Broken promises, energy shortages and covid-19 will hamper COP26

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THEAST-MINUTE CALLS are frequent in the weeks preceding COP, the UNannual climate summit. Green groups urge world leaders to pledge bold action. Poor countries ask the rich for money. Ahead of this year’s event, which begins in Glasgow on October 31, a group representing indigenous peoples is asking for donations of jackets, rubber boots and raincoats. He notes that the Amazonian natives who plan to participate “have not experienced a climate like a Scottish winter”.

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This year’s peak is COP26 — the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. These are the most important climate talks since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed. This is largely because of what countries have promised they will do at this point. All countries are said to have announced new, tough emission reduction targets. Rich countries are supposed to help poor people finance green programs. On both fronts, the world is cut short. The debates in Glasgow can be cold indeed.

The Paris agreement has been adopted by the vast majority of countries. They promised to try to keep the increase in the average Earth’s surface temperature “well below” 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally no more than 1.5 ° C. In terms of the negative impact of global warming, the gap between these two objectives is large. But temperatures have already risen by 1.1-1.3 ° C since the invention of the steam engine. Limiting heating to 1.5 ° C is therefore a colossal task. To have a good chance of doing this, the world must reduce its net carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 and reduce them to zero by the middle of this century.

The Paris agreement did not require such cuts, and it could not have done so. Instead, countries committed to implementing emission reduction strategies known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The NDCs brought to the table in Paris did not correspond to the noble objectives of the agreement. They put the world on track to be about 3 ° C above the pre-industrial benchmark by 2100. But the treaty required that every five years all parties improve their game with new, more ambitious plans. . NDCs. The Glasgow conference (which takes place a year later than planned, due to covid-19) is the deadline for the first round of enhanced commitments.

Governments started announcing new commitments last year. Rich countries have been more ambitious than poor countries. The European Union (EU) promises that by the end of the decade it will have reduced its emissions by 55% from 1990 levels. It had previously only promised a 40% cut. America says that by 2030 it will have reduced its emissions by 50-52% from 2005 levels. It had previously only proposed a reduction of 26-28% by 2025. These two parties account for 23% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Lots of hot air

Australia is an outlier among rich countries. Original sound NDC was not particularly ambitious. His new is not either. Meanwhile, many emerging economies have set lax targets. Russia and Indonesia promise no further efforts. Using creative carbon accounting, Mexico and Brazil have developed new strategies that are less ambitious than their initial plans.

India, responsible for 7% of carbon dioxide emissions, has yet to release a new climate strategy. China either, which represents 28%. Last year he said he planned to reach his peak emissions “before” 2030, having only previously said that he would reach that milestone “around” this time. Many would like this date to move forward, but Greenpeace’s Li Shuo believes it probably won’t happen soon. He says there is a better chance that China will step up its commitment by declaring an absolute number above which its annual emissions will not increase.

Taken together, the new targets are disappointing. Pledges made by the middle of this year give a 50% chance of keeping warming below 2.1 ° C but only a 5% chance of keeping it below 1.5 ° C, according to the agency international energy (OUCH), a forecaster (see graph). And this assumes that all commitments are honored, which is far from guaranteed.

As a result of these lackluster announcements, there is a funding failure for developing countries. In 2009, rich countries pledged that by 2020 they would provide the poor with $ 100 billion in climate finance each year. Roughly equal amounts were to be spent on adaptation and emission reductions. The figure is a fraction of the annual investment of $ 2 billion that the OUCH believes that developing countries need. But the pledge is meant to signal the willingness of richer countries to make sacrifices for the good of the planet.

In 2019, only $ 80 billion was provided, according to the OECD, a club of rich countries. Perhaps a last-minute boost this year could see the total surpass $ 100 billion ahead of the conference. But poor countries are upset. The original deadline was 2020 – when, due to the pandemic, the total was probably even lower than in 2019. And only about 25% of the money is funding ways to adapt to climate change, instead of 50% promised.

All of these disappointments will wring your hands at the top. Rich countries can reaffirm their willingness to lend. They may offer a figure aggregated over several years, such as $ 500 billion between 2020 and 2025. But no country is likely to quickly adjust its new NDC. Their design requires months of work and coordination between ministries.

Instead, progress in Glasgow will likely have to come from agreements reached in closer debates, the results of which will help countries implement their existing climate strategies and make them more likely to increase their ambitions in the future. . One of the tasks is to agree on the rules of international carbon markets, such as what double counting means when it comes to carbon credits.

A second debate focuses on “loss and damage”, that is, to what extent countries that will suffer the most from climate change should be compensated. The subject is taboo among rich countries. In Paris, they eventually allowed the concept to be mentioned in the deal, but resisted language that might actually lead to something. Poor countries hope to put it at the top of the agenda and lay the foundations for more concrete discussions in the future.

Third, there is the effort to get governments to sign sector-level commitments, such as stopping coal combustion, banning the sale of internal combustion engines, and stopping deforestation. The Global Methane Pledge, a promising new deal, calls for reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Its backers are America and the United States. EU. Measured over 20 years, a tonne of methane causes 86 times greater warming than a tonne of carbon dioxide, but the gas is naturally removed from the atmosphere much faster than CO2. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition, made up of governments and lobby groups, says halving human-made methane emissions by 2050 could lower temperatures by around 0.2 ° C.

The fourth topic is what Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute, a think tank, calls “keeping 1.5 ° C alive.” Environmental groups and some governments want countries to recognize that the world is failing to slow global warming and explicitly state that they want to keep the increase below 1.5 ° C. China and India declined to support a statement similar to the g20 summit in July. They believe that if temperature targets are revised, so should climate finance targets.

A global energy shortage provides an unfortunate backdrop to the discussions. In Asia, coal shortages are forcing factories to cut production. European gas and electricity prices have gone crazy. Governments are watching Joe Biden trying to get legislation containing support for clean energy companies through Congress. The quarrels are a reminder of the difficulties democratic countries face when seeking to implement major climate reforms.

Covid-19 has increased the costs and risks of bringing negotiators to the top. Poor countries in particular can send less than usual. Even in normal times, they are at a disadvantage compared to wealthy places, which can send hordes of technocrats. The fact that many rich countries appear to have passed the worst of the pandemic, while the poor are still struggling there, will only reinforce these inequalities.

Neighborhood celebrations

All of this could deepen the usual factionalism. The delegations present at COP generally form three blocks. Poor countries ask the rich for more ambition and more money. The rich countries are trying to convince the emerging countries, which take the lion’s share of the growth in emissions, to pollute less. And emerging economies are trying to tell rich countries that they are in fact part of the poor and vulnerable group, while also reminding rich countries that they got to where they are today by polluting.

Yet there are signs that these old alliances are loosening. Emerging economies have fewer excuses for inaction than they did when Donald Trump was in the White House, says Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation, a lobby group (Mr. Trump has withdrawn America of the Paris Agreement; it acceded to it in February). Some, like South Africa, are getting more ambitious. In September, China said it would no longer fund new coal-fired power plants outside its borders. Natural disasters in rich countries, such as the floods in Germany that killed nearly 200 people, can bring a new sense of urgency.

Any progress made at COP26 is likely to be gradual, not a “big leap” of the kind that John Kerry, the US climate envoy, has promised. This will enrage the grassroots activists. And that hardly matches the scale of the challenge. In two years, a “global stocktake” planned under the Paris agreement will examine the extent to which governments are implementing their climate plans. If their most recent climate promises are any indication, the inventory could reveal a rather bare closet.

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This article appeared in the international section of the print edition under the title “Passionate Debates”


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