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by Joseph Anderson
06 December 2021
In Context: The Glasgow Breakthroughs

Interiors of the Action Zone at UN Climate Change Conference COP26 venue, in Glasgow

In Context: The Glasgow Breakthroughs

During COP26, the UK Government unveiled the ‘Glasgow Breakthroughs’ – a series of commitments from the world’s leading nations to make green solutions the best option for businesses and governments operating in every economic sector.

However, these were overshadowed by the last-minute drama, and disappointment, of the separate Glasgow Agreement, which was agreed on the final day.


Why is it needed?

The Paris Agreement, signed in December 2015 at COP21, committed the world to limit the rise in global temperature to below 2°C, and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C (compared to pre-industrial levels).

To keep “1.5 alive” the world must halve global emissions by 2030 and reach global net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

The idea is that by making clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice in each of the most polluting sectors by 2030, the world will be able to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C.



So what is the agreement?

The nations that have signed up to the Glasgow Breakthroughs have made commitments to five statements, each relating to different economic sectors.

The first five goals of the agreement are:

  • Power: Clean power is the most affordable and reliable option for all countries to meet their power needs efficiently by 2030.
  • Road Transport: Zero emission vehicles are the new normal and accessible, affordable, and sustainable in all regions by 2030.
  • Steel: Near-zero emission steel is the preferred choice in global markets, with efficient use and near-zero emission steel production established and growing in every region by 2030.
  • Hydrogen: Affordable renewable and low carbon hydrogen is globally available by 2030.
  • Agriculture: Climate-resilient, sustainable agriculture is the most attractive and widely adopted option for farmers everywhere by 2030.

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “By making clean technology the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice, the default go-to in what are currently the most polluting sectors, we can cut emissions right around the world.

“The Glasgow Breakthroughs will turbocharge this forward, so that by 2030 clean technologies can be enjoyed everywhere, not only reducing emissions but also creating more jobs and greater prosperity.”


Which countries have signed up?

Over 40 world leaders have backed and signed up to the new Breakthrough Agenda, including the US, India, EU, China, developing economies and some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change – representing more than 70% of the world’s economy and every region.

According a spokesperson from 10 Downing Street: “The plan will see countries and businesses work closely through a range of leading international initiatives to accelerate innovation and scale up green industries – this includes, for example, stimulating green investment through strong signals to industry about the future economy, aligning policies and standards, joining up R&D efforts, coordinating public investments and mobilising private finance particularly for developing nations.

“Delivering the first five breakthroughs could create 20 million new jobs globally and add over $16 trillion across both emerging and advanced economies.”


Is there a catch?

Despite there being 41 signatories to the breakthrough agenda – not every country endorsed every part of the deal. China, for example, only endorsed the statement on hydrogen, leaving its name as a conspicuous absence with regards to the statement on steel and power.


What do the breakthroughs mean for ordinary people?

Not very much in the short term.  In the longer term, it keeps alive the possibility of limiting global warming and helping protect people from the worst effects of climate change by preventing the most damaging flooding and storms, coastal erosion, water shortages and heatwaves that rising temperatures will bring.


How were the breakthroughs received?

While reaction was initially positive, the Glasgow Breakthroughs were quickly overshadowed by the squabbling of the Glasgow Agreement, which played out the following week.

At a press conference on the day of the agreement, President Joe Biden, whose administration has also signed up the breakthrough agenda, said: “We recognize that our current technology alone won’t get us where we need to be. 

“So, it must also be a decisive decade for innovation: developing, demonstrating, and commercializing new clean energy technologies by 2030 so that we can — they can be widely deployed in time to meet our 2050 net-zero goals.

“Clean hydrogen, long-duration energy storage, next-generation renewables and nuclear, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture, and so much more. 

“We need to invest in breakthroughs, and I welcome the UK’s leadership on the Glasgow Breakthrough agenda.”

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