COP26 Observer Blog: Day 1

Today was my first day at COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference – where I will be an Observer for the duration of this week. As a newcomer to COP and to being an Observer, there’s a lot to be said for just taking it all in and seeing what’s happening, but it can also be very easy to get lost in a conference of this size. With that in mind, I have given myself two missions for the week. One is to progress a new project we are just starting on just transitions in Japan, by gleaning as much as I can about the standpoints of different people from different sectors towards how Japan can meet its net-zero goals in a way that does not disadvantage already disempowered people and places and/or those reliant on carbon-intensive industries. The second is to think a bit about how scientific evidence is used (or not) in high-level climate talks like COP26.

I first headed to the Japan Pavilion to do some impromptu fieldwork for our new just transitions project. The impression I got from the Pavilion, and also from the promotional material that Japan has put out around COP26, is that Japan is going big on hydrogen, carbon dioxide capture and utilisation, and storage of both carbon dioxide and hydrogen as a way to meet its net zero obligations. I was heartened, however, to read about the Goto floating offshore wind project in west Kyushu, which has committed to having the turbines manufactured locally in order to provide local employment from the project.

I also enjoyed playing around with the augmented reality demonstration the Japan Pavilion had put together to illustrate some of their priority areas for climate change action. Notably, one of the focal areas listed was fishing villages, perhaps reflecting the importance of getting fishers and coastal communities on-side if Japan’s ambitions for offshore energy production are to be realised. Special focus was also given to drawing visitors’ attention to the efforts that have been made to revitalise the coast of Fukushima Prefecture following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and to the links between revitalisation and net-zero innovation. Perhaps unsurprisingly based on what I’ve seen from Japan’s climate actions in the past, this was all very heavy on the technology and much more light on the social aspects of climate change. I’m looking forward to hearing more at the side events in the coming days, though.

After a wander round some of the other pavilions – which I will share in the coming days – I joined a Structured Expert Dialogue Session which had expert presentations touching on financing for adaptation and mitigation, as well as a presentation of the latest IPCC Report. It was interesting to see the way in which questions were dealt with. One question, which was considered too wide-ranging to enable a full reply, concerned whether we would effectively fail the entire world if we did not reform the global economic system. Another party expressed frustration that mandated events like these dialogues did not provide all the data they wanted, and instead directed attendees to other side events where they would receive more information. Delegates from a major fossil fuel producing nation also asked whether technologies like carbon capture and storage and carbon utilisation could be included within financing mechanisms.

Structured Expert Dialogue

I was also a bit struck that the findings of the IPCC Working Group 1 report were laid out, talking us step-by-step through the evidence base for anthropogenic climate change and the scenarios and pathways that lie ahead of us. I understand that it’s important to keep the science up to date, but surely we know enough now to know that humans are causing climate change and that urgent and coordinated action is required? Still, it was good to have these facts re-confirmed through a thorough synthesis of the latest underpinning science.

Tomorrow morning I will be calling in to a school to start off their own Mock COP, and then I have some side-events at the Japan Pavilion I want to attend.

With the security queues for COP26 being apocalyptic in the morning, I opted not to attempt to head to the venue early on and instead to head to the Rachel Carson Centre Glasgow, where my friends and colleagues Dominic Hinde and Gerald Taylor Aiken were setting up for the two-week exhibition they are hosting at 1307 Argyle Street (just 10 mins walk from the SEC Events Campus). The exhibition collates images and texts on the theme of arts and social science research on climate change. I also had an additional motive to attend and see my own contribution, which is an image of the Idemitsu Refinery behind the Tomakomai Fishing Port in Japan, which I shot on fieldwork in 2017.

Gerald Taylor Aiken (left) and Dominic Hinde (right) outside the RCC Glasgow event space

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