now, Kingsmill, what concretely, at COP 26, can we do with all this money that is floating around in the global economy to really channel it to this $100 billion pledge, and even more so than that going forward, to really help the world’s economy force this transition and fund this transition to clean energy, electrified transport, and climate resilience?

Kingsmill Bond: Okay. So just to give you some context on these numbers, $100 billion, whilst being significant and important, and I totally agree with everything Sunita’s been saying, an important aspect of justice. It’s actually not very much money in the scheme of what’s required. So we need three or $4,000 billion a year of CapEx on renewable energy technologies, according to the IEA. I personally think less. But anyway, that kind of level. So $100 billion is nice to have, but it needs to be seen within the context of a much bigger shift that needs to happen. That’s the first observation I’ll make.

Kingsmill Bond: The answer to your question, and then, sorry, if I may make one other important observation. There’s a very good paper done by Oxford University, it came out last month, on these renewable energy technologies of solar, wind, batteries, and green hydrogen, and how they’re all on these extraordinary learning curves. And basically, the argument is that it’s cheaper to transition than not to transition because the more you deploy this stuff, the cheaper it gets. And the cheaper it gets, the cheaper it is to do. And they’re one of a large group of people who are basically saying, “Look, it’s worthwhile spending capital, CapEx today to have a lower, long run cost.” And to give you a framing of those numbers-

Bernadette Woods Placky: Can I interject for just one second? Could you explain CapEx so people could follow that?

Kingsmill Bond: Sorry. So capital expenditures. So imagine you’re lying on a beach in the sunshine in the summer, and you haven’t had a roof all summer, but it’s been great. And then winter’s coming, you need to build a roof. And you go, “Well, I don’t want to build a roof because it costs money.” But actually you have to build a roof or else you’re going to get very wet and cold. And that’s the kind of environment we’re in now globally. You have to spend, in very broad terms, about 2 or 3% of GDP for about 20 years on capital expenditure to get the job done, which is not actually very much. And the benefit of doing that is you’re going to save yourself, wait for it, 4% of GDP of annual implicit consequences of global warming and pollution.

Kingsmill Bond: That’s 40 gigatons times $100 a ton. But 4% of GDP. And you’re going to save yourself 2% of GDP that you’re paying in rent to oligarchs and petro states. So in other words, the financial… Those are a very broad picture numbers, but it kind of illustrates the point, which is that the financial, the reason no cost to the energy transition, there’s a capital expenditure, but, but overall it will have huge financial benefits. So now to come to what exactly COP can do, I think it’s also worth stating, don’t forget politicians, with all due respect, are a lagging indicator. The driver of change is, is technology. And politicians basically do what Boris Johnson does in the UK, and then pick up, pick up the latest technological innovations and take the credit for them.

Kingsmill Bond: And that’s exactly what COP can now do because of the kind of collapsing costs I laid out at the beginning. So what would I hope for? What can they actually do? I think they can set concrete targets for 2030. And 2050 as Sunita says is far too far away. They can stop subsidizing fossil fuels. The IMF put out another piece last week saying we have $500 billion a year, still, of explicit subsidies for fossil fuels, as well as… They calculated at a higher number, but anyway. About $4,000 billion of implicit subsidies because of global warming and health consequences of fossil fuels. We’ve got to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and start to tax them, because polluters should pay for the pollution that they incur. And it’s quite clear that you cannot possibly solve this problem without carbon taxes.

Kingsmill Bond: And then you need, this is where again I agree with Sunita, you need a proper plan. Not just to transfer a hundred billion dollars a year and forget about it, but to transfer technology and finance and policy expertise from those countries like Denmark or those regions like South Australia or California which have started to crack the problem, to all of the rest of the world which hasn’t. And I would say the reason why I personally remain relatively optimistic is for the very simple observation that countries, because of the collapsing costs, countries will adopt the cheapest, best, local technology.

Kingsmill Bond: 10 years ago, or 20 years ago when a lot of these COPs were being designed, that was of course fossil fuels so it was a real battle. Nowadays and increasingly looking forward, it will be these renewable energy technologies. So for us at Carbon Tracker, the kind of fourth meta observation that we would make, is that we want a shift in the narrative from pain and cost sharing, to gain, opportunity, leadership and taking advantage of these new technologies. It’s not in a naive way. And I again agree with Sunita that CCS, all that stuff, complete nonsense. But there are some really great technologies out there and we need to deploy them and we need to do it quick.

Bernadette Woods Placky: And that’s a very, very good point, and to kind of bring it all together there too. And so, given time, I’m going to shift this conversation now to living with 1.5. And I’m going to bring Mark into this conversation here, because he’s written extensively on this, including a book that we can share the link to if anyone wants.

Sunita Narain: Bernadette, can I-

Bernadette Woods Placky: Yes?

Sunita Narain: Sorry, can I just one very quick thing to what Kingsmill said, and just for everyone listening. So at COP26, one of the points of discussion is going to be what, I hate this UN jargons, but it’s Rule 6. And it’s simply about markets. Now, a lot of us have actually reported on this, how the clean development mechanism became an unclean development mechanism, became a cheap development mechanism, became a convoluted development mechanism. That was also within the same framing that you would use markets to buy carbon credits from the developing world or the emerging world.

Sunita Narain: And I think people reporting on climate must watch out for what happens at COP26, because I’m deeply concerned that the world is again making the same mistake to come up with a instrument, a market based instrument, for transferring funds and technology and buying the credits. But those are going to be cheap credits which are not going to lead to the transformation that is needed. So what we have been asking for is: put a flow price, make sure that the market works for the public good. So I just wanted to make that point, Bernadette, to say that’s a very important part of reporting on COP26 going forward.

Bernadette Woods Placky: These are good points. Thank you. So Mark, bringing you in now. Since you’ve written so much about adaptation, is the technical term, but it’s really how we live with what’s already happening. We know at 1.1 we’re already seeing devastating impact. Extreme weather taking out people’s lives, our air quality changing, migration underway, security being threatened, food and water also being threatened. So that’s at 1.1. We’re hoping to limit to 1.5. Then we know that all of this really escalates with each 10th of a degree. So could you talk a little bit, again building on the rich versus poor countries, of why this is so critical and it feeds into the finance. And another piece too, maybe a couple of examples that in your reporting that you found of really great stories and adaptation that could be scaled on a bigger level. Muted.

Mark Hertsgaard: Muted. Sure. Adaptation and mitigation. Okay, fellow journalists, these are two terms you’re going to hear a lot in COP26. They are foolishly chosen terms by scientists who chose them decades ago. Mitigation is not what you think it means. Mitigation is about, to oversimplify, it’s basically about stopping emissions, stopping the temperatures from going up by shifting a coal plant to a solar plant, for example. Adaptation is about living with the impacts that are here and that are coming. So mitigation is trying to stop the temperatures from going up. Adaptation is living with what we have. That’s why you’ll notice today we have getting to 1.5, that’s about mitigation, financing 1.5 is about the money. Always a good idea for journalists, follow the money. And then adaptation is living with what we have and what is coming.

Mark Hertsgaard: So adaptation often has traditionally been seen as a sort of a third cousin. It has been ignored or downplayed at most previous COPs. That has begun to change in recent years. And that’s a good thing. All of us are going to have to adapt, but one of the biases for many years about adaptation was, “Oh, this is only something that really poor countries and poor communities have to worry about because they don’t have the money. They don’t have the technology.” Whereas we in the rich countries, we can afford to put up, say, sea barriers around Manhattan Island in New York City to protect that very valuable place. Or the Netherlands can afford to put up all the dike system that it has there because they’re a rich country.

Mark Hertsgaard: The last five years have shown how foolish that idea was. The rich are just as vulnerable as the poor. And indeed I would argue that there are many poor countries, especially Bangladesh, that can teach the rich world a lot about adaptation. If you want a great story in COP26 and beyond about adaptation, about how to live with climate change, Bangladesh is an excellent place to look. They have been doing adaptation for a long time. They wrote it into their national climate plan years ago, long before most rich countries had done this. And they in particular are talking about something called community led adaptation. So that you don’t impose this from the top up by the government saying, “We’re going to do this,” but rather you to the people on the ground.

Mark Hertsgaard: For example, the farmers in the south of Bangladesh, which of course is a Delta region where they’ve been growing rice. And because of the sea level rise, they’re pushing ocean water in further that has put salt into the soil and so has dropped the rice yields. And there’s been very good example of actually collaboration between the local farmers and the government to the local farmers bringing back some of the old indigenous strains of rice that are more able to deal with salt, salt intrusion, even as the Bangladeshi government has been finance and research into new strains of rice that could be more salt tolerant.

Mark Hertsgaard: So don’t fall for this idea that only the poor countries have to adapt and they’re these poor victims that don’t know anything about it. If you look at the book I wrote about this 10 years ago is called Hot: Living Through The Next 50 Years On Earth. And it talked about really the two leaders in adaptation around the world are Bangladesh, I would say in the global south, and the Netherlands in the global north. And there’s actually a lot of collaboration between the two of those. And of course, in the Netherlands, it’s partly about protecting themselves from the sea, also from the rivers that flow through there. And they have made real, real changes. The most important lesson though about adaptation is, as one Dutch scientist told me, start now. You have a lot farther to go than you think you do.

Mark Hertsgaard: One final note there, and then I’d like us to go into the Q&A with our attendees here. And here’s a positive note. We don’t get too much positive climate news, but here’s one. And it’s in Scientific American and The Nation. This was a collaboration through Covering Climate Now. New story that’s just out yesterday, I think, or today actually, that shows that we are not locked in to a huge amount of future temperature rise. It has long been thought, in your reporting I’m sure you’ve heard this, that even if we stopped emissions tonight, the temperatures are going to go up for another 30 years, the impacts are going to worsen for another 30 years simply because CO2 stays up in the atmosphere for a long time. That used to be the rule of thumb. That is no longer true.

Mark Hertsgaard: Read this piece in Scientific American and The Nation. It references new science that came out in the IPCC’s report this August finding that in fact if we were to stop all emissions, which of course has to be the goal, we have to stop all emissions of greenhouse gases on the planet. If we do that, we’re not locked into 30 more years of temperature rise, it’s really more about like three years. So this is in my view, a paradigm shift. We know now that we can fix this, it is not hopeless. It is not that we’re locked into 30 years of rising temperatures, no matter what. But we have got to get very serious about doing it right now.

Mark Hertsgaard: And so I think that what we should do now is go to the Q&A. And Bernadette, if you have a person to call on, please go ahead. But if not, I will suggest one. Because someone in the chat, I thought… I’m sorry, not in the chat, but rather in one of the earlier questions, they said, and this is a real journalist question, “Do you think it’s more important in trying to cover COP do we try to cover the whole event more broadly or do we hone in on a particular theme?” And I will just say from my experience in covering COPs… And Sunita, it’s funny to hear you talk about 1992 in Rio and the Earth Summit. I too, that was my first climate conference. So I would just say that it is a fool’s errand and you will exhaust yourself if you try to cover everything. It’s really not possible unless you have a big newsroom. I think the Guardian’s taking like 15 reporters there. That would make that possible.

Mark Hertsgaard: If you’re a solo operator, you need to focus. You need to figure out what is my audience likely to be interested in. And then look at that. So for example, Covering Climate Now had a press conference with the UN Secretary General last week, Antonio Guterres. And one of our colleagues at the ABC TV station in Dallas asked the Secretary General, “What would you say to Texas about COP26 and the need to have an energy transition?” And Secretary Guterres said, “Well, essentially Texas got rich using the energy sources of the last century, and if they want to stay rich in the 21st century they’re going to have to shift to solar and wind and away from oil and gas.” Which by the way, did not make the Texas governor very happy. He responded very badly to that story on the Dallas TV station. Which is always kind of a nice thing if you’re a reporter, to know that you got a reaction.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Mark one… Oh, sorry. I thought you were done. One of the questions that did stand out to me, that I thought you already started to get into here and so has Sunita in some ways too, and Kingsmill. But I think it would be great to hear from everyone on this question is, how do meetings like COP have a real effect on climate initiatives? And this gets into the storytelling in so many ways, because as you just alluded to already, there are the day to day negotiations, they will be happening. But there’s so much more that happens at COP around those negotiations that really play into people’s day to day lives at home. And those stories are really important to tell, too. So maybe you could take that, or we could start with Sunita or Kingsmill on this. However you’d like to go.

Mark Hertsgaard: I’d like to hear from Kingsmill first. I feel like I’ve just spoken enough.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Okay. Kingsmill. So again, the question is how do meetings like COP26 have a real effect on climate initiatives?

Kingsmill Bond: Well actually I was going to primarily defer to Sunita, who’s much more experienced at COPs than I am. But to not entirely duck the question, I think… Because I have a financial market background, for us it’s really important for politicians to set the framework for where we are going. And so for example, if you’re in the energy production business and you realize that fossil fuel taxes are going to rise and the countries are going to mandate an ever rising share of renewables, you’ve got to rethink your business model. And so to a degree it’s really important for… And that was the glory of Paris, of course. 3.6, 2.6, and all the rest of it. It’s important for politicians to kind of lay out the kind of future in which businesses and financial players are likely to be operating. But again, I defer to Sunita, really.

Sunita Narain: Sorry. For me, I think that COP is a news story. It makes the climate change news, which we often do not report enough of through the year. I mean we are beginning to report it more and more because the extreme weather events are in our face now and we can’t not report the weather changes, but the links with climate change we are often hesitant to still report on. So COP becomes that one event at which you can report on the issues of climate change, the politics of climate change, the signs of climate change. And I think that’s crucial because climate change is something which needs people to understand how—you know, Al Gore said, “inconvenient truth.” Actually climate change is not the inconvenient truth. It’s the inequity and the injustice in climate change that is the inconvenient truth. My concern with COPs now, Bernadette, is that they have lost the energy. And I’m seeing that come back now, but I think the best thing with COPs is not what happens inside the rooms, but what happens outside. And this just sheer energy of people has forced things to change, has forced leaders to change. I can see that happening, especially with the young people across the world. I think that pressure needs to be kept on, COPs is a good way to keep the pressure on people. But I think we need also as journalists to start looking at just how out of touch climate negotiations are, with the reality that is in our face today. I think that’s another part of the story that we need to tell about just how we need to bring climate negotiations back into and give them a human face. Make people matter once again to climate change. That’s critical for us.

Mark Hertsgaard: I’m going to let everybody know we are going to continue on for 10 minutes past the hour. It’s now five minutes before the hour. We’ll go to 10 minutes past the hour, try to get a few more questions in. I would just emphasize and second what Sunita just said. When I’m at COPs, I generally spend most of my time in the so-called Green Zone that is distinguished from the Blue Zone. The Blue Zone is where the actual negotiators are happening, and as a reporter, of course you have access to that. But the Green Zone is outside of that inner venue and that’s where the NGOs and scientists and a lot of other civil society representatives are. That’s where you’re going to find a lot more candid talk as a reporter and themes that you can then go back into the Blue Zone and press government officials on. That’s a very useful thing to go back and forth with as you pursue this.

Mark Hertsgaard: Also to underline, this is your news peg. No newsroom can say to you, “Oh, climate change doesn’t matter during this week.” This is the big event in the climate space in general. One of the other questions that we’ve gotten here is, “How can journalists who are not at Glasgow, who are not there in the room, how can you bring the story home to your audiences aside from talking about the obvious things,” as this person, the questioner says, “The forest fires and the drought of this past year?” How do we do that? I’ll start.

Mark Hertsgaard: First of all, there’s no problem with talking about it that way. That you have to meet your audience where they are, and for or a lot of audience members where they are is remembering those heat waves. So it’s a good way to connect and then carry it forward, essentially by saying, if you don’t want to more of those heat waves going forward, you need to pay attention to what’s happening in Glasgow, and above all you need to be letting your elected representatives know that you care about what happens in Glasgow.

Mark Hertsgaard: A second point there, right now arguably, certainly one of the biggest climate stories in the world is playing out in Washington this week. I’m not just referring to the CEOs testifying or the hunger strikers in the White House, but rather of course, Joe Biden’s climate legislation. Is he going to be going to Glasgow with a strong climate policy or not? That will depend on what kind of bill gets passed in Washington, the so-called budget reconciliation bill. That too is a huge climate story and you can tell it as such. But do any of the rest of you, including you Bernadette, because you’ve been to your share of COPs, what do you think about this journalist’s, our colleague’s question about, how do we tell the climate story from COP in a way that matters to somebody in Arkansas or Pensacola, Florida?

Bernadette Woods Placky: I think there are many ways to do this. As you said, we said in the beginning, we’ve said many times, it’s the news hook. What matters to people in Arkansas? How is this impacting them and what can be done about that right in Arkansas? Because there are definitely ties to what’s going on in Glasgow. One, you can find in the Green and Blue Zone, I just chatted some of that too. Some of the side events that will be going on that you can follow that feed into this, but also it might just be the news hook. But guess what? There is this warming going on. We just put out yesterday a whole set of projections for local communities in the United States of what your path is forward for projected temperatures. We talk on the global scale about going, trying to keep it to a 1.5, but the path we’re on. It varies from location to location when you hone in on the science. We’ve already put that out. There is a way to get into that conversation.

Bernadette Woods Placky: That’s one way to do it. How is this affecting your communities? What are they feeling? I mean, is there too much water, too little water? You can tap into some of the water conversations that are have going on. Is it how we deal with our land? Is it farming? There’s a lot of events going on about farming and agriculture. Our air quality, our health. Everyone’s health everywhere is being affected by climate change. Is it the air quality? Is it the too much heat? There are so many events going on around that too. And then there’s a lot of ways to break that down with data and stories and people in your local community who are living through this.

Mark Hertsgaard: One question that’s come in over the RSVPs, I’d like to get your thoughts on this, Kingsmill, if I could. What happens if COP 26 does not produce an agreement? What if there is no Glasgow agreement or the Glasgow agreement is shamefully weak? Does that mean that the world is in failure mode? Or are there already enough indicators, as you were saying in the price system, if for nothing, no other reason, enough indicators that will push governments and especially finance in the right direction? You said earlier the price of solar and wind is going down, et cetera. But I know you also talked about the importance of policy to make sure that happens. If Glasgow does not work out the way we’d like, what does that mean for the energy transition?

Kingsmill Bond: Well, first of all, I think there will be an agreement because it’s almost impossible for our dear political leaders to fail to, given the technology and political environment and the change since Paris. There will be some kind of agreement. The issue really is, is it good enough and is it concrete enough? To answer your question, if the agreement is very flabby and weak and achieves very little, then we would stick to our observation that we made about a year ago, which is that fossil fuel demand has peaked anyway in 2019, and we are at the moment bumping along the plateau at the top of fossil fuel demand. What that means, therefore is that financial markets are already deserting and leaving behind fossil fuel assets because they don’t want to lose money. You’re finding businesses getting behind change in any event. It would be nice if politicians actually joined the party, but if they don’t, it’s not necessarily catastrophic.

Mark Hertsgaard: Sunita, could you weigh in on that? I’m thinking in particular, you’ve mentioned China and of course, China and the United States are the two global climate change superpowers. The United States still is the biggest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, but China is catching up fast. And by the way folks, I’m just going to put in one of my pet peeves for my fellow journalists. When you talk about who the biggest emitters are on this planet, virtually every copy that I read, every story I read says China is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. If you are going to say that, you must say that China is the leading annual emitter of greenhouse gases.

Mark Hertsgaard: Bear in mind that the atmosphere cares about the cumulative emissions, not the annual. What’s heating up the atmosphere is the cumulative emissions since the start of the industrial revolution 250 years ago. And there, United States is still ahead. China, however, catching up very rapidly. Sunita, how do you feel about that? A, if Glasgow does not produce an agreement. I’m not so sure that China is really going to be strongly at the table in Glasgow, President Xi has made it pretty clear he is not even going to attend the meeting.

Sunita Narain: I take the second question about if Glasgow doesn’t produce an agreement or a weak one a little later. I want to discuss China for a minute. Mark, when we talk about, and we have now been, I feel like we’ve been screaming into a room. That sense that you have when you’re screaming and nobody’s listening, it’s a very frustrating sense. That really drove me out of climate change and to say, let me just work on air pollution in Delhi and water and garbage and all the rest that I can actually fix, I can actually work with. We’ve closed down a coal based power plant plant. We’ve done quite a bit to clean up Delhi’s air. It feels good about it. Climate change, for the reason that nobody listens to the fact that if we don’t have global rules that will restrain every country, we will find that in every decade they will be a new super polluter.

Sunita Narain: Now China is today’s, yesterday’s is United States. You’re very right Mark and I would urge everybody to see we’ve just put out two documents. One is our magazine, Down To Earth, with the special issue on climate change. The other is we have done a separate book, actually a booklet, which puts out what is the share of the carbon budget in historical terms and what will it be up to 2030. If you look at that, then China on a per capita basis, if the US 50% reduction by 2030 does happen, then China has caught up. Then on a per capita basis, the US emissions and China will be the same. As far as cumulative emissions are concerned, US will still be higher, taking up something like 22% of the share, but China is at 17.

Sunita Narain: Now, this is critical because you have to start talking about global rules that are equal for all. For so long we have resisted having rules to say: we will not put limits on countries based on their contribution to the problem. US and other big countries got a pass in the last two decades. China is getting a free pass in this decade. Maybe the next decade will be India. It’s critical for us to put China on the map. It’s critical for us to make sure that as we’d lost three decades, when we could not speak truth to power, to the US, that does not happen now with China. I don’t know how, but it must be said.

Mark Hertsgaard: So, China is going to be a big story in COP26, as the US will, a lot of other aspects to this too. We’re in the final minutes here. I just want to emphasize, I see here in the chat people are talking about, can we cover COP26 remotely? Yes, you can. We’ll have this later on our website. There are live video links to the official Blue Zone events. The Green Zone events, that’s much more catches catch can and you’re going to just have to roll with that as time goes on. Be in touch though with a lot of the NGOs who will be there, and I’m sure that they will make their every effort possible to accommodate you when you’re there. I think that Bernadette, I’m going to throw it back to you. I think we’re literally in the final minutes here.

Mark Hertsgaard: I want to thank everyone for being part of this on behalf of Covering Climate Now. I’ll just mention to those of you journalists who will be there in Glasgow, please stay in touch with Covering Climate Now, we’re going to be doing daily coverage out of Glasgow. I’ll be filing daily dispatches that all Covering Climate Now news outlets are invited to publish. In addition, I’m available for two-way radio interviews to radio and TV stations. I’ll be doing some of that as well. I know Bernadette is going to be in Glasgow as well. And I can’t say the person’s name yet, but Covering Climate Now is also working on two major newsmaker interviews with world-class climate newsmakers. Stay tuned for that, we’ll give you more information on that as soon as possible. Finally, if you are there, Covering Climate Now will be having informal happy hours at the Grove Pub, very close to the event venue in Glasgow, where we hope all of you will be able to come in the evening.

Mark Hertsgaard: Again, we’ll send out notices on this so that we can all meet a little bit in person. Because one of the important aspects of Covering Climate Now is to build community among climate journalists. When Sunita said this feeling of shouting into the void—anybody who’s covered climate change for 30 years like myself certainly knows that feeling. One of the important antidotes to that is for all of us to get together as journalists and realize, wait, we’re not crazy, we’re actually doing very, very important work here. And that’s the point of Covering Climate Now, we are organized by journalists for journalists to help all of us do the best job we can on the most urgent story of our time. Bernadette.

Bernadette Woods Placky: Thank you Mark. And yes, Climate Central will be on the ground, covering the entire two weeks with a range of different things that they were part of. Picturing our future is one of our big projects with coastal sea level rise that we’ve seen around the world, some very visual offerings in that big project. We’re going to be doing a lot at COP with that. That’s one thing we’ve been sharing. The other thing too, supporting our networks and most of our network at Climate Central of meteorologists and journalists are back here in the United States. We’re also available for interviews. We’d sent out the local climate matters yesterday, which has those local projections of temperatures and a whole bunch of other reporting resources.

Bernadette Woods Placky: But most of you are not going and that’s okay. As Mark said, there’s going to be a lot of live feeds the UNFCCC has on their site. You can watch the big events and you can watch the press conferences through there, and then some of the side events in the Blue Zone, which will be broadcast through there. The whole agenda is listed. The Green Zone agenda is listed, as Mark said, a little more iffy what’s being covered and not virtually. But you can always reach out to some of the organizers and find out, and then you can reach out to Mark or myself. We will be there on the ground and we can help you navigate whatever’s going on.

Bernadette Woods Placky: If you are going, please also reach out because we’d love to meet up with you and see you face-to-face, even if it’s through a mask, that would be fantastic. Good luck covering your stories everybody. We can’t wait to see what you come up with because this is such an important story to tell. Thank you so much for spending some time with us and we will be following up with an email. There’s so many of these great links and resources to report on this, and a summary of what we just did today. Thank you for joining us.