Glasgow Matters

David Wade

Over its seventy-six years of existence, the United Nations has been many things to many people. While at times it's been frustratingly bureaucratic and byzantine -- falling short of its ideals, more often it's provided lifesaving relief and lent a helping hand to humanitarian disasters and conflict zones.

But one thing the UN has never been is a powerhouse for branding and marketing. This is a huge problem for the United Nations 26th "Conference of the Parties" (aka "COP26") in Glasgow, UK this Fall as it may be the most consequential, yet poorly labeled, world gathering you've never heard of and need to, especially if you're committed to the fight against climate change.

Simply put, Glasgow matters.

Glasgow is where the puzzle pieces of global action to combat climate change either come together, or don't. We are in a decisive decade as the scientific clock is ticking away.

WW0: All Roads Lead to Glasgow, April 28, 2021.

What's that mean? It means that while all of us at World War Zero are excited that President Biden has wasted no time by rejoining the Paris Agreement, and galvanizing new global commitments for carbon pollution reduction at the Leaders Summit on Climate on Earth Day, as well as announcing a commitment to cutting US carbon pollution in half by 2030. We also know the US is responsible for only 15% of global emissions. A couple bad actors could erase the good that constructive countries have committed to. And when the whole world doesn't stick together, consensus frays and good actors lose momentum because they feel taken advantage of. And that is why Glasgow matters.

As Envoy Kerry always says:

The whole world must come to this table to solve this problem. ...Today no country and no continent is getting the job done. At the COP in November, all nations must raise ambition together -- or we will all fail, together. Failure is not an option. And that’s why ambition is so important.

TED: Johan Rockström, October 15, 2020.

So, here's the bottom-line: Glasgow is much more than a UN "meeting." It has to be more than an excuse to gather, it must be a platform for ambition. And it can be, because ambition is an advantage for those who seize it.

Just think about this:

  • The highest valued auto company in the world today is Tesla. And it ONLY makes electric vehicles.
  • Mitsubishi is building the world’s largest zero emission steel plant -- in Austria.
  • Heidelberg Cement is working on a plant in Norway that anticipates capturing all its CO2 from concrete by 2030.
  • Globally, the cheapest new electric power plant you can install is based on renewables -- which explains why it now makes up more than 70 percent of new capacity.
  • Green economies will generate new jobs. The EU anticipates 2 million additional jobs with a green economy.
  • Here in the US, until COVID, we had five years of steady growth in clean energy employment -- with over 3.3 million new workers put into jobs across our country (Clean Jobs America 2020 | E2).
  • And India has seen a five-fold increase in clean energy jobs over that same period (5-Fold Increase in Clean Energy Jobs in 5 Years: India).

But the whole world must move further, faster, in order to:

  • Phase out coal 5 times faster than we have been (based on the comparison with the trend from 2013-2018).
  • Increase tree cover 5 times faster.
  • Ramp up renewable energy 6 times faster.
  • Transition to electric vehicles 22 times faster.
  • Get critical clean energy technologies on track -- per The International Energy Agency warning that 42 of 46 are not.
  • Get energy technologies into commercial markets needed for a swift net-zero transition.

Reaching net zero global carbon emissions as early as 2050 will take a wholesale transformation of the global economy. And the success of that transformation will depend in large part on leadership from the public and the private sector. Can Glasgow be the catalyst?

If history is any guide, the answer is undeniably yes. Even though we all double down on the mantra that: Paris isn't enough. Don't forget: Paris was a milestone agreement. Since 2015, when the Paris Climate Agreement came together, solar and wind power have doubled their share of global electricity to 10% and now in most countries, renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil-fueled power plants. Global investment in new clean power capacity is set to exceed $10 trillion through mid century, more than six times the investment in dirtier options.

In other words -- Paris mattered. And Glasgow matters more.

Major economies need to design and execute tailored roadmaps to overhaul their own energy systems. They will need to collaborate on emissions-intensive sectors that cross borders -- aviation, shipping, heavy industry, power, and more -- to chart a path to deep decarbonization. And they need to do it in concert with the private sector. From now through 2030, the world will need more than $1 trillion in annual investment in clean power systems to speed the energy transition. Sustainable investment funds surpassed $1 trillion for the first time on record, and the boom in ESG investing is only beginning, as fund inflows quadrupled in 2020. Venture capital investments in innovative technologies to combat climate change also surged to a record high in 2020.

The road to Glasgow can and must be paved with new commitments that harmonize all of these efforts and initiatives -- and add up to something bigger than what any single country can do alone.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, "we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations."

Those words have never been more applicable to any issue more than they are to climate change. The "COP" may be terrible branding, but in the end we don't need the UN to market climate action, we need them to marshal the nations of the world to solve it. Glasgow is the place, the UN is the crucible, and leadership must be the catalyst.