Over a quarter century of UN climate conferences, all tasked to save humanity from itself, one conference was deemed a chaotic fail (Copenhagen/2009), the other a stunning success (“Paris/2015”), and the rest fell somewhere in between.
These reactions were all sparked by COP26 this past 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”.
But dedicated experts in the negotiating arena hailed solid—even historic—advances in beating back the existential threat of global warming.
Observers often oscillate between praise and criticism, hope or despair.
“The Glasgow Climate Pact has more than what we expected, but less that we hoped for,” Dann Mitchel, head of climate hazards at Britain’s Met Office, stated with Haiku-like economy.
The yardstick that was used to measure the effectiveness of the measures announced at the COP26 summit is a key factor in determining their efficacy.
Compared to what came before, the first-ever call by 196 countries to draw down coal-fired power, or a promise to double financial aid each year—to roughly $40 billion—so poor nations can brace for Climate impactsThese are great steps forward.
The provision also requires countries to set more ambitious targets to reduce their emissions. Carbon pollutionEach year rather than every five.
All these hard-won gains made at COP26 are negligible 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 in the red zone if it exceeds the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.6 degree Farenheit) 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 responds to emissions—not COP decisions—and much work remains ahead to translate the strong rhetoric here into reality.”
2021 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 heating will surpass 1.5C in a decade. Meanwhile, ocean levelsThey are increasing faster than expected, and will continue to rise for centuries.
And forests, soil and oceans—which absorb more than half of humanity’s carbon pollution—show signs of saturation.
There’s also the possibility of “tipping point” where permafrost could release large amounts of CO2 (and methane), the Amazon basin becoming savannah, ice sheets shedding enough mass so that cities and deltas can be submerged, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
“Make no mistake. We are still on the path to hell,” stated Dave Reay, head of University of Edinburgh’s Climate Change Institute.
“But Glasgow at least has an exit lane.”
Permanent breaking story
Part 2 of the IPCC report about climate impacts, which was exclusively seen by AFP before its publication in February 2022, reveals another gap between the baby steps taken at COP26 and the long-term goals.
As the draft of the report shows, helping vulnerable nations cope with the multiplier effect caused by global warming on extreme climate could soon require trillions in annual aid. Not the tens to billions being offered at COP26.
An executive summary of the 4,000-page report stated that adaptation costs were significantly higher than previously estimated. This has led to a growing “adaptation finance gap”.
It is difficult to imagine where these trillions will come, given the inability of rich countries to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries.
Glasgow marked the transition between implementing the provisions of the 2015 Paris Treaty and preparing the rules.
But, unlike the aftermath of other major conferences, the climate crisis is going to remain front-and center. This permanent breaking story will not be fading away any time soon.
How this story unfolds will depend on the fate of the four major global emitters, responsible for 60% of global carbon emissions.
The United States and European Union have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. They also recently set higher emissions reduction targets for 2030. However, 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—accounting for 38 percent of global emissions in 2021, and rising—have resisted pressure to foreswear 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.
“If only one sector could be transformed or one country moved, we would be satisfied.” fossil fuelsWe would have done that long ago,” stated Christiana Figueres (head of the UN climate convention) when the Paris deal was reached.
“But all parts of the global economy must be carbon-neutralized, and all countries have to switch to clean technologies.”
Where some of that money might flow—and who might get left out—has also come into focus, with major investment deals announced for South Africa, and others in the pipeline for emerging economies such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
Private capital is not encouraged to assist the most vulnerable and poorest countries in climate change to adapt to climate ravages and strengthen their defenses.
“We can’t wait for open market incentives to get their way. We need to set carbon prices globally, science-based targets that are achievable. ClimateJohan Rockstrom, director at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said that laws are important.
© 2021 AFP
Climate change 2021: There’s no turning around (2021, November 30,)
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