What we learned this week

Today’s header image is lifted from John Lang’s splendid COP26 explainer infographic, which I recommend viewing over at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

This week I wrote about how Wales demonstrates a healthier politics of asylum and immigration. See also Scotland, where this week a crowd filled the street to block an deportation and stayed until the men were released.

Studio B Unscripted is an Al Jazeera show I’ve not come across before, but it’s a head-to-head conversation between two like-minded people that covers some interesting topics. Check out this one with Asad Rehman and Aja Barber on greenwashing and fast fashion.

Battery electric vehicles now account for over 80% of new car sales in Norway. Just 7% of buyers are choosing petrol, and 5% diesel. Nowhere else in the world comes close right now, but it’s only a matter of time before we see these sorts of numbers elsewhere.

Is the ‘steady state economy’ the same thing as the ‘doughnut economy’? Brian Czech of CASSE argues that it is.

On ecological repentence

Second Chances is a short film by Eilidh Munro, featuring the words of a Peruvian forest ranger called Juvenal Huari Castilla. It’s just under three minutes long, so you’ve got time to watch it before you read on: Castilla used to be a logger. He was paid to cut trees in the rainforest, and then…

MAPS – a mnemonic for sustainable transport

A couple of years ago I wrote a post asking what the ‘three R’s’ for transport might be. Kids grow up knowing the ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’ approach to waste. It appears on council flyers and on posters. While some people argue that there are a lot more Rs that could be included, three is short enough to…

Why is the UK government so afraid of refugees?

Yesterday the queen delivered her state opening of Parliament speech and confirmed that the government will be advancing its ‘New Plan for Immigration’. It is couched in the language of making the asylum and immigration system more “fair”. In reality, the new legislation doubles down on the ‘hostile environment’ approach to migration that the Conservatives…


  1. John Lang’s COP26 explainer infographic was very pretty, but it was also very misleading. A few notes:


    The most important feature of the UNFCCC was its making a clear distinction between developed and developing countries and then (Art. 4.7) exempting developing countries from any obligation to prioritise emission reduction. This has plagued UN climate negotiations ever since. But Lang doesn’t even mention it.


    The Copenhagen Accord has no status in international law. ‘Rich nations’ did not ‘pledge’ to provide $100bn per year by 2020. The proposal was made by Hillary Clinton with the important qualification that ‘fast-growing nations like China and India’ accept binding verifiable emission reduction commitments.


    Countries may have said they would ‘constrain’ their emissions, but few developing countries (and no major such countries) said they would reduce them – in other words, Paris was not a success. It did not say that developed countries agreed to provide ‘at least $100bn per year by 2020 … scaling up thereafter’ – see Article 9.1.


    Nations have not agreed ‘to reduce emissions over the near-term’ or to ‘put $100bn per year on the table…’ (see above) or to ‘communicate long-term strategies (LTEs) for achieving net zero emissions’. The IPCC’s Special Report in 2018 has not been especially ‘impactful’ – for example, China – already emitting 62% of the IPCC’s key global target for annual emissions by 2030 – has said it will increase its emissions between now and 2030, making the target unachievable.

    The infographic puts too optimistic a spin on what’s happened and is happening. Alok Sharma faces a far tougher challenge than this indicates.

  2. The infographic does mention that Kyoto did not include developed countries.

    Climate finance has been agreed at $100 billion. Steps towards it have been negotiated at Copenhagen or Paris, with the detail agreed in conferences in between. I think it was technically signed off in 2016, as part of the agenda set by Paris in 2015. This nuance will not be captured in an infographic.

    The UN process recognises differentiated responsibility, so the poorest countries cannot and should not be expected to reduce their emissions in the short term. Since the world doesn’t divide neatly into developed and developing countries, yes, China should do more and faster.

    The IPCC report in 2018 has been massively impactful. The whole net zero trend, which includes businesses and communities as well as governments, is a direct result.

    1. The infographic does mention that Kyoto did not include developed countries.

      Correct – I didn’t suggest otherwise.

      Climate finance has been agreed at $100 billion.

      I don’t think that’s correct. What matters is the text of the Paris Agreement and that (Article 9.1) says:

      1. Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.

      No mention of $100bn per annum. Of course that doesn’t prevent developed countries from providing the $100bn. But I don’t think they’ve accepted an obligation to do so.

      … the world doesn’t divide neatly into developed and developing countries

      It doesn’t. But unfortunately the UNFCCC does so divide them. And countries that are in no sense poor – such as China, Iran, South Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore – are classified as developing and therefore are under no obligation to reduce their (substantial) emissions in the short (or long) term. It makes no sense.

      The IPCC report in 2018 has been massively impactful.

      Not where it matters. Scientists say that temperatures must not exceed 1.5ºC above ‘pre-industrial’ levels if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences. And the IPCC was clear: to be sure of that, emissions must ‘decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030’. That amounts to a 50% reduction on the 2019 level of 38 Gt – i.e. to 19 Gt. Yet just three major emitters (Russia, China and India, the source of 16 Gt of emissions – i.e. 84% of the IPCC’s global target) have indicated no plans to cut their emissions by 2030, making it impossible to achieve the IPCC’s key target. (In fact, China and India have stated that they plan to increase, their emissions over the next few years.)

      As I said, Alok Sharma faces a far tougher challenge than the infographic indicates.

      1. No, what matters is where the process is right now. There are conferences in between the big ones that often add detail. Alok Sharma will be aware of these steps even if you aren’t, and nobody’s saying his job or the COP’s is easy.

        1. There are conferences in between the big ones …

          True. An excellent example was the virtual climate summit hosted by President Biden just 4 weeks ago (on Earth Day, April 22). It was described by UN Secretary General António Guterres as a ‘make it or break it’ moment for climate action, and an opportunity for world leaders to pledge more ambitious emission cuts. The host’s primary objective was this:

          Galvanizing efforts by the world’s major economies to reduce emissions during this critical decade to keep a limit to warming of 1.5 degree Celsius within reach.

          And what happened? Well, of the 18 top global emitters attending the summit, only 5 (the US, Japan, Germany, Canada and the UK) announced a new target for 2030. And, of these 5, only 1 (the UK’s) met the 50% on 2019 cut by 2030 that the IPCC said was necessary if the global temperature increase was to stay within 1.5ºC.

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