Dublin initiative seeks to scale up ambition at critical COP26 summit

Move to be ‘catalyst for a much more meaningful outcome in November’

The group will attempt to forge a declaration on how to turn net-zero pledges into concrete energy policies and actions to be adopted at COP26. Photograph: iStock

The group will attempt to forge a declaration on how to turn net-zero pledges into concrete energy policies and actions to be adopted at COP26. Photograph: iStock

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A global initiative attempting to set out measures to accelerate progress towards net-zero carbon emissions in advance of the critical UN climate summit, known as COP26, later this year is to be convened in Ireland.

Dublin Climate Dialogues aims to be “the catalyst for a much more meaningful outcome in November”, when the summit is hosted by the UK government in Glasgow. US climate envoy John Kerry has described COP26 as the world’s “last best chance” to avert climate catastrophe.

High-level political representatives from major carbon-emitting countries – notably the US, China and the EU – the United Nations and other developed and developing countries have agreed to participate in the two-day virtual conference in Dublin next May.

They will attempt to forge a declaration on how to turn net-zero pledges into concrete energy policies and actions to be adopted at COP26, including ways to strengthen the 2015 Paris Agreement. This will be handed over to the UK government at its conclusion.

The Irish gathering is being hosted by University College Dublin and organised by global experts in energy, climate science, engineering and economics including renewables developer Eddie O’Connor. It will be chaired by Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament.

Key participants include Minister for Finance and Eurogroup president Paschal Donohoe and Enrico Letta, former prime minister of Italy, one of the co-chairs of COP26. Nobel laureate William Nordhaus, who has proposed a blueprint for strengthening the Paris accord, and the renowned climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe will also attend.

In an attempt to reboot the global response to the agreement, leading economists will present their take on likely costs associated with lack of action in counter climate disruption – and, crucially, what needs to be spent over the next century to reach net-zero emissions and fully decarbonise economies – against a backdrop of damage already being caused by a warming planet.

The social and economic benefits to global GDP from decarbonising energy and industrial production and embracing sustainability will also be set out – this has been estimated to be in the order of $600 trillion by 2100.

Global energy systems

The second day will set out how global energy systems should be recast to facilitate net-zero and on the technology underpinning the drive to sustainability. It will focus on the benefits of pursuing “an accelerated global decarbonisation pathway” and the opportunities to deploy renewable technologies at scale including “green hydrogen”.

Irish renewable energy developer Eddie O’Connor is leading the initiative.

“We should be mindful that at present climate destruction is costing $2.9 trillion annually,” he said. “When you start burning down half of New South Wales and [much of] California, while destroying power lines, the costs add up massively.”

His contribution, he said, will outline “what the costs are to get there” – in the order of $50 trillion to $60 trillion – through embracing wind, solar, enhancing power grids and improved battery storage to stabilise electricity supplies.

“But that has to be spent in a very quick period [as] we’re on this path to destruction right now,” he said. “We need a club of nations that commits to that and if you are not in that club, and persist with fossils fuels, and are selling your products into the club there’s a tariff barrier – in effect , a carbon barrier.”

A “global stocktake” published in early March, showed the rate of emissions reduction needs to increase tenfold to meet the Paris aims to tackle climate change and contain global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees.

“The COP is broken. It’s broken because it’s voluntary,” Mr O’Connor said. As a consequence, it meant, “Trump could pull out, and there was no consequence”.

Arguably “the inventor of the modern economics of climate change”, William Nordhaus last year proposed a club of nations mechanism to overcome weaknesses in the Paris Agreement.

Previously, he had been criticised for suggesting the impact of the climate crisis would nowhere near as damaging – or costly – as predicted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its seminal report issued in 2018. Some climate scientists contended his analysis risked being a recipe for inaction.

In 2020, however, he analysed the failed architecture of Paris accord that relies on voluntary arrangements “which induce free-riding that undermines any agreement”.

This “syndrome of free-riding could be overcome if nations adopted the club model include penalties for those that do not participate”, Nordhaus suggested. Otherwise, global efforts to curb climate change was sure to fail, he predicted.

The US economist has repeatedly stressed, however, that achieving the key UN targets is a good investment for the planet.

COP26 president Alok Sharma, the UK government’s lead representative at the summit, underlined this week the pace of change needed to pick up. “Globally, we must halve emissions over the next decade alone if we are to meet the goals of the Paris agreement... That means taking action today,” he wrote in the Guardian.

The dialogues initiative emerged from an idea last year to stage an engineering conference on the pursuit of sustainability, Mr O’Connor explained. It led to the realisation “this is an opportunity to influence the COP”. It is asking “what would we like to see…what did we want to come out of it”, he added.

The Dublin conference will coincide with the International Energy Agency releasing its global masterplan for reaching net-zero. Its director Fatih Birol has been invited to participate in the Dublin conference.

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