Boris Johnson speaking at COP26

In the WWF briefing on the progress of the COP26 climate talks yesterday, its Climate & Energy Global Practice Leader Manuel Pulgar Vidal said, in reference to the agreement announced overnight between China and the US: “it is time to reflect domestically what we have agreed here globally”.

It is a comment that can be applied far more broadly, something that became achingly evident in what was possibly the most significant announcement in two weeks stuffed with them, all too many of which were more theatrical productions than genuine, binding commitments to action.

That significant event was the launch of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA for short). The honour roll of initial members is short: France, Ireland, Sweden, Wales, Greenland, and the Canadian state of Québec, with New Zealand and California getting honourable mentions as associate members working towards full compliance.

The criteria for membership is quite simple. First, ending all new oil and gas exploration, which given that we need to leave at least 60% of our known fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change is little more than an expression of common sense. Did anyone say “carbon bubble”?

The second, and even more significant element, required to be a BOGA member is commitment to a “managed by decisive” phase out of oil and gas production, in line with the country’s commitments to the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperature below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

That’s the 1.5 target the UK presidency of the talks has made much of: “keeping the 1.5 target alive” is the stated top aim of the talks.

Yet you’ll notice the UK is a prominent absentee from that list of BOGA signatories. The world has noticed: in a later session in the same press conference room in which BOGA launched, a Carbon Tracker speaker used – just as an example of how the new Global Registry of Fossil Fuels works – the proposed Cambo oil field development in Scotland, which will produce, he pointed out, 80 million tonnes of CO2.

If the UK is committed to the 1.5 target domestically, as it says it is globally, then there should be no reason not to sign up to BOGA today.

Boris Johnson at least caught the train up to Scotland on his mission to “rescue” the talks – which seemed to consist chiefly of delivering alarm and despondency – on Wednesday. But if he wants to do something useful, he could make a dramatic intervention overnight, like the US-China one last night, and agree to sign the UK up to BOGA.

Civil society is doing its bit, with the launch also here in Glasgow of the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty – which is well on the way to having 1,000 parliamentary backers, of which of course I’m proud to count myself one.

And there is in the formal COP progress a significant sign of progress in the official text. Those who don’t follow the detail of such things might be astonished to learn that there is, for the first time ever, a reference to fossil fuels in the text.

As negotiations go down the wire, defending that – and it is under attack, with Australia among those on the roll of dishonour of those trying to downgrade the text – and seeking to introduce a phase-out date for coal, is high on campaigners’ agenda. As is ending the trillions in subsidies still being given to the fossil fuel industry.

There’s also a huge amount of technical work still to be done in mapping out just what damage the fossil fuel industries continue to do to our world. One of the first questions addressed at the press conference on the Global Registry of Fossil Fuels was “isn’t there one already?” To which the answer is very clearly “no”.

The information is being assembled from publicly available material not previously brought together, but the question I asked at the press conference was: shouldn’t the reporting of reserves and production be required of states?

To which the obvious answer is yes, with fossil fuels still accounting for around 80% of the energy used in the world. Finding a just, balanced, rapid route out of that energy disaster requires knowing where we are now. But above all it requires states committing to change. Alok Sharma should be on the phone to the UK Prime Minister today, demanding in his role as chair that the leadership Johnson was talking about is delivered.

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