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Our road to COP26

Update from Wilton Park CEO Tom Cargill, October 2021

World leaders gather in Glasgow in just a few days’ time for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).  As Alok Sharma, who will lead the negotiations in Glasgow, said in a major speech last week at the birthplace of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, “Paris promised. Glasgow must deliver”.

In the run-up to Glasgow, and in support of the UK Government and other partners, the team at Wilton Park has been heavily involved in building consensus and momentum across the full range of climate issues and COP26 campaigns. In doing so, Wilton Park has once again highlighted its value as a UK agency inspiring and mobilising global networks of influence to deliver key outcomes.

The strong relationships we’ve forged over 20 years of convening crucial international dialogues on climate action have put us in a unique position to form a bridge between the UK presidency of the UN climate process and stakeholders from partner governments, civil society, youth, academia, the private sector and beyond. The virtual world has ensured we’ve been able to bring together an even broader spectrum of voices finding ways to tackle the climate crisis and realise the vision of the Paris Agreement.

Our COP26 story began in February 2020, when we were delighted to welcome COP President-Designate, Alok Sharma, to Wilton Park during his first week in the role for a residential meeting that brought together presidents of previous COPs to ask “What would success look like at COP26?”.

Of course, the pandemic hit shortly afterwards and our convening efforts moved online, but with a sustained focus on bringing together ministers and policy-makers alongside grassroots actors with first-hand experience of the devastating climate impacts the world is already experiencing. Since that launch event, we have hosted over 100 online sessions in support of the whole range of priority issues for the negotiations and beyond.

Harnessing Wilton Park’s convening power: the COP26 Catalyst

Throughout this year, we have been acting as the Secretariat for a major COP26 initiative, Catalyst for Climate Action, consulting and engaging a diverse range of stakeholders on behalf of the UK’s COP26 Presidency to identify capacity constraints and needs to support countries in their implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Particularly focused on the capacity building needs of Least Developed Countries and small island states, (or ‘large ocean states’), the initiative focuses on access to finance; adaptation action; carbon markets participation; and transparency and reporting.

Over the last few months, we have convened regular meetings of four Action Groups, composed of leading countries and supporting technical partners tasked with developing action recommendations for enhanced capacity building on each theme.

We have also held open consultation sessions during the UN Regional Climate Weeks covering Latin America and the Caribbean; Asia-Pacific, and Africa (with MENA).

Through these sessions, we have brought together hundreds of people from multiple countries and organisations – from the Cook Islands to Costa Rica, from Guinea to Germany. This culminated in an online Global Gathering last week to share the challenges and identify practical solutions.

As well as bringing the partners together in Glasgow for their first in-person meetings, we will publish a series of outcome papers and action recommendations during COP26 to chart a path towards full implementation of the Paris Agreement in every corner of the globe.

Faith and Science: towards COP26

We held our first overseas Wilton Park event since the pandemic in Rome on 4 October. This was the culmination of a series of virtual meetings Wilton Park facilitated throughout 2021 for the British and Italian Embassies to the Holy See, along with the Vatican.

These brought together over 40 faith leaders worldwide from 10 different faith traditions with a group of eminent scientists and resulted in a joint Appeal which was launched at the Vatican on St Francis Day, the patron saint of the environment.

The Appeal called on the international community to raise their ambition and step up their climate action ahead of COP26, was presented by Pope Francis to the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Luigi Di Maio and COP26 President-Designate, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma.

With 84 percent of the world’s population identifying with a faith, Alok Sharma recognised that the role of faith leaders is critical in the fight against climate change. And for the faith leaders, that means embracing a new way of doing things, a new way to behave, a new way to live with each other, along with “a pilgrimage to a clean economy and a new financial architecture that can be a foundation for a green global economy” as the Archbishop of Canterbury put it. More work to come in this space!

Race for Our Planet

We prepared a webinar and facilitated closed sessions at Race for Our Planet which ran in parallel to Italy’s pre-COP in Milan (1-3 October) and promoted the UN-led Race to Zero and Race to Resilience campaigns.

Race for Our Planet was an accelerator event showcasing membership to the Races, exploring what they mean in practice, and promoting the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, which creates routes into the Race to Zero for all parts of the financial sector and ensures net zero credibility. At the events non-state actors spotlighted commitments, shared solutions and identified key goals to moving the global economy to net zero and protecting the most vulnerable from climate impacts.

Green Grids

Earlier this month Wilton Park convened an inaugural online forum on behalf of the Green Grids Initiative, an ambitious new UK- and India-led coalition for smarter and more interconnected electricity networks to accelerate the transition to a renewables-powered world.

Over the next ten years, every region will need to deliver a massive scale-up of secure, reliable and affordable clean power to underpin decarbonisation of economies through widespread and rapid electrification. To achieve this, we need new transmission lines crossing frontiers and time zones – this can only be achieved through close international collaboration. Wilton Park will be at the heart of delivering this through a new initiative to be launched during COP26.

Supporting UK Presidency-led campaigns

The FACT Dialogues (Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade), co-hosted by the UK and Indonesian governments, to build sustainable supply chains and reduce deforestation. This unique partnership, bringing together 30 key producer and consumer countries, was launched officially in February, and was followed by a livestream broadcast in September. Over the past year, Wilton Park  has additionally hosted two Ministerial meetings and chaired or co-chaired senior government officials and four working groups.

The Energy Transition Council, a major COP26 initiative offering support to transform the power sector in key countries with accelerated transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. We have been hosting and facilitating their meetings since the Council’s launch late last year.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance, UK- and Canada-led, with Wilton Park supporting the organisation of the PPCA’s first summit, described as this year’s largest global gathering on coal power phase-out.

It brought together leaders from national governments, regions and cities, banks and investors, energy majors and grid operators, academia and NGO, youth and health groups to share their experiences and best practices on coal phase-out.

The Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEV) Transition Council, we convened a series of regional events promoting the transition to ZEVs, understanding the challenges of developing nations and the support required from developed nations.

In the events, nations shared their experiences, including the barriers and opportunities in the transition to ZEVs; and made recommendations on how the international community can work together to ensure no country and region is left behind.

The Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI), we supported the launch event of the VCMI which aims to help ensure that credibility concerns are addressed so that these markets fulfil their potential to support the goals of the Paris Agreement.

VCMI will do this by working on a number of critical gaps in voluntary carbon market integrity – building solid foundations as the market scales.

Diplomatic initiatives

Over the past 18 months Wilton Park has supported high-level and ambitious conversations to lead up to COP26:

  • the ‘Placencia Ambition Forum’ on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS),
  • the ‘Thimphu Ambition Summit’ on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group
  • the ‘Climate and Development Ministerial’ on behalf of the Foreign Secretary and CPD, and
  • a virtual conversation between Pacific Leaders and Alok Sharma, COP26 President to consider how the UK can best work with the Pacific region to ensure ambitious outcomes in Glasgow. Read the High Level Dialogue Chair’s summary.

We have also supported other diplomatic initiatives including:

  • Exploring alternatives to coal finance, such as energy investments under China’s Belt and Road Initiative
  • Exploring ways to rebuild ecosystems in Nigeria bringing officials together from Federal government and states to discuss their progress, and, separately, the lead organisations working across Nigeria, providing much needed space for dialogue.
  • Working with the Colombian Government to explore UK-Colombian partnership in support of a sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19.

Partnering with the British High Commission in Stockholm to collaborate with Nordic partners from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland on post-COVID recovery.

Adaptation and resilience

Building adaptation and resilience to climate change has continued to be a key focus of Wilton Park dialogues.

  • the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) as it seeks to make 1 Billion People Safer from the risks of climate change by 2025.
  • the Resilient 40 of younger African leaders, supporting their individual and collective efforts.
  • as part of a series of online alumni meetings, the FCDO’s International Leaders Programme (ILP).

And continuing to work with adelphi, connecting the international climate security network and progressing the discussion of climate security experience, challenges and ways forward.

Looking ahead

Many of the projects and campaigns we’ve been engaged in on the road to COP26 will culminate in livestreamed events and announcements during the two weeks of negotiations in Glasgow.

Highlights for Wilton Park will include a COP26 Catalyst Day on 9 November, during which we and our partners will present the work of the initiative thus far, as well as a high-level Catalyst Call to Action at the UK Pavilion on 11 November.

On 2 November during the World Leaders’ Summit, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will formally launch the Green Grids Initiative, One Sun One World One Grid, and invite their fellow leaders to sign on to the initiative. And on ‘Nature Day’ on 6 November the roadmap of Government commitments made as part of the FACT Dialogue will be made public.

View the full programme of themed events at COP and follow the live streamed sessions at the UN Climate website.  

Beyond Glasgow, under the UK Presidency of COP, we will continue our wide-ranging programme of climate-focused work to achieve net-zero and enable countries and their societies to adapt to climate change, including a continuation of the COP Catalyst and a major global convening role for the Green Grids Initiative.

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