What do the Cop26 deals mean for you?

Cop26 has come to a close. After two weeks of negotiations, a final deal has been signed that has been hailed as an important step towards keeping alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

But as well as the main deal, a series of smaller agreements has also been announced, on coal, deforestation, methane and food standards. What do they mean for the average person? We break it down.

Energy

The UK has already moved faster than many other countries in phasing out coal. Last year just 1.8 per cent of our energy came from the most polluting fossil fuel.

But we are still reliant on gas to heat our homes and generate electricity, and recently prices have been rising because wind turbines have not produced as much power as usual, as well as because of pressure on supplies due to last year’s cold winter and demand from Asia for liquefied natural gas.

In the long term, the Government plans to switch home heating over to an electricity-based system, reliant on heat pumps.

To make heat pumps cheaper and incentivise the move, it has also said it plans to switch the subsidies that currently make electricity prices artificially high onto gas bills instead, but this hasn’t happened yet.

A deal signed last week committed countries including Vietnam, Morocco and Ukraine to phasing down their reliance on coal, in the 2030s for richer countries and 2040s for poorer ones.

In the short run, this could put yet more pressure on gas prices, because these countries are likely to switch to gas, a less polluting fossil fuel, rather than renewable energy sources that require investment to install.

Andrew Crossland, a fellow at Durham Energy Institute, said: “Demand for gas will go up, particularly if it’s a global switch from coal to gas, and I don’t know where the supply is going to come from.

“That’s only going to hurt consumers, it’s only going to hurt the energy-poor, whether that’s in the UK or abroad.

“I’d like to see more talk about promoting renewables, and I’d like to see better international finance for renewables, or low carbon sources,” he said.

Food

Last week more than 100 world leaders signed up to end deforestation by 2030. It’s not the first such deal but it is one of the largest, and comes with £500million from the UK Government to protect rainforests.

The deal is part of a wider shift away from incentivising cheap food production on deforested land towards higher-quality food grown closer to home.

Ministers have previously said they expect food prices to rise, partly as a result of higher wages due to the loss of EU agricultural workers.

UK meat producers have higher welfare standards than those in other parts of the world, but if the supply of cheap imported meat stops, diners may have to get used to higher prices.

But Prof Tim Benton, of Chatham House, said the event did not signal a significant change in diets because agreements focused on making farming more intensive rather than changing what tended to be grown and eaten.

“Ultimately, the business interests of large-scale agriculture are such that they can see a route to be more profitable and adapting to climate change – in the sense of increased droughts and things like that – through climate-smart agriculture," he said. 

“I suspect that will be cost-neutral to consumers, because with a bit of private investment in solving these issues, and a bit of public investment in driving an innovation agenda in agriculture, we will get a lot of the way there.” 

The WWF also signed a deal with the UK’s major supermarket chains to track their progress to cutting their impact on nature in half by 2030.

Mike Barrett, the executive director of science and conservation at WWF UK, said that in the future some food types, like fish, might become more expensive and eaten more infrequently as the world moves away from environmentally damaging practices like trawling.

“I think it’s reasonable that you might end up paying more for better-quality fish, but then if you’re buying less fish overall, then you’re not necessarily spending more money.

“So I think you have to look at what overall is in the shopping basket, how you spend your money across the piece,” he said.

Ocean Rebellion activist Rob Higgs protests against bottom trawling during a demonstration ahead of the Cop26 summit, in Glasgow

Credit: Dylan Martinez/ Reuters

Mark Engel, Unilever chief supply chain officer, says sustainable products made without deforestation would “become the norm” meaning lower prices than are seen currently.

“When sustainable commodities is five per cent, it is a niche, and that brings all kinds of costs.

“I think we’re going to be at a tipping point and I think that time for that will be far before 2030, because most consumers will not wait until 2030,” he said.

Electric cars

The UK is also moving faster than most other countries in the push for electric cars. Plans to phase out new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 put us ahead of almost everyone else. So a new electric car deal last week was intended to encourage others to step up their ambitions.

It ended up being a bit unexciting – major economies such as the US failed to sign up, as did four out of the five largest car manufacturers in the world.

A bigger agreement bringing in some of the world’s largest countries might have been helpful for UK drivers because it would have created a bigger market for electric cars more quickly, bringing down costs.

If car manufacturers moved faster this would also be better, because it would mean more options and cheaper vehicles.

But the deal does at least mean that more countries are making efforts to bring in more electric cars, making for a larger market for UK industry, and potentially creating jobs in developing battery and charging stations, if UK companies can make the most of having a head start.

Julia Poliscanova, the senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at the pressure group Transport & Environment, said: “There is a first-mover advantage for companies in the UK to do it sooner, because they need to do it for the UK consumer, they can then globalise their offer for the rest of the world.”

Aviation

It certainly seems that the days of cheap flights are numbered. Britons used to flying to New York for a couple of hundred pounds return may be in for a shock as the airline industry comes under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint.

Its plans to do this via offsets and more sustainable fuels are controversial, and while the industry insists that it can keep growing and offering cheap travel while the world moves away from fossil fuels, ticket prices are almost certainly going to rise.

Earlier this year the EU axed an exemption from tax on jet fuel for flights within Europe, and while the UK cut air passenger duty for domestic flights in the autumn statement, it plans to increase it for long-haul flights.

At Cop26 a new agreement was signed on aviation by 20 countries including the US, UK, France and Spain.

It relies heavily on sustainable aviation fuel and as-yet unproven new technologies like battery and hydrogen-powered aircraft, leading to accusations of greenwashing from climate groups, who have called for people to fly less instead.

Either way, the declaration only makes it more certain that flying will become more difficult and more expensive.

Gus Gardner, an associate travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData, said: “Sustainable aviation fuel is going to be a great stop gap for the aviation industry to reduce its impact until electric and hydrogen aircraft come in.

“The fundamental flaw is that there is a lack of funding to pay for it. At the end of the day, if passengers want an environmental means of travel, then they have got to pay for it. The buck stops with the passenger, unfortunately.

“In an ideal world, we’d see government funding come through but there are lots of industries competing for that funding.

“So it’s going to fall on the passenger. We will see increased ticket prices to fund this new fuel to become economically and commercially viable.”

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