A Particularly Valuable Perspective from Europe on COP26

In an essay following my return from COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, and more recently in a Q&A in the Harvard Gazette, I offered my views on what happened (and what did not happen) at COP26 last month in Glasgow.  But given the leadership of the European Union on climate change policy, a European perspective is exceptionally important.  Fortunately, in the most recent webinar in our series, Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA), we featured a conversation with Dr. Laurence Tubiana, the well-known French economist who was France’s climate ambassador at the time of the negotiations that led up to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.  A video recording (and transcript) of the entire webinar is available here.

As you know, in this webinar series we feature leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government.  In this most recent Conversation, I was fortunate to engage with someone who has had solid experience in at least three of these sectors – academia, government, and the NGO community. 

Laurence Tubiana, who received her PhD in economics from the Sorbonne, and served as France’s Climate Change Ambassador during the 21st  UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21), when the Paris Agreement was signed, is currently CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

In our conversation, Laurence begins by maintaining that while the recent COP26 talks in Glasgow did not produce any breakthrough pacts, those talks represented a real step forward.

“We are making slow progress…130 countries have committed to a target net-zero [emissions] by 2050 or soon after,” she says. “Very few, almost none, are backed or substantiated by any kind of precise pathway to get there, so that is why short-term action is more important than ever.”

One positive development from Glasgow, Dr. Tubiana reports, was the commitment by the signatories to the Paris Agreement to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in time for COP27, scheduled for next year in Egypt (although it should be noted that the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have subsequently indicated that they would not be producing new NDCs with enhanced ambitions one year from now).  As I’ve written in my two previous blog posts, countries agreed to accelerate “efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” and to try to increase their monetary contributions to developing countries to help them cope with the effects of climate change and make the switch to clean energy.

When I ask Laurence for her thoughts about the prospects for the multilateral development banks to contribute significantly to the climate change fight, Tubiana expresses some doubts.

“The international financial system nowadays is not fit for the problem of the climate challenge we face. We are talking about three to four trillion [dollars] a year in additional investment on the global level for this ecological transition and the international financial system is not responding and maybe cannot respond in this actual form,” she says. “So called ‘green finance’ is around two percent of the global financial markets, so with that we cannot respond [adequately] to the challenge.”

Tubiana lauds the dramatic speech delivered at COP-26 by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, in which she called upon those nations that have contributed most to global emissions to take immediate responsibility for the climate change challenge and to assist those nations most at risk. Mottley stressed that island nations suffering from extreme weather events every few years do not have the economic capacity to rebuild every time and to pay back the debts they would incur if they tried.

At the end of our conversation, when I ask about grassroots youth climate activism, Laurence Tubiana remarks that she understands their anxieties as they face a very uncertain future. 

“They feel that their demonstration in the streets isn’t working enough. Governments aren’t responding to what they’re asking for,” she says. “We are failing them, and we are failing them not only because we aren’t active enough on climate change, but because we don’t offer them the political pathways to participate and make their voices hear in the political system.”

All of this and much more can be seen and heard in our full Conversation here.  I hope you will check it out.

Previous episodes in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – have featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets, Jake Werksman’s assessment of the European Union’s Green New Deal, Rachel Kyte’s examination of “Using the Pandemic Recovery to Spur the Clean Transition,” Joseph Stiglitz’s reflections on “Carbon Pricing, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Green Economic Recovery,” Joe Aldy describing “Lessons from Experience for Greening an Economic Stimulus,” Jason Bordoff commenting on “Prospects for Energy and Climate Change Policy under the New U.S. Administration,” Ottmar Edenhofer talking about “The Future of European Climate Change Policy,” Nathaniel Keohane reflecting on “The Path Ahead for Climate Change Policy,” and Valerie Karplus talking about “The Future of China’s National Carbon Market.”

Watch for an announcement about our next webinar. You will be able to register in advance for the event on the website of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.  


Author: Robert Stavins

Robert N. Stavins is the A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Program in Public Policy and the Doctoral Program in Political Economy and Government, Co-Chair of the Harvard Business School-Kennedy School Joint Degree Programs, and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.