Co-op sector responds to the COP26 agreement

‘We must be focused on how we clean our energy, decarbonise heat and transport, and create high-paying green jobs’

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow had a muted response as the word continues its efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Scientists warn that this means global emissions must be cut by 45 per cent by 2030, and to zero overall by mid-century, and the summit left countries such as China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the USA under pressure to produce bolder plans over the next 12 months.

Delegates agreed to “accelerate efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power” – with the wording watered down from “phase out” after a push by China and India.

There were also agreements on the development of clean technology, flood defences and other mitigation measures, methane reduction, halting deforestation and funding for new tech.

For the UK Co-op Party, Cllr Tom Hayes – cabinet member for green transport and zero carbon on Oxford City Council – said: “On the one hand, it was a historic turning point, making real progress in important areas. At the same time, the climate pact was a big failure. It just doesn’t go anywhere far enough to meet the scale of the climate emergency.”

Cllr Hayes said the summit opens up wider questions which politicians will need to address to carry the electorate with them: “How will we improve people’s lives? What kind of society are we trying to create?” 

He added: “There is an opportunity each year for governments to be subjected to pressure to revisit and strengthen net zero goals and decarbonisation plans. Countries will return to talks in 2022 and strengthen their emissions cuts plans.”

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This is a “golden opportunity” for the Co-op and Labour parties, he said, calling for national grassroots planning “to to ramp up pressure on government leading up to 2022.

“We must pinpoint sectors we want to clean up and name the emissions reductions we want to accelerate. We must be focused on how we clean our energy, decarbonise heat and transport, and create high-paying green jobs.” 

He said rich countries are not putting up enough money to help developing nations transition to clean energy and prepare for more extreme weather. “This is a failure which falls onto the shoulders of Rishi Sunak, the chancellor responsible for negotiating it, who also undermined his government’s summitry by cutting passenger duty on domestic flights one week before the conference opened.”

Cllr Hayes said there is a need for “a new internationalism which proposes new and sustainable responses to the problems faced by poor countries. As we develop policies on trade, aid, debt relief, and climate, education, and development financing, Labour must work alongside and build up civil society networks.”  

Investment around the world in clean energy and storage is also crucial, he said. “The future is already here. We already have some of the tools and the technologies to get to zero. British inventors, innovators, and industrialists are leading the way. Energy Superhub Oxford is the world’s largest hybrid battery unlocking such benefits as the UK’s largest EV charging hub. Society just needs to deploy our clean energy solutions fast enough.

As a Labour and co-operative movement, we can propose plans for new clean energy generation that is publicly and community-owned, scaleable across the UK and providing a model for the world, as well as city-sized clean energy storage.” 

Emma Bridge, CEO of Community Energy England, said: “The Glasgow Pact is simply not ambitious enough for the scale of the issue that we are facing. It has made some important progress on coal and fossil fuel subsidies but lacks the urgency required.

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“Community Energy England maintained a presence in the blue zone and brought ten brilliant representatives of the sector to the talks where we encountered numerous decision-makers including ministers, and potential allies. Too little emphasis was put on communities and people, without whose active participation a net-zero world is not possible. Empowering community energy can deliver this alongside huge social and community benefits and genuine levelling up. We know that communities are best placed to deliver that support, not national governments.

“As a sector, we will now be making the strongest case possible as to why communities need to be at the centre of meeting the enhanced commitments of the Glasgow Pact. We will ensure that the networks that we have created throughout the COP26 process are maintained and built upon. We will harness this support to pressure the government to remove barriers to the growth of community energy and provide real support.”

REScoop, the European federation of citizen energy co-operatives, said: “It is now time to unleash the enormous potential of community energy by committing to specific policies in order to support energy communities and foster their development, so as to accelerate and secure a just and clean energy transition that also tackles energy poverty.”

The federation – a network of almost 50 organisations – has called on the EU to deliver “sound policies, frameworks, measures and actions” to support this process, with financial support for energy communities, investment in retrofits for poor households, subsidies to make heat pumps and other renewable systems accessible, and “ction towards a decentralised, fair energy system which puts people and the planet first.”