This week’s parade of announcements from world leaders, financial figures and climate diplomats at the COP26 summit culminated in a parade of protesters over the weekend in Glasgow, Scotland. The message from the thousands of people carrying banners around the meeting venue is one that most insiders would agree with: progress is not yet enough to prevent catastrophe.
It is the stark reality of the climate fight. As governments, companies and money managers increase their ambitions to reduce emissions, even taken at face value and with maximum follow-up, the promises made at COP26 do not add up to temperatures that remain for below the 1.5 ° C rise enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
“Keeping 1.5 Alive” has been an unofficial slogan of this year’s climate talks. It appears to be an item on the checklist that will not be met. That does not mean that there has not been some progress. Let’s do a quick recap of what has been accomplished as the climate summit heads into its second and final week.
Stronger national targets will curb carbon
As part of the Paris Agreement, countries agreed in 2015 to make higher commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions every five years. This “acceleration” mechanism made it possible for all nations to address global warming at the pace that seemed feasible in light of national policy and economic development.
The new national commitments made at COP26 showed progress. Analysis by the Energy Transition Commission in the middle of the summit estimates that commitments made by countries during and before the conference could reduce annual emissions by 9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year by 2030. That it still leaves around 13 billion tonnes a year that would have to be further reduced to keep the world aligned for a 1.5 ° C warming.
A large group moves against methane
For the first time, the Group of 20 agreed that methane emissions contribute significantly to global warming and recognized the need for reductions. At COP26, more than 100 countries signed up to the Global Methane Pledge aimed at cuts of 30% by 2030.
However, the pact was not signed by some of the world’s largest methane emitters, including Russia, China and India. It was also a collective goal, meaning that not all countries would be needed to meet the 30% cut, allowing some to sign up without doing much.
And in any case, the target itself is weaker than necessary. The United Nations Environment Program Global Methane Assessment found that a 45% reduction in methane emissions would be needed by 2030 to be on track towards the 1.5 ° C goal.
A triumph of the trees
The promise of the forest turned out to be more popular. Countries that are home to the world’s largest forests, such as Brazil, Russia and Canada, have committed to halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030. In total, countries with 85% of the world’s forests The world agreed to the goal and some $ 19 billion of funds were pledged for it.
But as is typical of the big global commitments that set the agenda, small disputes arose. Indonesia entered the controversy by saying that it was not entirely on board with “ending deforestation by 2030.” Instead, he promised to keep the forest cover stable, which means that all the trees cut down will be replaced.
More than two dozen countries also committed to more sustainable agricultural practices. Emissions from this sector are notoriously difficult to measure and even more difficult to reduce. Ten new nations, including India, joined a global commitment to protect 30% of the oceans in their territories by 2030, bringing the list of countries backing the commitment to more than 100.
Disappointment over the anti-carbon agenda
COP26 President Alok Sharma set the summit’s goal to “consign coal to history.” The dirtiest fuel still accounts for the majority of global emissions. Pledges to phase out coal did not get the kind of boost that had been sought, and failed to get two dozen countries to back it up. Big victories included Vietnam, Chile, and South Korea. The United States and China refused to join.
Complaints about the promise came shortly after. Indonesia said that any phase-out of coal-fired power plants before their contractual end date will only happen if it can access the proper financing mechanism. Poland argued that it should be treated as a developing country and allowed to phase out coal in 2040 and not 2030.
Climate finance gets a boost from the private sector
Among UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s priorities for COP26 was obtaining more cash to help accelerate the global energy transition. By entering the talks, developed countries had for years failed to secure the $ 100 billion annually promised by rich nations.
While public funding is seen as crucial to unlocking much larger private sums, there were positive signs at the summit that private money may be preparing to move on its own. Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney led the formation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, which brought together asset managers from around the world with $ 130 trillion under management to accept the goal of zero emissions. by 2050. Big questions remain about how commitments can be measured and controlled.
(Michael R. Bloomberg, owner and founder of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News, is co-chair of GFANZ.)
Unfinished business for carbon trading
In the second week, negotiators will get serious about creating an international carbon market. If there is an agreement on the details of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, the market could allow countries and companies to exchange carbon offsets. That could unlock up to $ 1 trillion in financing for developing countries, according to the International Emissions Trading Association.
Negotiations on this sensitive issue have failed at previous COPs. This year could be different, in part because Brazil has softened its stance on some of the pending issues. But tensions are high in recent days, with the United States and the European Union lining up on clauses that could make a global consensus difficult.
So where are things at the end of the first week at COP26? The International Energy Agency found that if all national promises of net zero were kept, including India’s surprise move by 2070, the world could be well on track to keep warming below 1.8 ° C. That’s 0, 3 ° C lower than the IEA pledge assessment published in October, but also 0.3 ° C higher than the overall Paris Agreement target.
Perhaps the best summary of the talks so far comes from the prime minister who acts as host and occasionally channels climate activist Greta Thunberg: “All those promises will be nothing more than blah, blah, blah,” Johnson warned in her speech. opening on November 1. That is, of course, unless the goals that have emerged from the talks become reality later.
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