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Environmental Edge
November 2, 2021

COP26: Expert Group to Define “Net Zero” for Private Sector Emissions Commitments and Other Key Developments

Environmental Edge: Climate Change & Regulatory Insights

COP26—the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference—is underway in Glasgow, Scotland. The summit began on October 31 and will run through November 12. As detailed in our previous Environmental Edge blog post, this COP (Conference of the Parties) is particularly significant as it seeks to give substance to details left out of the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21). Countries are being asked to make 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with the COP26 goal of reaching “net zero” by 2050. After three days of COP26, here are several key developments:

1. UN launches group to study net-zero commitments by private companies. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced the creation of a group of experts that will analyze private sector commitments to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Corporations and business leaders are announcing emission reductions pledges alongside countries at COP26. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has acknowledged that private sector leadership is essential to accomplishing the objectives of COP26. IPCC, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5° (2018) at Ch. 10. However, the lack of uniform standards for defining “net zero” has been recognized as a barrier to achieving global net-zero and the goals of COP26.

In his opening remarks, Guterres acknowledged that “there is a deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion over emissions reductions and net-zero targets, with different meanings and different metrics.” Generally, “net zero” means carbon neutrality—that the GHGs going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal of the same amount of GHGs out of the atmosphere. But the specifics of what qualifies as “removal” and what constitutes a “balance” can raise complicated questions with widely varying answers. To address this problem, Guterres is establishing “a group of experts to propose clear standards to measure and analyze net-zero commitments from non-state actors.” The development of such standards, if well designed, could help provide enhanced clarity and credibility to companies striving towards net-zero goals. It could also allow the public and investors to more readily assess and compare the emissions of private corporations. Arnold & Porter will be closely following the development of any standards to define “net zero.”

2. Biden Administration announced a suite of new climate initiatives. Today, the White House announced a number of major new climate change initiatives designed to help the US meet its 2050 net-zero goal. The announcement outlines the US Methane Emissions Reduction Plan, including the widely-expected EPA proposed rulemaking to cut methane emissions from new and existing sources under the Clean Air Act. The new initiatives also include Net Zero World (charting US pathways to “deep decarbonization”), the Clean Energy Demand Initiative (facilitating greater corporate procurement of renewable energy), and the First Movers Coalition (increasing demand for new emission-reducing technologies in industry, aviation, and heavy-duty transportation).

3. Biden published the Long-Term Strategy of the US to Reach Net Zero by 2050. The day before COP26, Biden announced his administration’s strategy to reach its climate goals in an effort to demonstrate the climate leadership of the US The plan analyzes multiple pathways to reach net zero by mid-century. The UN has implored countries participating in COP26 to set targets of achieving net-zero by mid-century in order to achieve the global target of preventing temperatures from rising 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. The 12 pathways discussed in the US plan cross six sectors: electricity, transportation, carbon removal, industry, buildings, and non-carbon dioxide gases.

4. Biden announces a plan to deliver $3 billion in climate finance annually by 2024. The Biden Administration published the “President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE),” which outlines strategies to provide climate finance to developing nations in order to assist them adapt to climate change and become more resilient to its effects. Both this plan and the US strategy to reach net zero by 2050 would require Congressional approval.

5. India pledges to reach net zero by 2070. India is the world’s fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US, and the European Union, and more than 50% of its electricity comes from coal. Its pledge has elicited approval from some observers as an ambitious target for a developing nation that is reliant on coal. Other commentators are critical of the pledge as insufficient, however, as 2070 is far past the 2050 goal for carbon neutrality that the IPCC has stated is a target that could avoid a number of potentially “long-lasting or irreversible” climate change impacts such as “the loss of some ecosystems.” IPCC, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5° (2018).

6. Chinese President Xi Jinping will address COP26 negotiations in writing only. The leader of the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (China is responsible for nearly one-third of global GHGs) announced that he will not attend COP26 or make a video address. China has pledged to reach net zero by 2060.

As part of our Environmental Edge blog, Arnold & Porter attorneys will closely monitor and report regularly on COP26 developments throughout the next several weeks. 

© Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP 2021 All Rights Reserved. This blog post is intended to be a general summary of the law and does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with counsel to determine applicable legal requirements in a specific fact situation.