With COP26 now underway, all eyes are on heads of state and policymakers to see if they will make the right decisions about the future of our planet.

More than 100 global leaders will come together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow with the intention of accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Our Clean Energy Group, comprising more than 90 lawyers, has been at the forefront of the energy and natural resources sector for three decades. As well as advising clients, Shepherd and Wedderburn has committed to being net zero for carbon emissions by 2030. Here, our clean energy specialists identify a number of key commitments they expect from world leaders.

Will you recommit to the Paris Agreement objectives, with the ambition to accelerate and enhance those targets?

The Climate Change Committee has stated that the UK will continue to experience increasing temperatures until the middle of this century under all scenarios, even those consistent with the Paris Agreement. Doubtless, this will apply beyond the UK. We must go ‘beyond Paris’ and be more ambitious. Investing in decarbonisation now will save resources in the long run due to the reduced need to adapt infrastructure for climate risk.

Will you implement legally binding commitments towards net zero targets in domestic law?

The legislation implemented by the Scottish and UK governments shows an unequivocal commitment to net zero ambitions, consistent with Paris Agreement goals, and investors have indicated the importance of all countries and regions implementing such policies. Setting clear, legally binding, net zero targets supported by detailed implementation plans is imperative - it will send a clear message to investors, and facilitate the deployment of capital to achieve net zero and decarbonisation objectives.

Will you take definitive steps towards the agreement and alignment of global carbon pricing?

Carbon pricing tries to place a cost on the externalities of carbon emissions that would not otherwise be incurred by emitters. There is currently no comprehensive international framework agreed on carbon pricing, although many countries operate their own frameworks. Harmonisation on this issue would level the competitive playing field on an international basis and avoid competitive pricing regimes. 

Will you assist developing countries in the deployment of low carbon and renewable technologies, supporting a just transition?

Climate change is a global problem. There is limited point in some countries decarbonising energy, while others continue to build carbon-intensive power plants. Developing countries should be given as much support as possible to transform their energy systems, and to avoid the construction of new carbon-intensive, highly polluting forms of generation.

Will you incentivise the switch to renewable forms of heating of domestic premises?

With the recent spike in prices, renewable forms of domestic heating would appear to provide a hedge against increasing global demand and challenging supply. Some two million homes in Scotland rely on gas as their primary heating fuel, with very few having renewable or low emissions heating systems. But this is by no means an issue unique to the UK. To meet net zero targets, we need to vastly increase the number of renewable heating systems installed by introducing new, and publicising existing, incentives. 

Will you commit to state investment or support in electricity networks and interconnectors at a level that matches your ambition for the growth of renewable energy?

We must ensure we have electricity networks in place that are capable of coping with the increase in renewable generation from a number of new technologies. Network operators also need increased funding and freedom to innovate to meet the different needs of a green power baseload and provide energy security. Any costs passed on to power suppliers through system charges should be levelled to ensure fair competition and should not be inflated for remote locations where the potential for renewable generation is highest but demand is lowest (as is currently the case in the UK).

Will you establish a policy and regulatory framework to support increased private investment in public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles?

Private transport is one of the world’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases but the transition to electric vehicles will only be truly successful when finding a place to charge a car’s battery is as easy as finding a fossil fuel filling station. This will require a fundamental societal shift to provide comprehensive charging infrastructure and give consumers the confidence to switch en masse.

Will you take steps to protect biodiversity by providing safe havens for threatened species?

Preserving wild spaces to protect biodiversity will assist with flood alleviation and act as a gene pool to assist in replenishing wildlife in areas where species have become extinct locally. The existential threat to biodiversity is a global issue and requires global consensus to make the changes necessary to protect our plants and animals.

For more information please contact Clare Foster, Partner and Head of Clean Energy, at clare.foster@shepwedd.com, or your usual Shepherd and Wedderburn contact.

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