Post-COP26: Where are we going now?   Leave a comment

The graph above displays our choices for the future. Do we keep the planet within livable space for everyone or not? Since the beginning of COP 26 years ago, our paths have never been so clear. More than ever, the science can tell us what different socioeconomic-emissions paths will mean in terms of future temperature. Which will humanity choose?

What agreements were forged at COP26?

(1) CUTTING EMISSIONS: 200 countries agreed to intensify efforts to fight climate change, with a consensus to return next year with more specific and stonger plans. This was a “punt”: the most forceful acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation but also a delay in actually addressing it. My interpretation is that nations still couldn’t come to full agreement, but that they didn’t want to leave empty handed. But also that they wanted to keep up the pressure for progress.

One important note is that some countries did announce more ambitious emissions cuts — see below for a couple of examples.

(2) FUNDS FOR LESS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES. There are two efforts to address this issue. One is the $100 billion per year fund developed in the past but not yet fulfilled that aims to help less developed nations TRANSITION to renewable energy. (There’s also a $25 billion climate change adaptation fund.) A second and far more controversial idea is a “loss and damage” fund to address the impacts that wealthier countries (such as the US, Japan, and western European countries) have imposed on less developed and vulnerable countries as a result of years of emitting greenhouse gases. Vulnerable countries feel they have an ethical right to help; wealthy countries fear unlimited financial responsibility.

The final agreement states that wealthy nations should at least double TRANSITION funding by 2025 for protection of less developed nations that are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But it did not include a concrete LOSS AND DAMAGE proposal, instead calling for serious “dialog” about the issue.

Some commentators expressed disappointment but also relief that at least the “loss and damage” issue saw the light of day in the final agreement. Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, tweeted that “#COP26 was nearly a breakthrough moment for #LossAndDamage — it seemed for a brief hopeful moment, that in Glasgow, leaders might finally commit to establishing an international #LossAndDamage fund to help vulnerable countries already losing so much to the climate crisis.”

KEY: Serious emissions cuts and loss and damage are still in play. The next year will reveal much about true progress.

Want to know the responsibility of each country for historic emissions? You’ll find an awesome NYTimes graphic here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/12/climate/cop26-emissions-compensation.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article (USA = 24.6%.)

(3) US AND CHINA ANNOUNCED A JOINT AGREEMENT to accelerate their emissions cuts this decade. China committed for the first time to develop a plan to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The pact between the rivals, which are the world’s two biggest polluters, surprised delegates to the summit. The agreement was short on specifics and while China agreed to “phase down” coal starting in 2026, it did not specify by how much or over what period of time. Here are more details at the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/climate/climate-cop26-glasgow.html?name=styln-cop26&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=Article&variant=show&is_new=false

(4) CUTTING METHANE EMISSIONS. 103 countries, representing 70% of the global economy agreed to cutting methane emissions: “Countries joining the Global Methane Pledge commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions, with a particular focus on high emission sources.” Here’s the pledge: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_21_5766

Cutting methane emissions is crucial because the gas is much more potent at trapping heat than CO2 (although it clears out of the atmosphere much faster). If implemented, the accord would reduce future heating by an estimated 0.2 degrees C.

(5) ELIMINATING DEFORESTATION. 101 countries, representing 91% of forestland on Earth agreed to the following: “We therefore commit to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.” from the declaration, the full language of which can be found at https://ukcop26.org/glasgow-leaders-declaration-on-forests-and-land-use/.

Here’s the first couple of paragraphs of the accord:

This agreement was cheered, of course. But skepticism remains about its implementation. A similar agreement in 2014 has made little agreement since then. I did see many new initiatives, some large scale (e.g., LEAF), that might make a difference this time. Let’s hope so. On a related theme, one of the most hopeful signs at COP26 was the recognition, backed up by lots of recent research, that indigenous peoples across the world manage their land, as they have for millennia, in more sustainable ways than the rest of the world. Indigenous people were a force at COP26, and they stated clearly that they attended not to ask for help but instead to offer help. Obviously, the world needs their help.

(6) INDIA INCREASES ITS AMBITION in cutting emissions by pledging to reach “net zero” (combination of emissions cuts and nature-based solutions) by 2070 and to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy (up to 50%) by 2030. Here’s some insight into what this might mean: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03044-x

I’m now going to tally up the positives and negatives, using my own scorecard.

POSITIVES

(A) In the end, a durable solution must come from agreements among countries. By the end of the conference, countries were still talking, and the final agreement reflected an elevated seriousness, a clear recognition of the stakes.

(B) Less developed and more vulnerable nations were more forceful (and angrier) than ever, and the final agreement at least raised the issue of “loss and damage” for the first time.

(C) There was more authentic attention to indigenous groups and youth, and both were forceful agents at COP26.

(D) The joint announcement by the US and China surprised many and indicated that these two powerful countries have great incentive to work together.

(E) The India announcement was also a good surprise, indicating new seriousness on the part of that country.

(F) If implemented, both the methane and deforestation agreements would have very positive impacts. These were important accords, although the methane accord should have gone beyond 30%.

(G) Activism and protest was alive and well (over 100,000 in Glasgow), despite COVID and cold drizzly weather.

(H) Phasing out (“down” is the word used I think…hmm) fossil fuels was explicitly mentioned for the first time at COP.

(I) There was important progress on making carbon offset trading more transparent. It will be harder now for countries to game the system.

(J) The final agreement about cutting emissions and higher contributions to more ambitious countries kept on life support emissions cuts and support to keep warming under 1.5 degrees C…maybe.

THREE BIG NEGATIVES

(A) NOT ENOUGH EMISSIONS CUTS. Recall that climate science has progressed so far that we now can, with some certainly, estimate the climate warming effects of specific amounts of future emissions. So, what has COP26 contributed toward abating climate warming?

“The Climate Action Tracker is an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of “holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.” If you want unvarnished views about the climate, check them out at https://climateactiontracker.org. Here’s one of their graphics below. Their calculation is that (purple box) is that with current emissions cuts pledges for 2030, the planet will warm 2.4 deg C by 2100. But notice that their optimistic scenario (light blue) could keep up below 2 deg C — above our target of 1.5 but well below some nightmare scenarios.

In other words, COP26 did not come close to the central goal of producing agreements that will limit warming to 1.5 deg. In fact, we’re on track to 2.4 deg, unless countries forge much more ambitious plans by next year.

(B) NOTE ENOUGH DETAILS. The agreements contain few details about commitments, schedules, or mechanisms for achieving the proposals. So, lots of words, few actions.

(C) NO MANDATES. A long-standing issues is that the accords generally have no clear mechanisms for mandating that countries carry out their promises. World pressure and ethical considerations have to drive most of the agreements. So, lots of promises, but no guarantee that countries will honor them.

And so, in summary, we must wait until a year from now to know whether countries will promise to make the necessary cuts in emissions to prevent the planet from warming over 1.5 or even 2 deg C. And we must wait for details on the agreements that were made. And we must hope that countries will honor their promises.

I recently zoomed with the Sustainable Campus Coalition at the University of Maine at Farmington to describe the COP26 proceedings. An SCC member, Cynthia Stancioff, remarked that we couldn’t count on politicians to change the world and that it was now up to the people. I replied that we could not succeed unless countries came to an agreement that would lead to such success.

I think I was wrong. In an opinion piece in the Manchester Guardian, Bill McKibben said the same thing as Cynthia — that in fact it WAS up to the people to force politicians, through protest and pressure, to make the right choices ((https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/12/its-a-fairytale-that-world-governments-will-fix-our-climate-crisis-its-up-to-us) ). He wrote, “Unless we push hard, powerful interests don’t budge.” So, yes, it is up to the people.

Posted November 15, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

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