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Reflections on COP26 – Greening won’t wash, action is needed

03 December 2021
Written by Stephen Sheal

COP26 in Glasgow has been and gone, the dust has just about settled and the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ is now being hailed and derided in equal measure.   Fair to say there is an awful lot to ‘unpack’ from the Glasgow COP, but here are a few reflections. 

Significantly for the Oil and Gas sector, the pact asks nations to consider further actions to curb potent non-CO2 gases, such as methane, and includes language emphasizing the need to “phase down unabated coal” and “phase-out fossil fuel subsidies.” This marked the first-time negotiators have explicitly referenced shifting away from coal and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in a COP decision text.  

The debate around oil and gas in the energy mix intensified with Scotland’s nonparticipation in the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) a point of contention.  Also, Scottish Government clearly signalled their opposition to offshore oil and gas developments such as Cambo. 

The role of technology to drive net zero targets was a major theme at this COP and Glasgow was a platform for launching innovative partnerships and new funding to support innovation such as the UN Climate Change Global Innovation Hub | UNFCCC, with the aim of reshaping every sector of the economy at the scale necessary to deliver a net-zero future. Indeed, in the first week of COP26 the Net Zero Technology Centre hosted an international Technology Summit, bringing research and technology centres together from across the globe to share best practice in industrial decarbonisation technologies and explore areas for collaboration. 

Investors, businesses, cities and regions also joined collective action initiatives aimed at driving economic transformation. Over 2,000 companies have now committed to develop science-based targets (Ambitious corporate climate action – Science Based Targets) to reduce their emissions, and new guidance for companies to set credible net-zero targets for corporates was released just ahead of COP26.  

Cities and Regions will be major players in driving down emissions and over 1,000 cities and local governments, including Aberdeen City, have joined the Cities Race to Zero to raise climate action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. To hold businesses and others accountable for achieving their net-zero goals, the UN will create a high-level expert group that will establish clear standards to measure and assess these commitments. 

So, COP26 has brought a renewed focus and momentum to achieve net zero by 2050, the need to increase ambition and to pick up the pace to achieve net zero.  This could have implications for the targets stated in the North Sea Transition Deal, expect all emissions reduction targets to be scrutinised and challenged robustly. 

Clearly, following this COP, innovation to reduce emissions in our sector and investment in renewable energy technologies needs to accelerate. Expect to see an increased focus on the financing of energy projects, contingent on having credible net zero plans and transparency of reporting, these will be major factors in securing finance for any energy related project. Which TechX Director Mark Anderson gives his perspective on here.

As a sector we need to be prepared for intense scrutiny when we talk about how we are changing, investing in net zero technologies, achieving net zero targets and developing renewable energy projects; unless we can demonstrate increasing investment in emission reduction and new energy technologies approaching equivalency to investment in oil and gas projects, we will be charged with greenwashing.  All claims of ‘greening’ change will be challenged, not just by environmental groups, but by government, regulators, even by the Advertising Standards Authority and court action.  Credible action is needed, and needs to be highly visible and auditable for the sector to be recognised as being part of the solution and not the problem.   

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