GLASGOW — After two weeks of lofty speeches and bitter negotiations between nearly 200 countries, whether the world will make significant progress to slow global warming still boils down to the actions of a handful of powerful countries that continue to disagree over the best way to slow down global warming. tackling climate change.
The United Nations global conference on climate change concluded on Saturday with a hard-won agreement that calls on countries to return next year with stricter emissions reduction targets and promises to double the money available to help countries deal with the effects of global warming. It also names by name — for the first time in a quarter of a century of global climate negotiations — the leading cause of climate change: fossil fuels.
But it has failed to help the world avert the worst effects of climate change. Even if countries deliver on all the emissions promises they’ve made, they’re still putting the world on a dangerous path to a planet that will be about 2.4 degrees Celsius warmer by the year 2100 than it was in pre-industrial times.
That misses the target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, which scientists say is necessary to avert the worst effects of warming. And it is the basis for worsening storms, wildfires, droughts and sea level rise, as well as for the social and economic unrest that would accompany an ever-widening climate crisis.
A relatively handful of political leaders around the world — in capitals like Washington, Beijing and New Delhi — have a lot of influence on whether those promises are kept and whether the arc of warming can be sufficiently averted from disaster. But they face a complex combination of pressures: industry interests standing in the way of regulation, demands from developing countries for money to help them move away from fossil fuels, and an increasingly loud movement among citizens to reduce emissions. to curb faster and deliver what they call climate justice.
Chief among the leaders facing such pressure is President Biden, who is pursuing one of the largest climate law efforts ever attempted in the United States, but has not only encountered heavy opposition from Republicans, but also of key senators within his own party.
At the same time, will Xi Jinping in China – recently elevated to the pantheon of Communist Party leaders alongside Mao Zedong – be able or willing to corral provincial leaders to reduce their use of the coal that has fueled China’s economic rise? Can Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose representatives toned down the language of the final coal deal at 11 a.m. on Saturday, deliver on his promise to increase renewables fivefold by 2030? Will Brazil keep its promise to work with other countries to reverse deforestation in the Amazon?
The pledges have kept the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees “within reach – but the pulse is weak,” said Alok Sharma, the British politician who chaired the summit. “And it will only survive if we keep our promises, if we translate commitments into swift action.”
The test of quick action includes what his own government is doing.
Britain, the birthplace of the industrial revolution and one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases warming the planet, has said it plans to cut its emissions by 68 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
But Britain has also been criticized for building new roads and airports – both potential sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which are one of the main causes of global warming – and for continuing to extract oil and gas in the North Sea. . Mikaela Loach, a young Brit who has sued the British government over an oil and gas project there, reacted to the outcome of the summit on Twitter by dubbing it “#CopOut26.”
“We cannot wait for governments to make the right decisions,” she wrote. “WE all need to be part of movements. WE must take action to end the era of fossil fuels.”
Also this weekend, Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist, criticized the United States for its sale of offshore oil lease contracts.
Courts have already begun to weigh in. Citizens in Germany, Pakistan and the Netherlands have filed a lawsuit to force their governments to take stronger action against climate change. In the United States, a nonprofit environmental law organization has sued the government on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs.
And in the first climate case against a private company, earlier this year, a local Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s largest oil companies, to cut emissions from all of its global operations. The company is appealing the lawsuit.
For businesses, the biggest impact of the Glasgow climate meeting is likely to come from a deal announced on the sidelines: a coalition of the world’s largest investors, banks and insurers collectively managing $130 trillion in assets, committed to that capital. to achieve “net-zero” emissions targets in their investments by 2050. That push would make climate change mitigation a central focus of many major financial decisions.
But lawmakers are likely to face industry pressure as they write new regulations that define net zero investment.
Success or failure could ultimately depend a lot on what government regulators come up with, said Simon Stiell, the environment minister for Grenada, a Caribbean island particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. “I expect there will be a significant lag between those commitments and the point where you have carrots and then you have the stick,” he said. “That piece is not part of the discussions that have taken place.”
Furthermore, the consequences of the Glasgow summit for private companies are less clear. In Europe, many companies have already adapted their business models for the next decade to accommodate the new European Union laws unveiled last summer ahead of the summit, including high carbon taxes that will apply to an ever-expanding number of industries.
5 takeaways from the COP26 climate summit
1. The time for action is running out. The important agreement reached by diplomats created a clear consensus that all countries must do much more immediately to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.
For example, Airbus is developing technology for hydrogen-powered aircraft. The European car industry is doubling down on the shift to electric vehicles, even if many carmakers have not joined a pledge made in Glasgow to phase out the sale of petrol cars. Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the largest steel producer outside of China, says it aims to reduce the company’s “carbon emission intensity” in Europe by 35 percent by 2030. This is partly due to high carbon taxes.
However, oil and gas companies are still a long way from their core business, even if it is the burning of fossil fuels that creates the carbon dioxide that is warming the world. The leaders of these companies say they need their fossil fuel revenues to fund investments in alternative energy, especially at a time when oil and gas prices are skyrocketing. “We’re an ATM at these kinds of prices,” BP CEO Bernard Looney said during a conversation with analysts this month.
European and US oil and gas companies could potentially benefit from one controversial paragraph in the summit’s document. It calls for a “phasing out” of coal, but says nothing about cutting oil and gas production. As coal declines, liquefied natural gas producers, a competitor to coal in electricity generation, can conquer new markets.
Some of the promises made in Glasgow could test a wide range of industries. For example, a landmark agreement to cut deforestation in half by 2030 would inevitably impact a range of companies using products related to deforestation, such as palm oil and timber. “Almost every sector of our economy is part of the crime of deforestation,” said Mindy Lubber, head of Ceres, a nonprofit that works with businesses and investors to address their environmental impacts.
Some scientists saw the results of the Glasgow summit as a call for further scientific action.
Maisa Rojas, a climate modeler at the University of Chile, said researchers need to better quantify the effects of climate change on vulnerable people and communities. That will help address an issue that was one of the most bitter discussions in Glasgow – “loss and damage”, or the question of what is owed to people who have barely contributed to global warming, but are most affected by it. harmed.
“We need a systematic understanding and monitoring of what’s going on,” says Dr. Rojas, director of the university’s Center for Climate and Resilience Research.
One of the most important issues that high-risk countries like Grenada want to raise in the coming months is the financing of loss and damage. These countries did not win their battle in Glasgow, but instead only received a commitment from rich countries to have a “dialogue” on the compensation issue in the future.
Mr Stiell argued that simply providing emergency aid, as some countries, including the United States, have suggested is insufficient. Financing loss and damage is also needed for the slow depletion of land due to sea level rise and for agricultural losses due to prolonged droughts. “There must be results that go beyond dialogue,” he said.
Many of the youth activists protesting outside the talks said the pledges didn’t go nearly far enough to address a problem they already live with. Mitzi Jonelle Tan, an activist from the Philippines who joined tens of thousands of activists on the streets of Glasgow to protest for “climate justice,” said the outcome felt like “a stab in the back to those who call themselves leaders.”
“But the youth climate movement will continue to fight,” she said, “even if we are angry, sad or scared, because this is everything for our generation.”
Liz Alderman, Winston Choi-Schagrin, Henry Fountain and Stanley Reed reported.