Why Downing Street is optimistic about Cop26 despite slow global progress on emissions cutting

Does hope lie in COP26? ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports on its proponents - and those who aren't quite as convinced

Today, John Kerry – the US’s special climate envoy – sounded a pessimistic note ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow by acknowledging undeniable facts.

First, he said that many countries simply won’t put forward ambitious enough targets, and that even if many do there will be a clear gap between where the summit gets us and where we need to be to keep global warming below 1.5°C.

I’ve written before about that so-called emissions gap, that is both stark and depressing.

The UN says that to be firmly on track to stay below 1.5°C we would need to reduce annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 29 gigatons by 2030.

To stay below 2°C. needs a cut of 12.

So far, 113 countries have updated their climate plans in time for Cop26 (with more coming).

And the combination of all of them – including almost every developed country?

A cut of less than four gigatons. The gap appears jaw-dropping.

But there are good reasons why Downing Street officials and other experts are not despairing about the prospects at Glasgow.

First, they know that some big emitters are yet to produce their updated plans, including India and – critically – China, from which there have been both positive and negative signs.

It has said it will not invest in new coal overseas, but has suggested it could build more plants at home.

Which is why one government official messaged simply: “We need China to move”.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. Credit: AP

Even if it does – everyone I speak to in this field knows that we still won’t be on track for 1.5°C. But - a second reason not to give up – they never expected Glasgow to deliver that.

Instead, officials tell me that the aim is to keep “1.5°C alive” and to do that doesn’t require nationally determined contributions or NDCs delivering a 29 gigatons cut in one go – it requires progress across a series of different negotiations.

They say that countries have all moved significantly and that is a hugely positive sign, but they also think it is about more than NDC’s.

I’m told that the mantra inside Downing Street is “coal, cars, cash, trees” because they believe that agreements across those four areas will help make the difference between a successful or failing summit.

They think that the combination of better NDC’s than in 2015, movement in those areas and overriding ambitions of net zero from a growing number of countries means its not time to be overly pessimistic. Not yet, anyway.