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Climate Change 2021: There is no turning back
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Climate Change 2021: There is no turning back

Climate Change 2021: No turning back now


One UN climate conference, which was established to save humanity from its own destruction, ended up being a failure. Another was a spectacular success (Paris/2015), while the rest were somewhere in between. 

All these reactions were triggered by COP26 this year.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist, led a march of 100,000 people through Glasgow streets. She dismissed the two-week-long meet as a “greenwashing Festival”.

However, the negotiating team was able to make significant progress in overcoming the existential threat of global climate change.

Observers are more likely to oscillate between approval and criticism, hope, and despair.

“The Glasgow Climate Pact was more than we expected, and less than we hoped,” Dann Mitchell, head for climate hazards at Britain’s Met Office said with a haiku-like economy.

The measure used to measure the efficacy and effectiveness of measures announced at COP26 depends largely on how they are measured.

The first ever call by 196 countries for coal-fired power reduction, or a promise of double financial aid each fiscal year — to approximately $40 billion — are huge steps forward.

A provision also requires countries to set more ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions every year than they do every five years.

When compared with hard science, all the hard-won COP26 gains are hardly of any significance.

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 in the red zone if it exceeds the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit) heating limit set forth in the Paris Agreement.

Alden Meyer, a senior analyst with E3G, stated that he is a lifelong optimist and sees the Glasgow outcome as half-full, rather than half empty.

“But the atmosphere reacts to emissions — not decisions by COP — and there is much to be done to make this strong rhetoric a reality.”

This year also saw Part 1 (IPCC) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s first comprehensive synthesis in climate science in seven decades.

It concluded that global warming will surpass 1.5C in a decade. The oceans are rising faster that expected, and will continue to do so for centuries.

The signs of saturation are evident in the forests, soils and oceans that absorb more than half humanity’s carbon pollution.

There is also the danger of “tipping points”, which could see permafrost emit huge amounts of CO2 or methane, the Amazon basin transform into savannah and ice sheets shed enough mass to submerge cities, as well as deltas home hundreds of millions.

“Make no mistake, it’s still hell,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s Climate Change Institute.

“But Glasgow at least has an exit lane.”

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.

As a draft of the report shows, the cost of helping vulnerable countries cope with the multiplier effect from global warming on extreme weather could quickly exceed the tens to billions that were being offered at COP26.

“Adaptation costs are significantly more than previously estimated, leading to a growing adaptation financing gap’,” stated an executive summary of the report’s 4,000-pages.

It is hard to imagine where these trillions of dollars will come from, considering that rich nations have failed to deliver $100 billion annually by 2020 to aid developing countries.

Glasgow marked the transition from implementing the 2015 Paris treaty’s provisions to fleshing them out in the rules.

However, unlike the aftermath of other major conferences, the climate crisis will not fade into the background like other crises.

The fate of this story will depend on the four largest emitters in the world, who collectively account for 60% of global carbon pollution.

The United States and the European Union both have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. They also recently set higher emission reduction targets for 2030.

They refused to establish a fund to pay for climate damage that has already been caused by 130 developing countries.

China and India, which account for 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 and are expected to rise, have resisted the call to abandon fossil fuels.

Beijing has refused to do what scientists have said is possible and necessary to keep the temperature below 2C. They should also stop releasing carbon dioxide much earlier than 2030.

Climate politics may remain in limbo, but global capital is already flowing to what some have called the greatest economic transformation in human existence.

Mark Carney, former Governor of Bank of England, claimed that nearly 500 banks and insurers were willing to finance climate action in Glasgow.

Christiana Figueres was the UN climate coordinator when the Paris deal was signed. She stated, “If we only needed to transform one sector or move one nation off fossil fuels,”

“But all parts of the global economy must be carbon-neutralized and all countries must adopt clean technologies.”

With major investment deals for South Africa and other emerging economies like Indonesia and Vietnam, it is now clear where some of the money might flow and who might be left behind.

Private capital is not motivated to aid the most vulnerable countries and to deal with climate ravages or strengthen their defenses.

Johan Rockstrom, director at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, stated that “we cannot wait for open market incentives. We need to set prices for carbon globally, and we need science-based targets to become climate laws.” 


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