Renewable Energy SmartPod

COP26: The Successes, Failures and Surprises

November 18, 2021 Season 1 Episode 18
Renewable Energy SmartPod
COP26: The Successes, Failures and Surprises
Show Notes Transcript

Now that we’ve all caught our breath after the onslaught of news and frenetic finish to COP26, it's time to step back and reflect on the events in Glasgow from a broader perspective. SmartBrief's Karen Kantor and Paula Kiger edit a wide variety of newsletters for SmartBrief -- including topics such as energy, sustainability, government, business transformation and even the United Nations -- so they join the show for a roundtable discussion that highlights the achievements, disappointments and surprises from COP26.

There is plenty of talk about the energy transition, but we also make time to discuss COP26 issues that touch on local government, fashion, shipping containers ... and how Las Vegas should start taking bets on the exact day and time COPs in the future will end!

More resources:

GHD - A Supercharged Transition
GHD - Future Energy

More Podcasts from SmartBrief:

The Modern Money SmartPod
Touchpoints - A conversation about care, connection and costs in US health care


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Sign up for the Renewable Energy SmartBrief

Follow the show on Twitter @RenewablesPod

(Note: This transcript was created via artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim.)

Sean McMahon  00:09

What's up everyone and welcome to another episode of the renewable energy smart pod. I'm your host Sean McMahon. And now that we've all caught our breath from the onslaught of news and frenetic finish to COP26. I'm going to be joined by a pair of SmartBrief editors, Karen Kantor and Paula Kiger to discuss the achievements, disappointments and surprises from Glasgow. Karen and Paul edit a wide variety of newsletters for SmartBrief, including topics such as energy, sustainability, government, business transformation, and even a newsletter all about the United Nations. So I thought it would be interesting to supplement our normal renewables coverage with a more holistic recap of the key takeaways from the COP. 

Of course, if you want to hear more about the finance news from COP26, don't forget to check out our other podcast, the Modern Money Smart pod. That podcast has featured three guests, Simon Puleston Jones, Maggie Peloso, and Gordon Bennett, who each weighed in to share excellent insights about COP26 and the future of sustainable finance. Before I kick off this roundtable discussion with Karen and Paula, here's a quick word from the exclusive sponsor of today's episode.


Advertisement  01:12

GHD getting to netzero won't be easy, but with the power of commitment, anything's possible. At GHD. We're making energy, water and urbanization sustainable for generations to come. Relentlessly pursuing a greener future with our clients and our communities. That's the power of commitment. That's GHD.


Sean McMahon  01:41

Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us for today's episode of the renewable energy smart pod. I'm your host, Sean McMahon. And today, we're gonna do things a little bit different. The last few weeks, we've all been consumed by some of the news coming out of Glasgow and COP26. And so today, I've invited a few of my SmartBrief colleagues to come on board and talk about what they're seeing from their perspectives. They each have unique beats or unique newsletters that they edit for SmartBrief. They're all looking at what's going on at COP26 from a different perspective. So first up is my colleague, Karen Kanter. Karen want you to tell our listeners a little bit about what you do for SmartBrief 


Karen Kantor  02:12

Hi, Sean, thanks for having me. I am the editor for the energy and chemicals vertical.


Sean McMahon  02:18

Alrighty. And then we've also got Pollack Hager, Paula, tell our listeners a little bit about what you do.


Paula Kiger  02:24

Hi Sean, it's so great to be here. I edit nonprofit sector newsletters for SmartBrief. And that includes a variety of things. I cover the United Nations social work, city and county management science and a whole little potpourri of interesting topics that touch on nonprofit issues.


Sean McMahon  02:43

And so again, the whole kind of purpose of this roundtable is to just look at what's gone on in Glasgow from all these different angles. You know, I spent a lot of time talking about things for renewables. But obviously, some of the things that were discussed there, touch on the energy sector, and they do filter on right down to the state, city and local level. So we're gonna do a quick roundup of kind of the biggest takeaways we all have from the conference. So Paulo, what was the biggest thing you saw from your perspective,


Paula Kiger  03:06

With the the three different goals that they had going into COP26 of mitigation and getting to securing global net zero by mid century and keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and adaptation and finance? It would be great to say they came out of this saying it was beautifully tied up with a bow, but it wasn't. So that leads to what's next. And Patricia Espinosa, I thought said it well or said it somewhat hopefully when she said that was very clear guidance, and that it sets the stage.


Sean McMahon  03:41

So was Patricia Espinosa being a little bit cheeky when she said that was clear guidance. 


Paula Kiger  03:46

Clear was probably a word that has a lot of nuance in that situation.


Sean McMahon  03:53

I like that. I like that. Karen, what was the biggest takeaway from where you're sitting?


Karen Kantor  03:57

For me, I was surprised at how much attention coal and natural gas and keeping them received. I expected to hear a lot about renewables. And we did. But certainly there was a lot of attention paid to how to step down from fossil fuels in a way that wouldn't harm developing economies and wouldn't harm the big companies that I'm sure we're working very hard behind the scenes to maintain the status quo.


Sean McMahon  04:27

Understood. Obviously, I cover things from the finance angle and also the renewable energy angle. So on the finance side, I'd say I'm just a big believer in what the IFRS foundation moved forward. Ahead of the conference. They told me to expect news about the international sustainability standards board. And my view on that is it's kind of a long term thing that's gonna take a while to get set up. But everything I'm hearing is that there's just no standardization across ESG investing anywhere. And so if you look down the road, you know, five years, maybe I feel like the ISP is gonna be a pretty important piece and the fact that it kind of got momentum launched in Glasgow, that's going to be something that I think we'll look back on a significant over on the renewable side, again, something that people are kind of not paying much attention to, because it's such a long term thing. And it is very aspirational. But it's the green grids initiative. And whole goal there is to build out more transmission and infrastructure is ready to take on renewables, because one of the things we have going on around the world, and obviously also right here in the US is lots of renewables being built. And they can't really connect to the grid, or there's a long wait to connect them to the grid. And so it seems like that's kind of a visionary thing. And it would be a shame to you know, have all these wind turbines and solar panels and things like that, and nowhere to move that energy around. So again, long term thing, but I think that's kind of what some of these conferences are about. It's the green grids initiative could pay off in the end. Now it's trying to turn to surprises. Karen, I'll let you go first. This time, what was the biggest surprise takeaway from everything going on at COP?


Karen Kantor  05:58

I can't really say that I was terribly surprised. But I was very disappointed that there wasn't more done for the developing world. I listened to an interview with a representative from the Maldives. And that was something they were talking about the disappointment, and the hope that next year when the conference is in Egypt, things would be a little bit better. But energy wise, things were about the way I expected. And it was very interesting to see how fossil fuels were treated.


Sean McMahon  06:28

Paulo, what about from where you're sitting? Any any surprises from COP26.


Paula Kiger  06:32

I don't know if I'd classify this as a surprise. But I don't think the thing people first think about when they think about COP26 is fashion. But I read a letter to the editor and or an op ed in vogue at the beginning of COP26 by Marie Claire DeVoe of carrying which is Gucci, Balenciaga, all very, very high level, fashion type of things. And she did what I think we hope businesses will do related to ESG and said, let's not, let's not limit this to a capsule collection, or a cute, one pattern, we have to understand that the classic fashion model of make take and waste is unacceptable, we have to think about how much water it takes to create fashion that we often just throw away or wear once or put in the dump. And I liked the fact that she said there has to be a massive shift across the sector to examine every aspect of the supply chain for raw materials and products. That to me is something that we can all get our heads around, we can think about that when we order that $5 t shirt from Amazon, versus thinking harder about the things that go into the clothes we wear. And that to me, just really spans what we need to be thinking about if we want to make change, more lasting, more permanent. And that relates to my business transformation newsletter, which is another part of my nonprofit world.


Sean McMahon  08:02

So what were some of the most popular stories in that newsletter, you know, throughout cup, anything that caught a lot of the reader's eyes,


Paula Kiger  08:09

there's a lot about renewable energy, as you would expect. And I like to pick the stories that have emerging technology or things that people wouldn't think about. There are articles about how much energy it uses to move data, and things that we may not be able to touch but affect our lives every day. Those are always the most popular or the most clicked, but if I don't put them in there, they won't be they won't have the opportunity to see the light of day. So part of my goal is to get people to think in different ways, there was a very cool article about shipping containers and how they're being used in people's backyards. There's a whole business of creating pools, and shipping containers, and you can move them from one place to another without all the other kind of environmentally heavy things that go into building a pool, the concrete and all of that. So that I thought that was a very popular story. One of our most popular stories last month was these unique uses for shipping containers.


Sean McMahon  09:08

So let me understand that. Are they burying the shipping containers? Or is this an above ground pool


Paula Kiger  09:14

or above ground? But one of the things is shipping containers are often only a one way thing. It's not that they get sent back across the Pacific or wherever they came from. They come one way and then what happens to them so it's a way of being more sustainable, but yes, they're not usually put into the ground. The ones that were pictured in the article had more of a these people had very lovely backyards, but you'd have to climb up to them or they have some kind of level with their deck kind of things. There were various ways of of doing that.


Sean McMahon  09:46

I like it. I like it. Yeah. Circling back to the surprises. On the finance side. One thing that really struck me was the way that banks and their promises got really exposed. Mark Carney He's a former governor of the Bank of England and governor the bank Canada. You know, he's kind of the the face of this alliance, the Glasgow financial alliance for netzero. thing went to copper armed with $130 trillion promises. And I was stunned by how quickly they were just dismissed. Really? I mean, there was a lot of critics are like, yeah, yeah, whatever. I mean, that's a huge number. And the credibility gap is so large that it? I mean, it was, within minutes, people are like, Yeah, that's great. We'll see, you know, that will ever happen. And that was surprising. And then on a renewable side, one thing I was curious that I didn't see was some of the bigger renewable companies going after quotas and lobbying for quotas and the development of all these energy plans around the world. I mean, there's so much talk about phasing out coal and phasing out fossil fuel. But it seems like there's a lane there for renewables to kind of demand a certain percentage of the energy mix. And that didn't really materialize. You know, maybe they're waiting, trying to be patient let coal phase out first, and just assuming they're going to get to take over that energy production. But seems like it should be more of a headline, you know, goal for that sector going into it. And then also, I was surprised, developing countries kind of walked away with nothing. They're the ones kind of bearing the brunt of all this, right. And they've made that message clear before cop. Everyone knew they're going to head to Glasgow with some expectations, and they just got stiff armed. And that was kind of shocking to me, because the end of the day, I mean, we're not talking about, well, I shouldn't say we're not talking about a lot of money, right? It's the goal, ahead of cop was $100 billion dollars a year from the developed countries. That's modest. Yeah, billion dollars to $2 billion there. So pretty soon, we're talking about a lot of money, but really, when you know, globally, to kind of raise that kind of money. And we've seen figures like that thrown around the last couple years, left and right. And it wasn't just one country expected to raise that it's everybody. So them kind of walking away empty handed is a surprise. We'll be right back.


Advertisement  11:55

Getting to net zero won't be easy. But we know we have to make the next 10 years count.  At GHD, we're a global professional services firm committed to making energy, water and urbanization sustainable for generations to come. That means transforming with purpose locally and globally. It means relentlessly pursuing a greener future with our clients and with our communities. With innovation and technical expertise at our core, we believe net zero can be achieved. That's the power of commitment. That's GHD.


Sean McMahon  12:36

And now, back to our roundtable discussion about COP26, with SmartBrief’s, Karen Kantor and Paula Kiger. Okay, now, Paula, I know that your beat includes a lot of news, you know, surrounding kind of city and local matters. So how does everything that was going on, you know, 1000s of miles away in Glasgow, how does that affect, you know, some of the people who run those government agencies?


Paula Kiger  12:55

It does. And there's really an intersection between the brief I do that's related to United Nations work, and the one I do, it's related to city and county management. That's because the United Nations Environmental Program did a big report recently about the sustainable urban cooling handbook. And the point is, the heat island effect in cities has so many adverse issues, that mechanical cooling we use, which is so inefficient, and so wasteful, it results in loss of jobs, it results in loss of quality of life. And that's one thing that cities really need to be addressing such a big challenge. But something that as that report pointed out, is really an issue that we can't have our heads in the sand about because it's going to affect so many aspects of city life.


Sean McMahon  13:47

Any other key takeaways were missing or thoughts just overall I think funny, you might have seen or heard coming out of Glasgow, let me just let's just get a little loose here.


Paula Kiger  13:56

I know I shared this with you when we were talking but I just thought it was funny that Patricia Espinosa said and as you pointed out, this is not the first cup to not end on time or to need extra time. But her last phrase was essentially we ordered some quick sushi and champagne and then they were turning out the lights so we had to go Yeah, waiting


Sean McMahon  14:15

for you know, speaking of it all going overtime and waiting for that to be like a line in Vegas. Yeah, like a betting line like going into cop. Like, on what day? What minute? Will they actually you know, gavel the thing and close it down? Because it definitely seems like it's never gonna be Friday anymore. It's always gonna be Saturday or Sunday. Carry on. What about you any other takeaways? Well, I


Karen Kantor  14:34

think part of going back to what you were saying about quotas. I think part of the issue before cop and after has been defining renewables in a way, you know, for investments for what counts. Certainly, nuclear has been a real hot button topic. You know, it's carbon free, but there are other issues. Coal is obviously not carbon free. But people will make, you know, the idea that you can use carbon capture and storage to maybe get a little bit more out of that natural gas. So I think part of the problem with quotas and just in general the transformation is, what do we use for that always on power that the grid needs. So besides the amount of money that is not being put where it really needs to be put, I think definitions haven't been put in place yet either. Um, one interesting development that actually started right at the beginning, was countries talking about no longer funding international fossil fuel projects, which is something that if they actually stood by that, would it I think, would make a pretty big difference, especially thinking of things like coal projects, power plants, that sort of thing. So you know, if they stick with that, I think that's pretty interesting.


Sean McMahon  15:56

Already, Paula, any other takeaways from the conference?


Paula Kiger  15:59

One thing that came to mind today, one of my as I mentioned, briefs is social work. And we had an article today about climate anxiety. And I think this isn't funny. But I think it's very important that we all kind of give ourselves some grace. As far as I understand it. This is stressful. It's stressful thinking about a world 10 years from now with increasing fires and hurricanes and floods it stressful explaining it to the children in our lives in ways that they can understand. And they might be, they might be inspired to do something about it, instead of being scared to death. There was a line in our one of the articles we summarize today that said that Google Data said the online searches for the term climate anxiety worldwide exploded by 900%, in recent days, compared to this time last year. So it's on everybody's mind, but in a different way than if we are sad about not getting a raise at work or not getting to go on a trip or things that are more concrete. It's kind of this nefarious anxiety on top of pandemic anxiety and worldwide stress about a variety of things. And I appreciate the fact that someone is thinking about that and putting out information to encourage people to to process that and to help each other process that and for mental health professionals to be aware that that that's a real issue.


Sean McMahon  17:18

Yeah, one of the things I'm always curious about is, you know, the concern about the ESG, and things like that seems like there's an ebb and flow sometimes based on the news cycle, right? Yes. Yeah, it's great to have a few weeks of everyone concerned about it. But then what happens two weeks from now, you know, and then it kind of slips, and then there's a big hurricane or a big, you know, wildfire, and then it's back on everyone's mind, and it slips. And so I'll be curious to see how long it you know, I hate to use the word sustainable to describe ESG. But how long that concern can last? And how much it'll just be a mainstay, rather than something that kind of comes and goes.


Paula Kiger  17:50

And I think that's where the investors can make a difference. When the investor start asking, What are you doing about it? What are you really doing about it? I think that's when maybe the fulcrum will go to one side or the other as far as companies really making efforts.


Sean McMahon  18:06

Yeah. And then one of the other takeaways I had was kind of related to finance those, you know, global carbon trading markets. I mean, one of the, I guess, signs of progress are kind of boxes that was checked at COP26 was, you know, they finalize the the wording for Article Six, which, again, pertains to global carbon trading markets. And I know that, you know, Greta Thornburg, and some other environmental activists don't love that concept. But it seems like it's part of the transition, you know, being able to price in the cost of fossil fuels and damage and things like that, or pricing, the benefits of renewable power. And so I think that's a big thing. And I'll be curious, and that kind of segues to the next thing we want to talk about in terms of bold predictions. Anyone who listens to this podcast knows, I like to ask guests for their bold predictions. And so as you mentioned, Karen, we're heading to Cairo next year for cop 27. Are you know, you and I are not? I don't think so. But the COP is, and so one of my bold predictions is about that. It's about global carbon trading markets, like, you know, it's all, you know, cheer that they finalize that the wording, but a year from now, where are we going to be? You know, everyone's talking about, it's a big deal, but I'm not sure how successful it will be. And so one of my bold predictions is that that might end up being well, I think it'd be feast or famine, I think it'd be a massive success, or just an absolute tank. I don't see it kind of in the middle. And so, you know, for the finance side, that's kind of where I see, you know, that's what my bold prediction be for next year. On the renewable side. Yeah. Again, circling back to quotas and things like that. It seems to be it's time for that to be part of the conversation. So I'll be surprised if next year, you know, the renewables industry itself doesn't kind of mount a marketing effort heading into cop demanding it. This


Paula Kiger  19:39

is not very specific, but I think it's gonna take something dramatic to get everybody's attention. One of my other briefs is the Reserve Officers Association. And just this week, they were talking about how much reserve power in the United States it takes to deal with, for example, the California wildfires and that then it becomes kind of a whack a mole Then those service members aren't available to help with national defense issues. So sometimes things really do come around to national security in a way that's not very obvious. So I think that may lead. I don't know about other countries, but I think in the in the United States, I think that's going to drive some of our decisions about taking these issues seriously, because they're, they're knocking on the door of our lifeblood as a country.


Sean McMahon  20:28

Go for it, Karen.


Karen Kantor  20:30

So bold prediction, I feel like not a whole lot is likely to happen right away, unless there is some huge event that everybody has to deal with, like the pandemic, the pandemic brought us all indoors and made us watch the news. And we got to see every country in the world deal with it, some better than others. And I think there's a certain amount of that now, we see France with pretty low carbon emissions due to nuclear. And then we see Germany with, you know, they're trying really hard with wind turbines. And not doing as well. And India, where they're using a lot of coal, but they have good reasons for fighting about having to come off of coal, just from a an economic standpoint, they need to be able to develop so I think there's, there's still a lot to be pounded out, you know, what counts as renewables, what different countries can afford. So while I would like to think that a lot will happen in a year, my belief is that we're going to need some more drama first, which is unfortunate.


Sean McMahon  21:42

Karen and Paula, this has been great, you know, I often get my head so buried and just the finance and, you know, renewable energy side of things that I I forgot to look up even think about how something like COP26 can impact clothing sector and fashion and things like that. So this has been a lot of fun. I really appreciate your time and your insights.


Karen Kantor  22:01

Well, thanks so much for having me, Sean. I appreciate it.


Paula Kiger  22:04

I've really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.


Sean McMahon  22:12

That's all for today. Before we go, I just want to say one more thank you to the exclusive sponsor of today's episode GHD. 

If you liked this podcast, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And be sure to follow us on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @RenewablesPod. And if you'd like a daily dose of renewable news delivered to your inbox, head to and sign up for the Renewable Energy SmartBrief. The Renewable Energy SmartPod is a production of SmartBrief - a Future company