For the Glasgow climate summit to be judged a success, a key outcome had to be that parties agree the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground.
As recent research suggests, 89% of coal and 59% of gas reserves need to stay in the ground if there’s to be even a 50% chance of global temperature rise staying under the crucial limit of 1.5℃ this century.
COP26 has not achieved the lofty goals because there are too few loopholes for fossil fuel industries to exploit.
There have been some promising proposals, including the pledge to cut methaneemissions, some higher emissions reduction targets at the national and local levels, limits to deforestation, and ending some overseas financing of fossil fuels. Yesterday, 13 countries launched a new allianceCosta Rica and Denmark are leading the charge to stop oil and gas production within their borders.
Most proposals are not ambitious enough or lack participation from key countries.
Take the pledge to reduce methane emission. Russia, China, and Australia are not among the largest methane emitters. The plan to phase out coal permits some signatories, such as IndonesiaTo continue building coal-fired power stations.
What these proposals and, indeed, the whole COP process, suffer from is an inability to address the fact that if we’re to avoid the worst of climate change, we simply can’t keep extracting fossil fuels.
While negotiators and the national governments of the countries are willing to listen, loopholes in the COP process could prevent the real goal from being achieved. I am referring to five big loopholes.
1. Subsidies or finance
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) has been a topic of much attention. It is a global alliance of financial institutions that aims to accelerate decarbonization of the economy.
While governments continue to subsidise fossil fuel industries, many of their efforts will be undermined. Fossil fuel subsidies worldwide amount to US$11million (A$15million). every minuteGFANZ is inadequate to stop emissions as subsidising the cost production and sale of fossilfuels continues to make it possible.
GFANZ can be voluntary, but binding commitments are required. It also includes banks that recently provided funds. US$575 billion (A$787 billion) in fossil fuel finance to some of the world’s biggest polluters.
This issue should not be left for future COPs. Countries such as Australia should immediately start reining in the subsidies that make the industry profitable and should not entertain new subsidies, such as the National Party’s proposal in Australia for a coal rail line to Gladstone.
2. New production
Despite the overwhelming evidence that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground, governments are still approving new projects. Despite having a host of fossil fuel projects, the UK government currently has 40. COP26.
The fossil fuel industry is likely to continue to thrive until future climate negotiations prohibit new fossil fuel projects.
3. Business as usual
A further loophole for the fossil fuel industry is how it’s being allowed to continue its huge levels of production because it has committed (in some cases) to making its operations greener.
Measures such as carbon capture and storage and offsetting have been touted by some governments as solutions to bringing the industry’s emissions down. These measures, however, are not the only ones that can reduce emissions. are not real solutionsIf they allow fossil fuel production to continue at dangerous levels.
Offsetting is a must play a roleIt can reduce emissions in some difficult-to-abate industries like aviation and agriculture but it is not a replacement for genuine cuts in fossil fuel use. going green.
These loopholes that allow for fossil fuel production are no accident. The largest number of representatives at COP26 came from the fossil fuel industry.
One of the most striking and troubling aspects of government approaches towards climate change is the effect of fossil fuel companies. decision making. It’s hard to think of other issues (smoking, peace negotiations) where we tolerate this kind of influence.
The industry’s influence on successive Australian governments has been well documented, with over A$136.8 millionBetween 1999 and 2019, there were a total of 58,039 donations
Santos Gas Company (Santos) displaysa major donor to Australian political parties) at Australia’s COP26 pavilion rightly provoked ridicule.
5. Decoupling production
These loopholes must be addressed or the production of fossil fuels in Australia, Australia, and other countries will continue longer than necessary.
There are still buyers interested in fossil fuel assets such a BHP’s Queensland coal minesThis indicates that investors anticipate years of profit (and few climate liabilities) from fossil fuels, despite the measures proposed at COP26.
BHP is selling its dirty oil and gas assets, but hold the applause
One of the most glaring omissions in COP26 is the failure of linking emission cuts and production cuts. This is evident more than in countries such as NorwayThey have ambitious domestic reduction targets (55% yearly by 2030) and continue to champion fossil fuel productionThrough oil and gas exploration.
Future COPs and domestic progress will depend on ending the false belief that one can reduce domestic emissions while still supporting fossil fuel production. If countries such as Australia and Norway can’t come together to agree on cutting support for production, then we will continue to see loopholes that allow the industry to flourish.
Positive steps are being taken by some countries. The Beyond Oil and Gas AllianceIt is crucial to reduce fossil fuel supply by phasing out production.
Multilateral action such as this, whether as part of COP or outside it – and, crucially, the pressure from below that causes it – must be a focus if we’re to avoid climate change.