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Here we are again. The 26th UNFCCC meeting to forge global consensus for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Expectations are high despite the challenges – geo-politics, Covid-19, vested interests. They should be high. COPs are a moment of global attention, accountability and collective agreement, however understanding the true value of such moments requires looking beyond the negotiated text. Why? Because the ‘near negotiation space’ that governments enter into bi-laterally and in ‘climate clubs’ is hugely powerful, and so are the commitments from non-state actors such as businesses, financiers, cities, states and regions. There are now over 4470 companies and 250 financial institutions in the United Nations’, Race to Zero. Together, the businesses, investors and governments (national and sub- national) committing to net-zero represent over 80% of global GDP, affirming there has never been a stronger and clearer signal of public and private support to address the pollution of our shared climate.

One also needs to look at COPs as more than the negotiations because many of the solutions that we know and need are not a focus of the negotiated text. Take for example, our beloved energy efficiency. How much time will negotiators spend working out how and where energy efficiency can solve this collective challenge? Not much I suspect. Which is why the near negotiations space, with ‘mini deals’ between groups of countries leading the charge or groups of non- state actors pushing the boundaries of ambition, are so important. It is not an ‘either or’ as some commentators suggest. The emergence and success of the COP near negotiation space is a complement to the much-needed rules, accountability and shared vision for all countries – an enabling framework that will continue to evolve, raising the floor of ambition.

In parallel, those actors that have the desire and will to move further and faster will continue to do so, and their actions will drive energy efficiency improvements in buildings, industry and transport. At COP26 this will include commitments to doubling the efficiency of energy using appliances (AC, refrigerator, lights and motors) through the Super-Efficient Appliance and Equipment Deployment Program (SEAD), and through sector specific efforts such as those of the Cool Coalition – gearing up for a year of implementation in 2022, as well as business commitments such as those in the Race to Zero (which now cover over 20% of the residential AC market). These climate initiatives and more will help the world make near-term breakthroughs in energy efficiency while being guided by the North Star of net-zero emissions.

So when you are asked to explain to friends or family about what COP26 will do, make sure you tell the full story – negotiated all-party outcomes, as well as near negotiation space and non-state actor commitments and action. But above all, keep expectations high. We don’t have time to think otherwise!

Dan Hamza Goodacre,
Advisor to the UN High Level Climate Champions, COP26 and the Energy Transition Council

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