7 Things from COP26 You May Have Missed

Anyone who’s ever spent time at a conference or exhibition understands that some stories run parallel to the main news...

Anyone who’s ever spent time at a conference or exhibition understands that some stories run parallel to the main news narrative, and COP26 was no different. It had royalty, presidents and prime ministers, celebrities, diplomats, and campaigners, innovators, CEOs, and, of course, national treasure and absolute legend Sir David Attenborough.


The conference may be over, but there’s still plenty to digest. COP26’s success (or lack of) will only become apparent in the coming months and years. All those targets, programmes, agreements, and pledges will be worthless unless they’re acted upon and achieved.


Response to COP26 has been mixed. One thing evident in the UN’s IPCC report published a few months earlier is that time is running out. Targets set for 2040 and 2050 may be too late to mitigate the more severe impacts of climate change.


The biggest news has already been widely reported: delegations and billionaires arriving unashamedly on private planes; Greta Thunberg swearing and singing with protesters outside; the attempt to end the use of coal was underwhelming, and, of course, Barack Obama referred to Scotland (which is definitely, absolutely not the same as Ireland) as ‘the Emerald Isle’.



Dinosaur Invades UN Conference and Pleas Against Extinction 




Whilst not technically a COP26 story, this short video by the UN Development Fund makes a compelling case and one that ties in with the conference’s key message.
Statistics, scientific journals, and post-apocalyptic scenarios aren’t always the best vehicle for delivering climate change warnings.
So how about a CGI dinosaur called Frankie.
Dinosaurs are the best-known victims of any extinction event (presumably, the Dodo doesn’t have as good an agent).
In the video, Frankie arrives uninvited to a UN conference in New York and takes to the podium as a shocked audience looks on. Frankie is an erudite and passionate speaker and pleads his case by asking the world not to choose extinction.
Globally, US$423 billion is spent each year subsidising fossil fuel use. This amount far exceeds the money given to developing countries to help them fight climate change (which we’ll discuss later in this post).
Live Science covered the video’s release and quoted Frankie as saying,
“You’re headed for a climate disaster, and yet every year, governments spend hundreds of billions of public funds on fossil fuel subsidies. Imagine if we had spent hundreds of billions of dollars per year subsidising giant meteors. That’s what you’re doing right now.”
Frankie is voiced by different actors for different languages – Jack Black in English, for example, whilst Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) voices Frankie in Danish. 


Zimbabwean Booze-Run Puts Fresher House Party to Shame




COP26 may have been a little buttoned-up and formal, but the Zimbabwean delegation at least found time to let its hair down. Delegates from the Southern African country posted on Instagram a picture of a Costco shopping trolley filled with alcohol. The booze-run was for a party to celebrate the arrival of the Zimbabwean President. But not everyone wanted to share in the festivities. Around 200 people gathered to protest President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s record on human rights and corruption. Due to sanctions imposed by the UK and other Western countries, COP26 was the first time in 25-years that a Zimbabwean leader has been allowed entry into the UK. 



Developing Nations Paying the Price of Global Emissions


Despite criticism of the Zimbabwean delegation, its leadership seems to accept that its country will be disproportionately affected by climate change. It was one of COP26’s hot topics: how the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions aren’t always the ones to suffer its consequences. The field of attribution science is growing, and it’s changing the way we look at climate change responsibility. The Week details how ‘human-caused emissions can be traced back from extreme climate events.’ We know that carbon emissions don’t just remain inside the borders of the country they originate from, but until now, tracking those emissions was difficult and relatively easy for governments to deny responsibility.

Developing countries produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but they are often at the forefront of extreme weather events. At COP26, there was some admission that wealthier nations have a responsibility to help poorer countries protect against and recover from extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The Week quoted some of what was agreed using the US and Bangladesh as an example.

The Glasgow Climate Pact “urges” rich countries like the US (referred to as “developed countries” in the text) to increase funding for poor countries like Bangladesh (“developing countries”) to around US$40bn (£29.8bn) annually by 2025, to help them adapt to mounting floods, droughts and other effects of climate change.

But the article goes on to say that developed nations have already fallen short on previous promises made to developing countries like Bangladesh. Only 80% of the promised $100 billion pledged annually to help mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change has been delivered.

Proof that the successes of COP26 won’t be known until much further down the line.


Police Seize Inflatable Loch Ness Monster During Dawn Raid

Climate debt was also behind one of COP26’s other interesting stories. Police seized a giant inflatable Loch Ness Monster during a dawn raid.  Anti-poverty group Jubilee Debt Campaign wanted to float it down the River Clyde to raise awareness about climate debt.

The group argues that unsustainable debt prevents developing countries from fighting back against climate change. And, as previously mentioned, developing countries are often more affected by extreme weather events than more developed neighbours. According to The Scotsman newspaper, the inflatable was seized because it “breached the maritime restrictions in place to maintain public safety and security close to the COP26 venue.”


The Problem of Early-Stage Innovative Technology



RE:GEN electricity generating indoor bike


One of the biggest criticisms of the COP26 plan is its reliance on insufficiently developed technology. It’s something of a catch-22. We need to innovate to solve the biggest roadblocks to global sustainability, but innovation takes time to research, develop, create, roll up and scale up. The problem is that we must decarbonise now, and waiting for the necessary technology to develop is understandably making campaigners nervous. What’s worse is that the very things driving the climate crisis (non-renewables, for example) are cheap and plentiful. Maritime Executive sums it up as: “…discussions are often promoting technologies that are not currently market-ready or scalable, especially nuclear small modular reactors, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.”

It’s something we’ve struggled with at Energym – launching an electricity-generating indoor bike when the technology is there, but the ability to scale up isn’t, at least initially. It’s why we launched a pre-order campaign on a crowdfunding platform and also why we’re launching into gyms in early 2022. Start-ups are a ripe breeding ground for innovation but often lack the capital to expand. More prominent companies benefitting from the status quo (for example, those making money from non-renewable sources) are less incentivised to take massive action for sustainability. Maritime Executive goes on to say that “Renewable energy, currently 13% of the global energy system, needs to reach 80% or more.”  What underlines all of this is the amount of time it can take to develop technology or galvanise political will; it’s time we might not have.


Hydrogen Trains and the UK Rail Network

Britain’s first hydrogen-fuelled train was unveiled at COP26. As it only produces water waste, hydrogen could be an ideal means of decarbonising the entire UK rail network. But it’s not as simple as building and then rolling out a new stock of clean energy trains.  The trains would run on green hydrogen rather than other less eco-friendly methods of hydrogen extraction (grey, brown, black or blue hydrogen, for example). Unfortunately, the UK doesn’t produce green hydrogen in sufficient amounts. According to iNews, those behind the hydrogen train are hoping to ‘kick-start local economies into producing green hydrogen’ by showing that demand for it already exists.

Train travel is already eco-friendlier than other transport options, but some sections of UK tracks aren’t yet electrified. Trains on these routes still use diesel. Network Rail has already said that it sees hydrogen trains running in Scotland, Teeside and East Anglia in the near future. What’s more, the trains can also run on battery and electric power as well as hydrogen.


COP26 ‘Marketing Ambush’ by Iconic Scottish Beverage (No, Not Buckfast)


And finally, opinions on the success of COP26 may be mixed, but no one can deny that Irn Bru had an outstanding conference. AG Barr (who make Irn Bru) had already negotiated with the venue to be the only fizzy drink on offer during the meeting shutting out Pepsi and Coca Cola. Yet, its biggest win came with what the Guardian described as a ‘marketing ambush’. After the visiting politician said she'd had trouble finding the drink, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hand-delivered a can of Irn Bru to US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ms Ocasio-Cortez later documented her first sip on her Instagram, revealing that she loved it.


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