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There’s no turning around now

There’s no turning around now

Paris (AFP) – Over a quarter century of UN climate conferences, which were tasked to save humanity from itself, one conference was deemed a chaotic failure in Copenhagen/2009 and another was a stunning success in Paris/2015. The rest were somewhere in the middle.

All these reactions were triggered by COP26 this year.

Greta Thunberg (a Swedish activist) led a 100,000-strong march through Glasgow’s streets. She called the two-week event a “greenwashing festival”.

Experts in the negotiation arena, however, praised solid, even historic, progresses in fighting the existential threat from global warming.

Observers are more likely to oscillate between approval and criticism, hope, and 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 Haiku-like economy.

The measure used to measure the effectiveness and efficacy of the measures announced at COP26 depends largely on how they are measured.

Comparable to the previous, the first ever call of 196 countries to reduce coal-fired electricity, or a promise that roughly $40 billion in financial aid will be provided each year to poor nations to help them prepare for climate impacts, is a huge step forward.

A provision also requires countries to set more ambitious targets to reduce carbon pollution each year than they do every five years.

in the 11th hour, China and the US sealed the deal at COP26
In the last hour, the US and China reached an agreement at COP26 Ben STANSALL AFP/File

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.

2021 saw a cascade of climate-enhanced fires, floods and heatwaves across four continents
2021 saw a series climate-enhanced heatwaves, floods, and fires across four continents. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS AFP/File

“But the atmosphere responds only to emissions — not COP decision — and there’s much to do to make the strong rhetoric 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 found that global warming is almost certain to surpass 1.5C within 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.

China's per capita greenhouse gas emissions now exceed Europe's
China’s per capita greenhouse gas emission now surpasses Europe’s Eléonore HUGHES AFP/File

“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.

To help vulnerable countries cope with the multiplier effect from global warming on extreme weather could soon demand trillions of dollars per annum, not the tens or billions that were presented at COP26. A draft of the report makes this clear.

Climate Justice activist Vanessa Nakate speaks during a plenary session at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference
Vanessa Nakate, a climate justice activist, speaks during a plenary session of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference Paul ELLIS AFP/File

“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 provide $100 billion per annum by 2020 to aid developing countries.

Glasgow marked the transition between implementing the provisions of the 2015 Paris Treaty and preparing the rules.

But, unlike other major COPs, climate crisis will remain front and center. This permanent breaking story will not be fading into the background any time soon.

Annual carbon emissions worldwide by type of fossil energy since 1959
Since 1959, annual carbon emissions worldwide by type fossil energy Cléa PÉCULIER AFP

The fate of this story will depend on the four largest emitters in the world, who collectively account for 60% of global carbon pollution.

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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 sectors, all countries

China and India — which together account for 38 percent and growing of global emissions in 2021 — have resisted the temptation to forgo fossil fuels.

Beijing has stubbornly refused to do the science and be under 2C.

Global capital is already flowing into what some call the largest economic transformation in human history, even if climate politics remains blocked.

Human rights activists hold placards in Lahore on November 8 during a protest in connection with the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference
During a protest against the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, human rights activists held placards in Lahore, November 8, during a demonstration Arif ALI AFP/File

Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, boasted in Glasgow that almost 500 banks, insurers, and asset managers valued $130 trillion were available to finance climate action.

Christiana Figueres was the UN climate coordinator when the Paris deal was signed. She stated, “If we only needed to transform one sector or move one nation off fossil fuels,”

“But all sectors of global economy must be decarbonised and all countries must switch over to clean technologies.”

With major investment deals for South Africa and other emerging economies like Indonesia and Vietnam, it is now clear where some of the money might flow and who might be left behind.

Private capital is not motivated to aid the poorest and most vulnerable countries to weather climate ravages or strengthen their defenses.

A flash flood caused by Tropical Storm Henri makes landfall, in Helmetta, New Jersey in August 2021
In August 2021, Tropical storm Henri brings a flash flood to Helmetta, New Jersey. Tom Brenner AFP/File

Johan Rockstrom director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, “We cannot wait for open-market incentives to have their way. We need prices on carbon worldwide, we need set science-based goals that become climate laws.”

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