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Not seeing the wood for the burning trees at COP26.

image credit: Burning Woods by Alex van der Linde
Paul Hobcraft's picture
Innovation Knowledge Provider Agility Innovation

I work as a transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, within IIoT, and the energy system as my points of focus. I relate content to context to give greater knowledge and build the...

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  • Nov 17, 2021
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We have just finished the most critical COP  meeting in Glasgow. It was the eleventh hour. For two weeks, nearly two hundred countries entered into discussions, finally agreeing on the "Glasgow Climate Pact" to keep the 1.5 degrees C target alive and finalize the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement.

The President of the proceedings, COP26 President Alok Sharma, commented, "its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action."

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"Keep 1.5 alive" has been a rallying cry for diplomats and activists alike at the COP26 negotiations. The phrase refers to the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

1.5 degrees Celsius is seen as the threshold beyond which the effects of climate change become increasingly dangerous to people and ecosystems. But scientists warn that time is running out for humanity to take the transformative steps to achieve the 1.5 goals. And according to multiple estimates, the deal negotiated in Glasgow does not bend the curve enough to get there.

All countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in 2022. This will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leaders summit in 2023.

Some 151 countries had responded by submitting new or updated "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs) to the U.N. – including China, just days before COP26 started.

While the new pledges had increased ambition – shaving some 0.2C off warming if fully implemented – the UNEP "gap report" just before COP26 had once again exposed the gulf that remains if the world is to stay below 1.5C. (See: Do new climate pledges "keep 1.5C alive"?)

As we were coming into the talks, the UK COP26 presidency had set high expectations, calling for the summit to "keep 1.5C alive", focusing on action.

Do new climate pledges 'keep 1.5C alive'?

According to CarbonBrief.Org, COP26 saw a flurry of new assessments on what existing, and newly updated promises mean for limiting global warming to the Paris Agreement's aspirational goal of 1.5C.

Carbon Brief took a deep dive into the latest numbers, looking at what they refer to, where different groups agree and disagree on likely outcomes and the potential impact of new long-term net-zero promises.

Current policies in place today will lead to the best estimate of around 2.4C to 2.7C warming by 2100 (with an uncertainty range of around 2C-3.6C).  If countries meet both conditional and unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for the near-term target of 2030, projected warming by 2100 falls to 2.4C (1.8C-3.3C).

So, if countries meet their long-term net-zero promises, global warming would be reduced to around 1.8C (1.4C-2.6C) by 2100. However, temperatures would likely peak around 1.9C in the middle of the century before declining.

One of the key achievements of this summit is speeding up the timeline for climate action. Countries are asked to come back in a year with more ambitious plans for cutting emissions. Under the Paris agreement, countries were generally supposed to submit new or updated plans every five years. Though a flurry of net-zero pledges was announced in the lead-up to COP26, in many of those cases, countries have not planned for significant emissions cuts in the next decade.

The worrying aspect of this COP26 meeting is that each country goes into these negotiations for its own position. It is 'hoped' that over the two weeks to form a growing consensus and recognition of positions to then be embodied in the final agreement.

So much time is lost in establishing and explaining conditions. Then the inevitable happens, positions become 'dug in' and somehow, somewhere at some time, these delegates lose the "greater plot" for their own ambitions. Certainly understandable if they are to lose their way of life, even their very island, lost under rising water or forced by a rapidly drying land to migrate because they are incapable of making that basic living.

The issue of Mitigation

"Mitigation" is what countries need to do to reduce climate change, particularly by minimizing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Getting countries to curb emissions is a central aim of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — but even the United Nations acknowledges that current pledges are far too meagre.

The final Glasgow climate pact failed, in my opinion, on 2030

Recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and net-zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases;

Recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5°C compared with 2°C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C;

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C may seem small, but they represent vastly different levels of effort for countries seeking to limit their carbon footprints and strikingly divergent outcomes for the planet. This year's landmark IPCC report concluded that "every additional 0.5°C of global warming causes discernible increases in the intensity and frequency" of heatwaves, heavy rain and droughts.

U.N. climate talks from COP26 are now planning in the rearview; it's clear that net-zero commitments are rising, but the net-zero equation is not yet solved, and the URGENCY of what we do between now and 2030 is equally not addressed.

COP once again failed to provide vulnerable nations with the money to rebuild and respond to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

For me, the energy transition continues to unfold, but at a pace that is totally at odds with the crisis we are in.

The CoP 26 in Glasgow might have begun to build the scaffold to support the planet and its need, the problem was and is this crumbling facade.

We have underneath the rapidly deteriorating condition of the ecosystem hidden under this facade; one, our planet needs so much more in the urgency of time, money, support, and collaboration.

Yes, CoP 26 was an evident disappointment for me but let's take the steps made and turn these into bigger, more urgent ones that bring the world's nations together in recognizing this really is a climate emergency.

This did not cheer me up at all; I remained gloomy!

In an article by David Roberts in Canary Media, "Don't buy into the gloomy COP26 rhetoric."

"What people seem to forget is that the UNFCCC has no real power to enforce anything, and there isn't the level of unity needed among participating countries to create a binding target with real consequences.

This was the origin of the Paris Agreement: the realization that the best the UNFCCC could do is structure and publicize voluntary national goals and commitments. The idea was to do with transparency and peer pressure what decades of adversarial negotiations couldn't: steadily increase ambition.

A shorter way of saying this is that a COP agreement can't make a country do anything."

The most sobering remark in this article was, "But it is a mistake to invest any particular hopes for change in the UNFCCC process — it can't really do anything. It can only illuminate what is being done."

As David remarks, "If every country that has submitted a 2030 carbon target in the Paris process — an NDC, or nationally determined contribution — hits that target, average warming will be 2.4°C." And these are all voluntary.

Does that cheer me up? Not at all!

 

**Credited here for selected passages above from the Washington Post in their "The Glasgow climate pact, annotated".  This outlines the CoP Glasgow full agreement and provides explanations that I have used in this post to give a level of brevity to a complex subject.

 

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Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Nov 17, 2021

Giving a stage for politicians to present policies and promises must be hard to endure. But I did learn some hopeful information from another review in the "Science and Innovation" section:

https://theconversation.com/cop26-experts-react-to-the-un-climate-summit...

 

Apparently, The Netherlands and India are cooperating on "bio-refinery" technology. A fun web site explaining some of India's biomass issues is here:

https://nl-works.nl/cms/view/aa5a540e-59d6-4695-9fe0-4568b1d72ae1/biomas...

 

Of course The Netherlands is climate ocean level vulnerable and home to Shell Oil, and India has a great interest in agriculture. There are an enormous number of web sites around regarding DuPont in Iowa, cellulosic ethanol, etc.

 

Perhaps the political class is disappointed the world is skeptical that windmills and solar panels can power the global economy.

Paul Hobcraft's picture
Paul Hobcraft on Nov 18, 2021

Having individual initiatives are great for the "giver and receiver" but we need a totally collaborative environment. India will live in my memory from the COP26 as the ones to make a last-minute intervention and change, threatening all the work at COP26 and forcing acceptance. Then the Minister arrives home and faces a "toxic" environment https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/18/world/asia/india-new-delhi-pollution.... with the Indian Ministers pointing fingers at one another.. Of course, nothing to do with Coal- "phase down or phase out?"

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