The threat of global warming is being resisted by countries makes solid progress
PARIS: In a quarter century of UN climate conference attempts to save humanity from itself, one conference was deemed a failure (Copenhagen/2009), while another was a huge success (Paris/2015), with the rest landing somewhere in between.
This year’s COP26 inspired all these reactions at once. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, leading a 100,000-strong march through the streets of Glasgow, dismissed the two-week meet as a “greenwashing festival”. However, the negotiating team praised the achievements of the group in overcoming the existential threat from global warming. Observers are more likely to oscillate between approval and criticism, hope, and despair.
“The Glasgow Climate Pact is more than we expected, but less than we hoped for,” Dann Mitchell, head of climate hazards at Britain’s Met Office, said with haiku-like economy.Gauging the efficacy of measures announced at the COP26 summit largely depends on the yardstick used to measure them. The first ever call by 196 countries for reducing coal-fired electricity, and the promise to double financial assistance each year to roughly $40 billion so that poor nations can prepare for climate impacts are huge steps forward.
A provision also obliges countries to set more ambitious targets to reduce carbon pollution each year than they do every five years. All these hard-won gains made at COP26 are diluted when compared to hard science.
Glasgow exit lane
In 2021, a series of deadly floods, heatwaves, and wildfires on four continents combined with more detailed projections made it clear that Earth would be moving into the red zone if it exceeds the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit) heating limit set forth in the Paris Agreement. “As a lifelong optimist, I see the Glasgow outcome as half-full rather than half-empty,” said Alden Meyer, a senior analyst at climate and energy think tank E3G.
“But the atmosphere responds to emissions-not COP decisions-and much work remains ahead to translate the strong rhetoric here into reality.” The past year also saw Part 1 of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) first comprehensive synthesis of climate science in seven years. It found that global warming is almost certain to surpass 1.5C within a decade. Meanwhile, the oceans are rising faster than expected, and will continue to do so for centuries. And forests, soil and oceans-which absorb more than half of humanity’s carbon pollution-show signs of saturation.
Then there is the threat of “tipping points” that could see permafrost release massive amounts of CO2 and methane, the Amazon basin transformed into savannah, and ice sheets shedding enough mass to submerge cities and deltas home to hundreds of millions. “Make no mistake, we are still on the road to hell,” said Dave Reay, head of the University of Edinburgh’s Climate Change Institute. “But Glasgow has at least created an exit lane.”
Permanent breaking story
Part 2 of IPCC’s report on climate impacts was seen exclusively by AFP prior to its publication in February 2022. It shows another gap between what is being done at COP26, and what is needed long term. A draft version of the report indicates that in order to help vulnerable countries cope with the multiplier effect from global warming on extreme weather, it will soon take trillions of US dollars per year, and not the tens, billions proposed at COP26.
“Adaptation costs are significantly higher than previously estimated, resulting in a growing ‘adaptation finance gap’,” said an executive summary of the 4,000-page report. It is difficult to imagine where these trillions of dollars will come from given the inability of rich nations to provide $100 billion per year by 2020. Glasgow marked the transition from preparing the rules for 2015 Paris treaty to its implementation.
But, unlike other major COPs, climate crisis will not fade into the background.
How that saga unfolds will depend a lot on the world’s four major emitters, collectively responsible for 60 percent of global carbon pollution. The United States and European Union have both committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, and have recently set higher emission-reduction targets in 2030. They refused to establish a fund to pay for climate damage that has already been caused by 130 developing countries.
All countries, all sectors
China and India, responsible for 38 percent and growing of global emissions in 2021 respectively, have refused to give up fossil fuels. Beijing has refused to do what scientists have said is possible and necessary to keep the temperature below 2C. They want to peak their emissions well before 2030. Global capital is already flowing into what some call the largest economic transformation in human history, even if climate politics continues to be blocked.
In Glasgow, former Bank of England governor Mark Carney boasted that nearly 500 banks, insurers and asset managers worth $130 trillion were ready to finance climate action.”If we only had to transform one sector, or move one country off fossil fuels, we would have done so long ago,” commented Christiana Figueres, who headed the UN climate convention when the Paris deal was struck. “But all sectors of the global economy have to be decarbonised, and all countries must switch to clean technologies.”
The question of where some of this money might flow, and who might get left behind, has also been brought into focus with major investment deals being announced for South Africa and other emerging economies such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and others. Private capital is not motivated to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries in coping with climate ravages or strengthening their defenses. “We cannot just wait for open market incentives to have their way, we need to set prices on carbon globally, we need to set science-based targets that become climate laws,” said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. – AFP