Gore Hails “Era of Radical Transparency” at COP26

Ex-US VP backs scrutiny of net-zero pledges, calls for end to short-termism.

Former US Vice-President and environmental campaigner Al Gore told COP26 delegates that investors and corporates could no longer prioritise short-term returns at the expense of longer-term “externalities”.

The narrow focus of shareholder capitalism had not only allowed the environmental pollution causing man-made climate change, but also fuelled “hyper-inequality” which now threatens democracy, said Gore, calling for a shift to a more “multi-stakeholder” approach.

“Our version of capitalism is in need dire need of reform. We are overly focused on a narrow slice of the value spectrum,” he said.

Gore was speaking in a wide-ranging presentation on the physical impacts of climate change and the efforts of governments, corporates and the finance sector to move to renewable sources of energy.

He criticised the leadership of the World Bank for not offering greater financial support to help less-developed countries to transition away from coal-powered electricity, welcomed a new “era of radical transparency” and asserted that voluntary carbon markets only had a limited role in effecting decarbonisation of industrial processes.

“Carbon offsets cannot be a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card,” he said, explicitly backing the policy of the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) that offsets should account for only a small fraction of any company’s net-zero strategy.

Noting the pledges made earlier in the week to accelerate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas GHG) emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, Gore spoke in support of a number of initiatives designed to ensure such plans could be monitored and adhered to.

“Part of our task, all of us, is to ensure that these pledges are kept,” he said. “Those that have made pledges should understand very clearly that their actions will matter a great deal and that any mismatch between their pledges and subsequent actions will be noted very carefully. Civil society is prepared to hold all of us accountable for matching deeds to words.”

On Monday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said countries should have to revisit climate plans and policies annually, if commitments fall short by the end of COP26, and announced a Group of Experts “to propose clear standards to measure and analyse net zero commitments from non-state actors”.

Gore praised the work of SBTi, which works with corporates and financial institutions to develop credible carbon reduction and net-zero strategies, and also flagged the ability of new technologies to trace sources of emissions with increasing accuracy.

Specifically, he pointed to the potential of satellite technology, remote sensors, crowd-sourced information gathering and artificial intelligence to help to identify significant emissions sources.

Carbon Trace, a firm co-founded by Gore, last year published an inventory of emissions sources by country and industry and intends to report daily before the end of next year. “We won’t be the climate police, we’ll be the neighbourhood watch for the globe. When we have actionable information, the demand for change will grow,” he said.

Gore ended his presentation with a call to COP26 delegates and others to continue to lobby governments to meet and exceed their stated commitments, noting, “Political will is a renewable resource.”

The former Democratic presidential candidate was speaking ahead of the release of a new analysis of pledges made in the first week of COP26 by the Energy Transition Commission (ETC), which found that they would result in additional emissions reductions of nine gigatons, close to half of 22 needed by 2030 to keep climate change at 1.5° Celsius

The research reflects new public and private sector commitments made during the first week of COP26, and the additional commitments made by the private sector through the UN Race to Zero in the run up to COP26 which were not reflected in an initial analysis of the emissions gap in September.

“It’s good progress but of course still not enough and even with further progress next week – on steel, aviation, shipping – we are not going to achieve the full 22 gigatons we need; we’re not going to be able to go home from Glasgow saying job done,” said ETC’s Chair, Lord Adair Turner.

“But we have new commitments which will make a difference and which must be delivered, and we have a springboard for further progress which we must achieve over the next few years sector by sector, and reflect in improved nationally determined contributions.”

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