COP26: Carbon footprint of COP26 in Glasgow more than double that of COP25

Carbon emissions from the Glasgow climate conference are expected to reach more than double the amount pumped into the atmosphere during the last COP, The Scotsman can reveal, with the event on track to be the most polluting summit of its kind.

A report produced for the UK Government states that COP26 is on course to emit around 102,500 tonnes of CO2e.

Around 60 per cent of the emissions – about 61,500 tCO2e – come solely from international flights, an issue that has dogged the event in light of the widespread use of private jets by delegates.

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Dr Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said the fact that international travel accounted for the majority of the carbon footprint at a conference where negotiators have so far been unable to reach any “meaningful agreement” on aviation emissions highlighted the “lack of equity” in the talks.

The projected emissions for the gathering, described as a “preliminary baseline assessment” by Arup, the Government’s COP26 sustainability consultant, are significantly higher than any previous COP.

The total greenhouse gas emissions for COP25, which was held in Madrid in 2019, stood at 51,101 tCO2e.

The high-profile COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 produced around 26,000 tCO2e of emissions. At COP21 in Paris six years later, the figure was 43,000 tCO2e.

Arup’s seven-page executive summary of the COP26 carbon management plan notes the 102,500 tCO2e total includes: business travel during pre-event planning; energy, waste, and water use in the accommodation for all blue zone attendees; and operational emissions from emergency service vehicles.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at the COP26 summit - this time, having travelled by train. Picture: Phil Noble/PA WirePrime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at the COP26 summit - this time, having travelled by train. Picture: Phil Noble/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at the COP26 summit - this time, having travelled by train. Picture: Phil Noble/PA Wire

The 102,500 tCO2e figure means COP26’s carbon footprint is nearly three times that of Glasgow Airport, which reported total emissions of 36,885 tCO2e last year. The average person in the UK is responsible for around seven tCO2e of emissions a year.

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Arup said the figure represented “the best working assessment of the emissions from the event,” based on planning parameters, carbon reporting for previous COPs, and lessons learnt from the foot-printing of previous similar events.

There is no detailed breakdown in its report of the source of the emissions, but in September, we revealed how two of the summit’s venues have the second lowest possible rating for energy efficiency, with work yet to commence on a raft of legally binding improvements issued by assessors to reduce CO2 emissions.

Private jets used by COP26 delegates seen parked at Edinburgh Airport, Scotland at the beginning of the summit. Picture: Brendan Smialowski /Pool/AFP/GettyPrivate jets used by COP26 delegates seen parked at Edinburgh Airport, Scotland at the beginning of the summit. Picture: Brendan Smialowski /Pool/AFP/Getty
Private jets used by COP26 delegates seen parked at Edinburgh Airport, Scotland at the beginning of the summit. Picture: Brendan Smialowski /Pool/AFP/Getty
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Cumulatively, the venues on the sprawling waterfront campus are producing around 6,659 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The conference in Scotland’s biggest city has been plagued by criticism given the extensive use of private jets by government representatives and wealthy private individuals such as Jeff Bezos, who flew in on his £48 million Gulfstream jet.

In the run-up to the largest summit ever staged in the UK, some 118 different business jets flew into Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, according to data compiled by aviation consultancy WingX. On the first day of the summit alone, around 50 private jets landed at the hubs.

Flight radar data also shows that some jets have been flying from Glasgow Airport in Paisley, Renfrewshire, to Glasgow Prestwick Airport in South Ayrshire in order to park – a journey of less than 30 miles.

Mr Johnson was condemned after returning to London from Glasgow last Tuesday via private jet to attend a function at amen-only private members’ club.

Downing Street said the journey was taken with consideration of “time restraints”, but Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, accused Mr Johnson of “staggering hypocrisy”. When the Prime Minister returned to Glasgow on Wednesday, he did so by train.

Dr Parr stressed that COP26 was “not supposed to be a demonstration of sustainable lifestyles” and should not be judged in those terms.

But he said: “The failure to reach any meaningful agreement about limiting aviation’s vast carbon emissions – at a conference where 60 per cent of their emissions came from aviation, with a backing chorus of media outrage at the private jet hypocrisy of the elites – really highlights the lack of equity in these talks.

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“Creating loopholes for the use of the rich not only maintains their disproportionately high emissions, but makes it so much harder to persuade anyone else to cut.

“At this COP, the final decision must commit to phase out fossil fuels, which means reducing demand for those fuels from high-carbon industries like aviation.

"Policymakers and countries should ban short-haul flights wherever a viable alternative already exists, and invest in rail to create a transport system that's good for the planet while also being affordable and accessible to all.”

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s spokeswoman for net zero, energy, and transport, said: “If COP26 is to deliver the bold change needed, then those involved should lead by example. Travel emissions were always going to be inevitable, but this stark rise will no doubt raise some eyebrows.

“We all have a responsibility to do our part and those setting the rules must be willing to play by them. Warm words will ring hollow if they’re not matched with action.”

The UK Government has pledged COP26 will be carbon neutral, a promise it aims to uphold via the purchase of UNFCCC-recognised offsets such as certified emission reductions.

It says that Glasgow will be the first COP to achieve validation using the PAS2060 international standard on carbon neutrality, and the “key priority” of its carbon management plan was to “reduce and avoid emissions”.

A spokeswoman for the UK Government said: "As official UNFCCC figures show, COP26 is a substantially bigger event than other recent COPs, with over 39,000 participants as against nearly 27,000 at COP25.

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"As part of its analysis, the Government has for the first time included both the full Blue and Green Zone impacts, giving a fuller and more accurate picture of emissions from the site."

A definitive total of the event’s carbon footprint is expected to be published in coming months, once the data has been received and analysed.

But there is every chance the overall emissions total of COP26 could be higher, given past experiences of trying to estimate the figure.

Arup was responsible for tabulating the carbon bill at this summer’s G7 summit in Cornwall, a three-day event that had some questioning its environmental credentials given Mr Johnson’s decision to fly from London, and the use of an aircraft carrier with four diesel engines.

According to the firm’s calculations, the three-day summit in June resulted in emissions of 20,960 tCO2e, nearly 5,000 tCO2e more than the initial baseline estimate. The majority of the emissions were associated with international air travel (40 per cent) and accommodation (30 per cent).

We recently revealed how Arup itself has long-standing ties to the oil and gas industry.

The firm, which is receiving more than a quarter of a million pounds in public money for its role at COP26, has designed and installed offshore platforms in oil and gas fields the world over.

As recently as 2016, it was a member of MFDevCo, a consortium targeting the development of marginal oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

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Arup announced this week that it will not take on any new energy schemes involving fossil fuels anywhere in the world from April next year.

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