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COP26: A Bright Future for Green Tech and HPC

What impact can we expect from COP26? With global finance moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, we may see a green industrial revolution thanks to green tech.

After a fortnight of intense discussions, the COP26 conference in Glasgow has come to a close. The ensuing Glasgow Climate Pact has been met with mixed views, but ultimately marks a historic achievement within reach of the 1.5°C target first set at the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. This pact, amongst other COP26 initiatives, will surely have a profound impact on the future of green technology, which now more than ever is proving to be an essential means of climate action and therefore an investment opportunity for the private sector.

The Glasgow Climate Pact states that countries should republish their climate action plans by next year, detailing more ambitious targets for 2030. Earlier in September, the UN reported that many newly submitted Nationally Determined Contributions were inadequate, moving in the right direction but at far too slow a pace with regards to the 1.5°C target. Pete Betts, the former EU lead negotiator on climate change, explained to the BBC that “the trend towards a zero-carbon world is irreversible. The question is when we get there, and what the climate will be like by then.” The pact also pledges to “phase down” the use of coal, the fossil fuel responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions and the most harmful for greenhouse gases. There is certainly progress here – this is the first time that language about coal reduction has been explicitly included in a global climate deal. The pact goes on to emphasise the need for developed countries to increase their financial help for poorer, developing and climate-vulnerable nations, many of which will struggle to adapt without financial support.

One controversial element of the Glasgow Climate Pact was the language surrounding coal. The wording “phase out” was replaced at last minute to “phase down”, as China and India opposed commitment to a total reduction of coal use before 2050. India’s climate minister Bhupender Yadav asserted that eliminating fossil fuel use within the given time frame was too large a step for developing countries that “have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication.” India has instead promised to cut emissions to net zero by 2070, though this misses the goal considerably. Alok Sherrman, COP26 president, argued that “China and India must explain themselves” to climate-vulnerable countries who will suffer from natural disasters, but the extent to which they are to blame is disputed. The struggle between the critical need for a net zero world and the industrial ambitions of developing countries is an issue of climate injustice that cannot easily be solved. 

World leaders aim to tackle these disparities through a green industrial revolution: financially supporting developing countries to industrialise in the most sustainable way possible. The technology to do this is already out there – green startups powered by AI and HPC, such as those involved in the Tech for Our Planet programme, will now receive the investment they need to make a far-reaching difference. It was unveiled early on in the talks that 450 organisations controlling 130 trillion dollars, or around 40% of global private assets, plan to direct global finance towards renewable energy and away from finite resources. What’s more, over 40 world leaders have committed to the Breakthrough Agenda, which aims to “make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030”, supporting the developing world in its transition to net zero. The plan behind the Breakthrough Agenda lacks concrete detail but individual countries have expressed their support for the program through their own initiatives, such as the UK led ‘Clean Green Initiative’ and the US and UAE led AIM4C, for example.  

Despite valid concerns about the speed at which these positive changes are being implemented, we know that we are working in the right direction. Not only have promises been made to reduce coal use and CO2 emissions, we are also tackling climate injustice by laying the foundations for green economies in developing countries, and nearing an end to government subsidisation of fossil fuels. World leaders are committing to a broader realisation of the time-sensitive, irreversible nature of the climate crisis, and that in itself is something to be celebrated.