What to watch at COP26

Climate activists "set fire" to George Square, Glasgow, with an art installation of faux flames, smoke, and banners, and giant fire extinguishers, creating a field of climate fire to welcome world leaders to Glasgow for the Cop26 conference.

Over 100 world leaders are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, for the UN's annual climate summit from 31 October-12 November. It is the 26th gathering of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty signed in 1992 by about 150 countries to rein in the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. Amid mounting evidence of the risks posed by climate change, both advanced and developing countries will be under pressure to make more ambitious emissions-reductions pledges at the event known as COP26. We spoke with Shari Friedman, managing director for climate and sustainability at Eurasia Group, to get a better idea of what to expect.


Why is COP26 important?

While there is a COP meeting every year, this one is particularly important because it will revisit the commitments enshrined in the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015, which aims to limit global warming from preindustrial levels to "well below 2 degrees Celsius." Signatories were required to lay out their plans for meeting this goal in so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). But climate science has continued to evolve, and the consensus is now that temperature increases need to be limited to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst and most irreversible effects of global warming. To meet that goal, scientists believe the world needs to halve its emissions by 2030 and reach "net zero" by 2050. Net zero refers to a situation in which greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere are offset by natural processes removing them. Consequently, the national delegations to COP26 will be under pressure to outline a clear and feasible trajectory for more ambitious emissions-reduction efforts.

Do you expect them to meet this challenge?

While there will be progress, contributions will likely not put global emissions on a path to meet net zero by 2050. It's true that there has been a flurry of activity in the run-up to COP26. Over 116 countries have already presented new NDCs. The EU for example, has submitted its Fit for 55 proposal, outlining a 55 percent reduction in emissions by 2030, and the US has presented a plan to limit emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030, though political obstacles have raised doubts about whether it can follow through. While other countries have increased credible near-term targets, many others have either not offered new measures in their NDCs or have made insufficient or long-term pledges without concrete near-term plans. Other top polluters such as China, Indonesia, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have made commitments to reach net zero later than 2050.

What other topics will be discussed?

Developing countries will be sure to demand industrialized countries cough up the $100 billion in annual funding they promised in 2009 (but never fully delivered) to help implement costly projects to move away from polluting forms of producing energy. The delay has added to developing country discontent about being asked to reduce their emissions to solve a problem that was largely created a long time ago by now-rich countries when they were industrializing. Another important topic is creating a rulebook that enables emissions trading among countries on a project level.

Will anything be achieved beyond the formal negotiations?

Yes, outside of the country negotiations, we are seeing sector initiatives. These include the Global Methane Pledge, a US-EU plan to reduce emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels; the Powering Past Coal Alliance of national and sub-national governments aiming to phase out coal-fired power stations; the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which is seeking to protect 30 percent of the world's lands, freshwater, and oceans by 2030; and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a grouping of financial institutions with assets of more than $100 trillion aiming to align emissions from their portfolios with net zero pathways by 2050.

How will soaring energy prices affect the talks?

This development will enable a dual political narrative. Climate advocates will say it shows the need for an accelerated energy transition and a quicker build-out of renewable capacity to ease supply constraints. At the same time, fossil fuel proponents will call for less stringent regulations and more clear investment signals to develop the fuels they say are more reliable and affordable. That the EU, a global leader in climate policies, is now struggling with soaring energy prices will cause some to doubt whether transformational change is possible.

What do you expect post-COP?

International negotiations, while important and a significant opportunity to act collectively on a global scale, are not the only way forward. In the past few years, the private sector has made significant progress, and we expect to see continued pressure from investors for companies to mitigate climate risks. Meanwhile, proliferating corporate net zero commitments will have knock-on effects across supply chains, and the increasingly evident impact of climate change will shift voters and consumers to become more sensitive to the issue. Regardless of the outcome in Glasgow, COP's overall objective is shifting in an important way: With the science increasingly clear and less subject to interpretation (we know what needs to happen and by when), the conversation around climate change is shifting to one that is less about negotiation and more about transparency, acceleration, and accountability.

Shari Friedman is managing director of the climate and sustainability desk at Eurasia Group.

A blue graphic using 1's and 0's to form an image of roads leading into a city

Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm. Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure.

To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals. As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data. To read more about Microsoft’s approach to protecting data infrastructure, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

Are the United States and China now locked in a new form of Cold War? Their governments behave as if they are.

But Bremmer isn’t buying it. He’s not predicting that Washington and Beijing will become more cooperative with one another, but that both will be too preoccupied with historic challenges at home in coming years to wage a full-time international struggle.

In Washington, the main worry will be for America’s broken political system. US politics is becoming even more tribalized as TV and online media target politically like-minded consumers with hyperpartisan news coverage. Widening wealth inequality fuels the fire by separating white and non-white, urban and rural, and the more educated from the less educated. Deepening public mistrust of political institutions will fuel future fights over the legitimacy of US elections.

Beijing’s burden centers on how to extend decades of economic gains while moving away from a growth model that no longer works, as higher wages in China and more automation in factories elsewhere cut deeply into China’s manufacturing advantages. China is still a middle-income country. To reach the prosperity level of wealthy nations, it needs 6-7 percent growth for another 20 years.

But China must spend less in coming years to keep giant, deeply indebted companies afloat and more to care for the largest population of elderly people in history. And its leaders must accomplish this at a time when China’s people expect ever-rising levels of prosperity from their government.

The domestic distraction of US and Chinese leaders will create new opportunities for European, Japanese, Canadian, Indian and other political and business leaders to contribute toward international problem-solving. But other governments aren’t the only new players stepping into this power vacuum.

Technology companies are fast becoming important geopolitical actors. We’re entering a world in which economic winners and losers, election outcomes, and national security will depend on choices made by both governments and by the world’s big tech firms.

Bremmer calls this a “techno-polar moment.”

The idea is simple but transformative: Just as governments make the laws that determine what can happen in the physical world, tech companies have final authority in a digital world that’s becoming both more expansive and more immersive.

The biggest tech companies will establish sovereignty by defining the digital space and its boundaries, the algorithms that determine what happens within that space, and the “terms and conditions” that decide who gets to operate in this world.

For skeptics, Bremmer poses this question: Who will do more to influence the outcome of next year’s US midterm congressional elections: The president of the United States or the CEO of Meta? According to Bremmer, since the vote will be influenced by both real-world rules changes and the online flow of information, the answer isn’t obvious.

How will tech companies try to expand their power? Some will behave as “globalists” by trying to reach consumers and influence politics everywhere.

Others will act as “national champions” by aligning with individual governments and their goals.

Still, others will behave as “techno-utopians,” companies that expect historical forces and tech innovations to help them replace governments in important ways.

The relative success of these models over the next decade will decide how government and tech companies share power over the longer-term and whether democracy or autocracy will have the upper hand.

What’s to be done? “Think adaptation, not surrender,” says Bremmer. Steps can be taken to limit the sometimes negative influence of tech companies in the political lives of democracies. But just as climate change can be limited but not avoided, so we must understand and adapt to a world in which governments and tech companies compete for influence over our lives.

No country is in a big hurry to recognize the Taliban, explains journalist Ahmed Rashid, even those that likely will do so in the future: Pakistan, China, and Russia. “They understand that if they recognize the Taliban, it's going to lead to a major division in the international community,” he told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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What We’re Watching: Biden vs Putin, Rohingya vs Facebook, Peruvian congress vs president

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How is China able to control their tech giants without suppressing innovation?

For Ian Bremmer, one important reason is that there's a big difference between Jack Ma questioning Chinese regulators and Elon Musk doing the same to the SEC.

"In the United States you've got fanboys if you do that; in China, they cut you down," Bremmer told CNN anchor Julia Chatterley in an interview following his annual State of the World Speech.

Still, he says China knows it cannot kill its private sector because it needs to keep growing and competing with American tech firms.

So, who's winning the global battle for tech primacy?

Right now, Bremmer believes the US and China are at tech parity — thanks to their tech giants.

"When we're talking about tech supremacy, we can't just talk about governments anymore."

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