Paris (AFP) – Over a quarter century of UN climate conference tasked to save humanity, one was deemed a chaotic fail (Copenhagen/2009), the other a stunning success (“Paris/2015”), and the rest landed somewhere 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 often oscillate between praise and criticism, hope or 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 yardstick that was used to measure the effectiveness of the measures announced at the COP26 summit is a key factor in determining their efficacy.
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.
All the hard-won gains from COP26 become meaningless when compared with 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 (2.7 degree Fahrenheit) heating limit set forth in the Paris Agreement.
Alden Meyer, a senior analyst at E3G’s climate and energy think tank, said, “As an optimist who has lived my whole life, I see the Glasgow outcome to be half-full rather that half-empty.”
“But the atmosphere responds only to emissions — not COP decision — and there’s much to do to make the strong rhetoric into 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. Currently, the oceans are rising faster than expected and will continue to rise for centuries.
Saturation is also evident in forests, soils, and oceans which absorb more carbon pollution than half of the human population.
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 has at the very least created an exit lane.”
Permanent breaking story
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.
A draft version of the report reveals that in order to help vulnerable nations deal with the multiplier effect global heating has on extreme weather, it will soon take trillions of dollars per annum, not the tens or billions on the table 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 provisions of Paris’ 2015 treaty to fleshing out its rules.
But, unlike other major COPs, climate crisis will not fade into the background.
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 of America and the European Union have both committed to carbon neutrality before 2050, and have recently set ambitious emission-reduction targets in 2030.
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, 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 stubbornly refused to do the science and be under 2C.
Climate politics may remain in limbo, but global capital is already flowing to what some call 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, the UN climate convention’s head, stated that “if we only had to transform a single sector or move one country off fossil-fuels, we would do so long ago.”
“But all parts of the global economy must be carbon-neutralized, and all countries have to switch to clean technologies.”
It is now important to consider where the money might flow, and who might be affected. There have been major investment deals in South Africa, as well as others in the pipeline for emerging countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.
Private capital is not motivated to aid the poorest and most vulnerable countries in their efforts to combat climate change and 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.”
© 2021 AFP