The 2015 Paris agreement (COP25) provides a useful benchmark by which to judge the results of COP26 in Glasgow which comes to an end the day after this blog has been posted. However, from all reports and our judgement having been part of the virtual audience at several of the main sessions and side events, the reviews of COP26 are mixed. While Greta Thunberg mocks the failure of the conference to offer concrete results as Blah, Blah, Blah, Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission and a key negotiator at COP26, optimistically pronounced that “the glass is half full”.
Recall that the 2015 Paris agreement adopted by 197 countries aimed to reduce carbon emissions and limit the increase of the global temperature to well below 2°C . Then countries committed to decarbonize their economies and build climate resilience. While Small Island Development States (SIDS) continue their chant “1.5°C to stay alive”, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supports their view that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century is still possible, but will require rapid, immediate, and economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, as well as the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. The conclusion to be drawn is that near-term actions to halve GHG emissions by 2030 must be pursued alongside longer-term strategies to achieve deep decarbonization by 2050.
According to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) of the 123 countries that submitted new national determined contributions (NDC) targets by October 2021, twenty two (22) including the European Union (EU) as a block submitted stronger targets while 12 did not increase ambitions. As many as 89 countries that are not analyzed by the CAT submitted NDC targets. Among them are many Caribbean, Pacific, African, South East Asian and Eastern European countries all of whom contribute minimally to GHG emissions. According to research published in Glasgow (November 9), the world is on track for disastrous levels of global heating far in excess of the limits in the Paris Climate Agreement, despite a flurry of carbon-cutting pledges from governments at the UN Cop26 summit. Temperature rises will top 2.4C by the end of this century, based on the short-term goals countries have set out.
China and USA, the world’s two biggest emitters unveiled a joint declaration for close cooperation on emissions cuts that scientists say are needed in the next 10 years to stay within 1.5C. According to the declaration, the two countries will “meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade,”
At the same time India, the world’s third largest carbon emitter and one of the few countries is yet to announce a timeframe to reach net zero emissions. Surprisingly, because of the dominance of its coal industry, India is likely to exceed two key commitments of the Paris Agreement. First, according to Environmental Research India looks likely to reduce emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2030, far surpassing its Paris target. This is due to its pledge to increase the share of power-generation capacity from renewable, hydroelectric, and nuclear sources. The other commitment is to reduce carbon emissions by 33 to 35 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030. Today, India is claiming the moral high ground by pointing out its per capita emissions are much lower than comparable nations and that the same rich nations that polluted their way to riches in the 19th and 20th centuries are now scolding developing countries when they follow the same route. Interestingly Vivek Wadhwa writing in Foreign Policy (October 22 2021) illustrates from empirical data that India is already far exceeding its renewable energy goals.
Climate Technology and Climate Finance Critical Indicators
These issues are indeed critical and need to be explored in greater depth than this Blog will permit. Suffice it to say that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires far-reaching transformations across power generation, buildings, industry, transport, land use, coastal zone management, and agriculture. It also requires an immediate scale-up of technological carbon removal and climate finance.
In an interesting side event by the Commonwealth Foundation, the point of departure was that an ever-shrinking carbon budget does not accommodate delay. To reach a net-zero future, it is imperative to ignite fundamental change across nearly all systems, from how we move around the world and build cities to how we grow food and power industry. These systemwide transitions will depend on the massive scale-up of finance, technology, and capacity building for countries that need support. That the G20 countries have reneged on their pledged contribution of 100B per year since Paris erodes the trust required to propel the world’s system toward Climate justice and equity. Uncertainty about the availability of financing for innovation will limit capital formation and slow scale-up. Integrating most climate technologies into existing infrastructure, hardware, software, and operational systems is critical.
Conclusion: Changing Mindset
As COP26 enters its closing stages it is to be hoped that the chasm between aspirations and policies will narrow and that governments will change their mindset by putting global interests before national interest, thereby saving this planet from destruction. A most sanguine expression of this aspiration is provided by ,” William Nordhaus argues. “Why Climate Policy Has Failed And How Governments Can Do Better” Foreign Affairs, October 12, 2021
Greta Thunberg and the young activists took a stand with a massive demonstration in Glasgow last Friday (November 5). They continue to nudge and advocate for governments to do better After all the futures of their generation and the generations to come are high stakes.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.