NSW: Attending COP26 as a sub-national government

COP26 was a massive event.  Over 40,000 delegates registered, making this the largest COP ever. Hosting those who came in person required 25,000 pieces of furniture, 330 water coolers and 84 kg of locally harvested seaweed as a sustainable substitute for salt. The international news feeds focussed on the agreements – or not – between the 197 parties that are signatories to the UNFCCC. 

A colleague and I travelled to COP26 as representatives of New South Wales, one of Australia’s eight states and territories.  Collectively these jurisdictions have carriage of the majority of the policies and programs that will most directly address the challenge of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 – a target to which all eight jurisdictions had already committed.   Our experience at COP was not one of backroom deals, trade-offs and compromises.  Our experience was one of shared ambition, mutual reinforcement, support and learning, and complete good will and openness with fellow sub-national governments to talk about our greatest achievements and seek counsel on our most pressing problems.

Back home, we have been focussed on our NSW Net Zero Plan, released in March 2020 and followed by a series of strategies and plans that detail how we will implement those ambitions across different economic sectors, including the NSW Electricity Strategy, Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap, Net Zero Industry and Innovation Program, Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041, Electric Vehicle Strategy, Hydrogen Strategy and the National Parks and Wildlife Service Carbon Positive Plan.  We were rightly proud when Minister (now Treasurer) Kean announced that NSW was increasing its 2030 target to a 50% reduction in emissions compared to 2005, a figure that is consistent with the level of ambition expressed at COP26 needed to “keep 1.5 degrees alive”.

Attending COP26 was an opportunity to put our heads above the collective Australian parapet, and engage with what the rest of the world is doing.  Some ideas were quite startling, like the methane masks for cows that I learned are being trialled in Northern Ireland, to trap these potent greenhouse gas emissions as they are emitted from a cow’s mouth.  Others had a familiar ring, but were being applied in novel spheres.  We are familiar with certificate trading schemes, such as the NSW Energy Savings Scheme which obliges participants to meet energy savings targets by buying and surrendering Energy Savings Certificates. But I was intrigued to hear of this approach being applied to zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) in Quebec province in Canada, with the requirement for each automaker to meet a credit target  which can be met either by selling their own ZEVs or by purchasing credits from other automakers.   The intent is to spur the market to develop greater numbers of ZEV models for sale to Quebec motorists.

Two of the less heralded inclusions in the Glasgow Pact are the following paragraphs: Paragraph 53: “Recognizes the importance of international collaboration on innovative climate action, including technological advancement, across all actors of society, sectors and regions, in contributing to progress towards the objective of the Convention and the goals of the Paris Agreement;” and Paragraph 55: “Recognizes the important role of non-Party stakeholders, including civil society, indigenous peoples, local communities, youth, children, local and regional governments and other stakeholders, in contributing to progress towards the objective of the Convention and the goals of the Paris Agreement,”.

These two paragraphs are important inclusions.  We went to COP26 to launch an international Net Zero Emissions Policy Forum. This forum will enable sub-national governments with strong emissions reduction ambitions to come together to share their learnings from implementing diverse emission reduction policies, and to develop collaborative projects on areas that we want to explore further. 

We came away from COP26 recognising more strongly than ever just how important this is, and the critical role that collaboration between sub-national governments will play in achieving global net zero emissions. The Net Zero Emissions Policy Forum, which will be an initiative of the Under2 Coalition of sub-national governments, is the NSW contribution to the global agenda.

By Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson is the Executive Director, Climate Change and Sustainability at the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. She has responsibility for delivery of major initiatives enabling NSW government, industry and community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, on the path to net zero by 2050.  She is also leading work on diverse approaches to the use of sustainable finance mechanisms.  

Kate has a scientific background, working for a number of years in agricultural microbiology, and then in aquaculture and marine science at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CSIRO before joining the NSW Government in 2009. 

Kate Wilson is a panellist in the session ‘Key Takeaways from COP26’ on Day 1 of the CMI Summit, which is being held on 9 December, 2021. The NSW Government is our 2021 CMI Summit Host Partner.

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