By Lawrence Lu & J Robert Gibson
There was a stark contrast between the moody atmosphere and near-tears as conference president Alok Sharma quietly tap the gavel to accept the Glasgow Climate Pact and the joy when it came down to approve 2015 Paris Agreement.
Scientists have long argued that the global temperature rise must be kept well below 1.5°C by mid-century to avoid the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, including extreme heat and storm surges. They have called on countries to set an interim goal of reducing their emissions by 50% by 2030.
Glasgow and the process that led up to it failed to secure a commitment for the phasing out of coal. It also failed in its efforts to secure funding for low-income nations, as per the Copenhagen 2009 agreement. It leaves humanity on a pathway to significantly exceed 1.5°C, with the near-certainty of triggering the disastrous release of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic and the near-certainty of rapid sea-level rise from the melting West Antarctic ice-cap.
It will be difficult to live in countries near the Equator due to the high temperatures. This air-conditioning will also make it more difficult for people to breathe. Rising sea levels will reduce food production in river deltas such as the Mekong. There will be millions more refugees.
India, which contributed to watering down the pledge on coal from “phase out” to “phase down,” will suffer some of the worst consequences of global warming.
Weakening the language regarding the phase-out fossil fuels, particularly coal, is not consistent with the 1.5 degree increase scientists have stated we must not exceed in order to keep our planet within its limits. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change mechanism does not have a methodology for measuring the phase-down. This is a problem with the new language.
It is important to recognize that COP26 did not provide a safe path.
It did make progress in several areas. It affirmed the importance and inclusiveness of global collective action to address the climate crisis. It also acknowledged the important role played in the lives of civil society, indigenous communities, youth, and other stakeholders. The key highlights of this document are:
- Reduced coal use and elimination of fossil fuel subsidies
- In agreement with the Paris rulebook, Article 6 mechanisms were added to international carbon markets to support global collaboration on emission reductions.
- Agreeing to review the 2030 Nationally Determined contribution at COP27 in Egypt next years. In 2025, we will also revisit the 2035 targets set by the COP.
- Supporting the creation global standards for companies that will report on how they will align themselves with net zero.
- To increase support for developing countries parties beyond the US$100billion promised to support the Paris Agreement goals.
- Doubling funding for adaptation to at least US$40billion by 2025
- Establishing a dialogue about loss and damage funding, and deploying new technical assistance in loss and damage.
- Reaffirming the importance of support for a just transition.
We cannot forget that COP26 did not provide a safe path. All countries must now increase their Nationally Determined Contributions. The higher-income countries need to increase their funding for low-income nations next year.
In addition, countries that are working towards net zero should take more action because they have not been able to reach sufficient global agreement. To help Europe transition to net zero, Europe will introduce its Carbon Border Adjustment Method. It could also include directing funds for low-income nations to countries more willing to strive for net zero by 2050.
Good news is available despite the ongoing negotiations. There has been a huge improvement in the capability of Earth Observation satellites, which continuously report on the sources and emissions of the three major greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide methane and nitrousoxid). By 2025, they will have additional satellites providing this information at a grid of two kilometers for carbon dioxide and methane. It will be easy to see which countries are cooking the planet.
The Hong Kong government should set a 2030 emission reduction target and accelerate implementation for its 2050 Climate Action Plan before COP27. In particular:
- Take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of electricity supply.
- Make buildings more efficient. For all such campaigns in the last 10 years there was a 21.4 percent increase in energy consumption in Hong Kong’s commercial and residential buildings between 2005 and 2019. How, given Hong Kong’s continued growth will this increase be changed to the 15-20 per cent decrease by 2035 committed to in the 2050 Climate Action Plan? We need to be more transparent, rigourous and urgent.
- Action is also needed to curb Hong Kong’s ever- increasing number of private cars. These cars not only consume more resources than public transport but also cause congestion that wastes untold quantities of time.
- Hong Kong should also help its low-income neighbours to decarbonize. The government should allocate funding to mechanisms which enable Hong Kong’s finance centre to make a much more substantial contribution to this task.
- All of these actions must be tailored to ensure a fair transition for those whose lives are affected by the changes.
Hong Kong must also revise its adaptation plans in order to account for the significant, long-term sea level rise that is now possible.
There is so much more to do. It is urgent that we take action.
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