Despite thirty years of United Nations climate conference, global greenhouse gas emissions continue rising and the climate crisis is worsening. While there has been progress at the Glasgow climate summit — cutting methane, slowing deforestation, clean technology finance, and reducing coal use — far more ambitious measures are urgently needed if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
For three reasons, the historic Glasgow summit did not meet its goals.
First, the combined emissions reduction commitments of all countries remain inadequate, just like they were in 2015’s Paris accord. Global emissions must be reduced by half by 2030 to preserve a planet that is habitable. And we cannot simply trade emissions credits or buy offsets, as fossil fuel interests propose — we need a 50% reduction in Actual emissions. However, the collective commitments of nations are still far from this goal. Current commitments, including those at Glasgow, put the world on track for an apocalyptic 2.5°C temperature increase, far beyond the agreed 1.5°C limit. Holding warming to 1.5°C is no longer possible. Even so, each carbon atom that is kept out of the atmosphere will make the future a little more livable. A +2°C goal is still within reach.
Second, climate agreements, such as those at Glasgow lack legal force and enforcement mechanisms. These agreements are essentially promises with no consequences for non-compliance. This is where international agreements often fall apart. When they return home, governments make promises but fail to implement them in national law. This is how the global agreement of 2014 to reduce deforestation 50% was rescinded. Already at Glasgow the Indonesian government had agreed to end deforestation in 2030. However, after being pressured by its home government, it retracted that commitment just two days later.
Emissions reduction agreements must be legally binding and sufficient in order to work. Failure to meet or fulfill sufficient commitments must be punished and sanctioned by the international community. This is one reason the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone protection has been the most successful environmental agreement in history — it is legally binding, and has consequences for noncompliance.
A similar sanctions-and-penalty regime needs to be established for climate commitments. It is unacceptable that China and India, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia continue to ignore the need for a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. A pledge to reach “net-zero” by 2060 or 2070 is clearly insufficient, and the international community must impose consequences for such reckless disregard for the planet and all its inhabitants. First, the world should boycott Beijing’s upcoming Winter Olympics (Feb. 2022), until Beijing sets a legally binding, enforceable timeline to end its exorbitant use coal.
The failure of wealthy countries to provide the necessary financing to reduce their emissions is another problem. A decade ago, the world’s wealthy nations agreed to a $100 billion per year Green Climate Fund to support the climate adaptation and energy transition needs of developing nations. Only 1% of this amount has been actually funded. Further, the world’s most polluting governments have not invested sufficiently in their own transition to a low carbon energy economy. The clean energy spending proposed in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill would be an historic step for the U.S. (assuming it survives Republican opposition), yet even this does not address our obligation to provide our share of international climate aid.
The minimum global investment necessary this decade to save the future of our home planet — a “Living Planet Emergency Fund” — is $4 trillion per year (roughly 5% of world GDP). That’s $2 trillion domestically in the wealthiest 20 nations, and $2 trillion to fund the energy transition and adaptation needs of the other 175 nations. In comparison, the U.S. spent more than $8 trillion in two years on COVID response. The threat of climate change is much more severe. Either we fully finance the low-carbon energy transition or we will lose any chance of a living world. This is now squarely the Group of 20’s responsibility.
The Group of 20 includes the richest countries on Earth: Argentina (Australia, Brazil, Canada and China), France, Germany, Japan. India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia. South Africa, Saudi Arabia. South Korea, Turkey, United States, and the European Union. These nations together make up 60% of the world’s population, 80% global GDP, and 80% global greenhouse gas emissions. Five G20 countries account for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions: India, China, the United States, E.U. and India. G20 nations are responsible for the climate crisis. They have both a moral obligation and the financial and technological capability to solve it.
One simple source of G20 climate finance is to transfer all fossil fuel subsidies that these governments currently pay to subsidize low-carbon energy and to establish a Global Minimum Carbon tax. While last month’s G20 meeting in Rome agreed to a 15% Global Minimum Corporate Tax, it entirely ignored the more important carbon tax.
The Glasgow summit was a failure. But failure is no longer an option on this, and governments cannot simply now go home and say: “well, we tried.” As the G20 is largely responsible for the climate crisis, and has the singular ability to solve it, the G20 must now reconvene in an emergency session in early 2022, focused exclusively on solving the climate crisis once and for all.
G20 governments must at this emergency climate session adopt a legally binding deal for all members to cut emissions 50% by 2030; create a $4 trillion per annum Living Planet Emergency Fund; and establish an enforcement mechanism with penalties for noncompliance by G20 countries. The G20 must exclude fossil fuel lobbyists from the emergency G20 climate meeting. They dominated the Glasgow summit.
If the G20 resolves the three issues above — sufficient emission reduction commitments, enforcement mechanisms for noncompliance, and sufficient finance — it is still possible to hold warming to under 2°C, saving the future of humanity and our living home planet.
Rick SteinerOasis Earth Anchorage was founded by him. He was also a professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska between 1980 and 2010. He has worked on environmental issues with U.N. governments and non-governmental organizations.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Email to submit a piece. commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions of less than 200 words email@example.comOr click here to submit via any web browser. Please see our complete guidelines for commentaries and letters here.