Climate change conference 2021: Simon Wilson’s Glasgow Diary – November 6

The power plays, the conflicts, the drama and the news about the weather.

“Your taskforce is a scam” – Greenpeace and Action Aid placards protesting the carbon market talks in Glasgow.

The vanishing village

Bangladeshi filmmaker Rezwan Shahriar Sumit is showing his acclaimed film The Salt in Our Waters at COP next week. The 2018 film tells the story of a fishing village called Gangamatir Char as it copes with the changing patterns of the monsoon.

Gangamatir Char no longer exists.

“When I returned to that beloved place, to those beloved people, all I found were some broken tree branches and the rising tide,” Sumit said last week. “I learned that the sea level in this area has risen dramatically in the last two to three years. The high tide is eroding the land, and Cyclone Amphan last year wreaked havoc.”

It’s a story that will resonate with many people in the Pacific.

“Bangladesh is often referred to as a ground zero for climate change,” said Sumit. “We are bearing witness to a primal, elemental conflict between land and sea, man and nature, past and future. Our small-time coastal fishers are caught on the frontline of this battle. Their families desperately need tools to adapt to the worst impacts. Their natural habitats and ecosystems need immediate protection and restoration.”

Green eyeshades

COP26 has entered the time of the “green eyeshades”, with vast amounts of detailed wrangling by policy wonks. New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw flies out to join them today, aiming to help create better rules for carbon trading and reporting on emissions, and maybe to do some side deals with other countries on useful technologies.

The Greens co-leader will also be hoping not too many countries call him out on why New Zealand is not doing more. It was revealed yesterday that Shaw wanted to take much stronger commitments to Glasgow than the ones he and Jacinda Ardern announced last week, but was not able to persuade his Labour colleagues.

Shaw told one journalist: “It’s not going to surprise you to know that I asked for more than I got … I pushed things as far as I could.”

At the conference he will probably just miss Angus Taylor, the Australian minister in charge of energy and emissions reductions, who has been in Glasgow this week. Taylor’s avowed goal was to use the summit to promote Australia as a good place to invest in fossil fuel projects. The Australian pavilion has been showing off the technology they use for this.

Kai in the dry

A new report from the Deep South Challenge and others says we’re not doing nearly enough long-term planning in New Zealand to help farmers and growers manage the increasing frequency and severity of droughts.

“Growing Kai Under Increasing Dry” has contributions from farmers, growers, industry, researchers and government, and argues for greater land-use diversity and better connections among research, policy and farming practice.

Will art save the world?

Maybe! The British Council is sponsoring climate-related art events all over the country right now, including a comic art anthology called “10 Years to Save the World”.

In Glasgow itself, Irish artist John Gerrard has focused on the Pacific with a digital work called Flare (Oceania), commissioned to coincide with COP and screening last night and tonight on the side of a building at the University of Glasgow. It’s a sequel to his famous earlier work Western Flag, which shows jets of black smoke billowing from a pole in a pattern that suggests a national flag.

Western Flag was sited in Texas, on a hill called Spindletop where the world’s first major oil well was drilled.

The coal catastrophe

Despite what Australia and Angus Taylor want us to believe, the biggest single problem is coal. In all its forms, including so-called “clean coal”, it’s dirtier than all other fossil fuels. And it still accounts for 35 per cent of all electricity, only 5 per cent less than a decade ago.

Coal is the measure of the world’s failure to deal with the climate crisis even when we knew perfectly well what was happening: 64 per cent of coal-fired energy comes from plants built in the past 20 years.

That’s despite coal use in the US falling by half and in Europe by almost two thirds. Spain closed seven of its 15 coal-fired plants last year.

But it’s grown elsewhere: China now burns more than half the world’s total and India consumes more than the US and Europe combined. Those two countries, along with Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam, plan to add more than 600 coal power units in the next few years.

China’s new plants will add six times the total coal-burning capacity of Germany. All while Germany is committed to ending its own use of coal this decade.

If we want to meet the 1.5C target, says the watchdog group Carbon Brief, coal emissions need to drop twice as fast as those from oil and gas. This year, because of a global power shortage and rising gas prices, they’ve increased.

And in the US, President Joe Biden still can’t get his climate action plans through Congress, because a senator from the coal state of West Virginia says no. And every Republican senator says the same.

Before the conference, COP26 president Alok Sharma said he wanted Glasgow to “consign coal to history.” But how?

There is some progress. Since 2015, the number of new coal-fired plants has fallen by 70 per cent. China is still building new plants but it has stopped funding more overseas and has committed to declining use after 2028.

And on Thursday, “Energy Day” at COP, 40 countries including some major users committed to “no new coal”. But they didn’t include China or the US and the deal gives Indonesia an opt-out to allow new plants.

Greta Thunberg called it “blah blah blah”.

But is it? This is hard-ball politics: Indonesia says it will “consider accelerating coal phase out into the 2040s”, if it gets enough financial help to do it. So it’s a negotiation.

Before COP started, US envoy John Kerry said the conference would be the “start of the race”. This is a good example of what he meant: the talking is tough but they’re still talking. That’s not the same as blah blah blah.

In response to complaints, Thunberg has also promised to be less critical. By 2052, she tweeted, she would say one nice thing for every mean thing, “with a 39.78 per cent reduction by 2034”. Scepticism fully intact, clearly.

That rainforest pledge

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is extremely unimpressed with the pledge signed the other day by Brazil and others.

“The pledge fails to meet the urgent moment we are facing and cannot be taken seriously. We need governments, corporations and the financial sector to end deforestation, stop the degradation of forests and natural ecosystems, and respect the land rights of local and Indigenous communities immediately, not in 2030.”

The network said the pledge will delay commitments for faster action that have already been made. “The UK and all other countries have already committed to halting deforestation by 2020, under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal no. 15. A 10-year extension is acceptance of failure and a likely path to catastrophic climate change.”

They pointed out that even Boris Johnson has said that 45 times more money is spent on deforestation than on rainforest protection.

It’s a similar story in America.

“Compared to Biden’s US$9 billion (NZ$12.7 billion) commitment to forests by 2030, Forests & Finance data shows US banks have pumped US$17.5 billion into deforestation-risk sectors since the Paris Agreement. US institutional investors currently hold a further $10 billion in shareholdings in deforestation-risk companies. Any solution must get that finance out of the system, otherwise, Biden’s efforts will not even counter US private sector money driving deforestation.”

Green shade, indeed.

Glasgow Diary online: For Simon Wilson’s extended daily coverage of the COP26 climate conference, go to the NZ Herald app or

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