Who was missing at COP26 and why it’s a problem

Winner of Sustainable Cities: Net-zero Transition Photobioreactor, by Simone Tramonte, taken in Reykjanesbær, Iceland. A photobioreactor at Algalif’s facility in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, produces sustainable astaxanthin using clean geothermal energy. Presented at the New York Times Climate Hub, Glasgow (2021).


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I attended the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in November in Glasgow and observed a lack of participation from the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) sector. I am in possession of the list of participants at COP26, which is 1,616 pages long. After cross-checking the list of attendees, I was unable to confirm the presence of representatives from The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies, Virgin Orbit and SpaceX at the climate summit. After individually reviewing the physical documents I gathered at the conference against corporate sponsors, I was unable to confirm that any of the previous A&D companies sponsored COP26. If corporate sponsorship was considered “too green” by the board of directors, why were employees with titles such as “Director of Sustainable Development” not listed at COP26?

There were 40,284 attendees at the two-week climate summit, with more panels, presentations, speeches and simultaneous hubs than anyone could observe. Therefore, it’s certainly possible that I missed something, and the A&D Directors of Sustainability were in fact there. If so, I apologize. Who are you? Which aerospace company do you represent? Where can I see your most recent pollution and emissions report? Can you confirm that the accuracy of the self-reported data has been verified by a third party? What was your commitment at COP26?

We’re about to throw stuff into space like cheerful frat boys who just discovered a truck bed laden with illegal fireworks and a few cold Coors barrels on the 4th, and there’s no emission regulations in place?

Jeff Bezos was present and pledged $ 2 billion. According to Amazon’s self-reports, their total carbon footprint increased by 16% and emissions from direct operations increased by 67% in 2021 (year-over-year) Amazon is valued at 1.75 trillion with net sales increasing 15% to $ 110.8 billion in the third quarter, from $ 96.1 billion in the third quarter of 2020. Again, Amazon is valued at $ 1.75 trillion, with a T.

The US A&D industry is valued at $ 416 billion. There has been a 52% increase in rocket launches over the past 10 years with 128 orbital launches in 2021 (based on publicly released orbital launch information). Rocket launches continue in December, with Blue Origin carrying its third group of travelers to the edge of space on Saturday.

One of the main lessons from COP26 is that disentangling corporate emissions, sustainability and carbon neutrality claims is a complex endeavor. With self-reported data, seemingly endless corporate structures, and murky transparency, trying to determine the truth about A&D shows is like trying to swim in pancake batter. Also, based on my limited understanding, there are currently no regulations on rocket emissions. I must have missed something. How is it possible!?

A rocket launch emits around 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to a transatlantic flight carrying 300 to 400 passengers. The environmental impact of aerospace (A) is closely related to defense (D), sometimes indistinguishable from it. Together, the A&D sector produces significant emissions and is expected to continue on the path to expansion in the years to come. As reported by Chelsea Gohd for Space.com: “SpaceX has filed documents for up to 42,000 satellites for the Starlink constellation. ”

climate hub photo

Spanish photographer Antonio Aragón Renuncio won the 2021 Environmental Photographer of the Year award for his photo of a sleeping child in a house destroyed by coastal erosion on Afiadenyigba Beach in Ghana. The image, titled “The Rising Tide Sons”, highlights rising sea levels in West African countries, forcing thousands to leave their homes. Presented at the New York Times Climate Hub, Glasgow (2021).

We’re about to throw stuff into space like cheerful frat boys who just discovered a truck bed laden with illegal fireworks and a few cold Coors barrels on the 4th, and there’s no emission regulations in place? Given the collective action question surrounding orbital debris mitigation combined with the climate crisis here on Earth, what is the logic here? In an August 2018 article titled “The Politics and Science of Rocket Emissions,” Dr Martin Ross and Dr James A. Vedda point out:

“The relatively unrestricted atmospheric flight operations enjoyed by space launch providers since the start of the space age cannot be considered a permanent condition. This status is, to some extent, the result of the political neglect of the scientific and regulatory communities. The research has been minimal and inconsistent. The suspicion of regulation due to the depletion of the ozone layer is weak but still present. The launch industry has so far benefited from this policy vacuum. ”

With 90,000 employees and annual sales of over $ 30 billion, Northrop Grumman is one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers and suppliers of military technology. Northrop Grumman won the main contract for the James Webb telescope in 2002. In 2021, Northrop Grumman won the contract for the Mars Ascent propulsion system, including the return to Earth of samples collected by the Perseverance rover. Northrop Grumman’s 2020 Climate Change Response Questionnaire includes the statement:

“Environmental matters, including the unanticipated costs associated with compliance, could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, financial condition, results of operations and / or cash flow. ”

Carbon pricing, or a carbon tax, is a market-based solution, but should be set high enough to incentivize behavior, with exemptions and loopholes preemptively corrected. What do you think of the lack of a rocket emissions policy in place? What do you think of the private sector’s responsibility for carbon dioxide?

climate hub photo

Climate Action Winner: “The Last Breath, by Kevin Ochieng Onyango, taken in Nairobi, Kenya”, as presented at the New York Times Climate Hub, Glasgow (2021).


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