COP26 news: US-China climate pact is important but largely symbolic – Community News
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COP26 news: US-China climate pact is important but largely symbolic

Mandatory Mention: Photo by Alberto Pezzali/AP/Shutterstock (12596765ds) John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate speaks immediately after a press conference given by China's Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua at the COP26 UN Climate Change Summit, in Glasgow, Scotland, .  The UN Climate Summit in Glasgow has entered its second week as leaders from around the world gather in Scotland's largest city to set out their vision for tackling the common challenge of global warming Climate COP26 Summit, Glasgow , United Kingdom - Nov 10, 2021

John Kerry, US special presidential envoy on climate, spoke after US-China pact was announced

Alberto Pezzali/AP/Shutterstock

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There is only one day left at the COP26 international climate summit – unless the talks go into extra time, as many previous COPs have done. Since today is the penultimate day, the situation is highly uncertain. We don’t yet know what the final text will look like, because the negotiators are still scribbling away with pencils and erasers. A new version was expected overnight, but that hasn’t happened for some reason, and the new version is now expected tonight. But in the meantime there has been plenty of action.

US-China pact

The big news overnight was the announcement of a pact between the US and China, stimulating climate cooperation between the two countries. Both have said they will work together to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement. This includes “taking enhanced climate actions that increase ambition in the 2020s”.

What should we make of this? On the one hand, there is little of real content in it. The statement does not contain any specific new goals or funding. So its value is largely symbolic.

On the other hand, the symbolism is powerful. Relations between the US and China are currently quite bad, and yet the two governments have come together. This underlines the gravity of the climate crisis and sends an implicit message to other bickering governments to solve their problems: embrace the pain, slap their inner mop, whatever, but get over it. The question is whether it will lead to a better result for the top as a whole.

In fact, that uncertainty is a common thread in COP26 expert discussions. According to Ed King at the European Climate Foundation in the Netherlands: “This is an incredibly difficult summit to name. Possibly one of the hardest I can remember after ten years of talking about these meetings… This meeting has an exhausting complexity like no other and with about 48 hours to go people are getting tired.” Even the experts know not sure how successful the summit will be in the end.

One of the problems is the sheer number of issues being discussed simultaneously, from emissions reductions to financing for developing countries and much more. At the same time, many of the major countries have domestic problems that are making it difficult for them to take dramatic action. if Politics it stated, “The US is paralyzed by Congress… Germany has no government yet; France faces one of its most uncertain elections; the UK has just started fiscal austerity through its treasury; the Japanese government is only two weeks old and Canada’s is not much older.”

This was encapsulated by Ed Miliband, the UK shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, when he spoke with new scientist‘s Jason Arunn Murugesu. “I don’t think – apart from Alok Sharma – anyone in the government understood how complicated this thing is,” Miliband said. “They’re used to peaks where you pop up, sign a communiqué — the lowest common denominator — and then you leave. This is quite a fragile and incredibly complex negotiation.”

How vulnerable? At a press conference this afternoon, the UK’s chief negotiator Archie Young said an unnamed country, speaking for several, had suggested removing “the entire section” on cutting emissions from the draft text.

Side deals to reduce fossil fuels

Several countries have joined an alliance committed to stopping future oil and gas production within their borders. Known as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), the group now includes France, Sweden and Ireland – joining its original leaders, Denmark and Costa Rica.

A few other countries signed up but didn’t. Portugal, California and New Zealand have committed to “substantial concrete steps” to curb oil and gas production. Italy, the The European Union’s second largest oil producer, has become a “friend” of the agreement, saying it will align future oil and gas extraction with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

And of course there are some notable absentees. The UK has not applied even though it is hosting COP26. In fact, BOGA so far does not include countries that produce significant amounts of oil and gas. Again, it’s all a bit symbolic. But such alliances tend to grow over time, so if campaigners keep up the pressure, it’s quite possible more countries will join.

BOGA is the latest in a series of schemes to reduce the production of fossil fuels announced at COP26. For example, 23 countries pledged to stop building new coal-fired power plants, and 20 countries pledged to stop financing fossil fuel extraction outside their own borders. Elsewhere, Canada plans to curb its oil and gas emissions, and South Africa has signed an agreement to phase out the heavy use of coal. And yesterday, a group of governments and industry leaders committed to developing green shipping corridors, with the aim of reducing the enormous greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

Perhaps crucial the first draft of the final COP26 text includes a call to phase out coal and fossil fuels. If that makes it to the final draft, that will be a major diplomatic shift.

What do all these side deals mean in the meantime? According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker, an independent, not-for-profit scientific body based in Germany, it’s a meaningful chunk. Researchers looked at all initiatives signed up to yesterday. They then estimate how much greenhouse gas will be emitted in 2030 if all initiatives are implemented, and how that compares to the emissions needed to reach 1.5°C.

They concluded that the various deals will shave 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide of our emissions in 2030. That is a lot of CO2, but it’s only 9 percent of the cut that needs to happen to get us on track to 1.5°C. As has been a refrain this week, a shift like this will make a real difference in our lives by removing the worst effects of the warming climate – but much more needs to be done. It still nibbles at the edges of the problem.

Let’s end with some perspective. A study published yesterday in Nature attempts to place current human-induced global warming in the context of Earth’s history. Researchers led by Matthew Osman at the University of Arizona have reconstructed changes in Earth’s average temperature over the past 24,000 years. That means the records go back to the Last Glacial Maximum, the most recent episode when ice sheets grew far from the poles. The analysis goes back to a frigid time before writing, before the advent of agriculture, and before pets (except maybe dogs).

You’ve probably guessed it: Both the speed and magnitude of current warming are unmatched within the entire 24,000-year period. we have known since the 1990s Which the current warming peak is exceptional – that was the point of the famous “hockey stickchart — but the new study illustrates how exceptional it is.


What should you pay attention to?

Revised texts will appear overnight. This will reveal how many of the stronger parts of the first draft survived, if any were reinforced and what was lost. These new texts will give us a clearer picture of how much will be accomplished.

On the bright side, there’s “much more urgency in the language, more alarm, more than I’ve seen in previous texts, and that’s excellent,” said Christiana Figueres, a former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “I am also very pleased that the text recognizes that this is the critical decade and that we need to halve emissions by 2030, which is new and very useful.”

So maybe, just maybe, this will all be wrapped up tomorrow. But since the first draft has been delayed, and the revised version has also been delayed, I wouldn’t count on that. COP26 could well enter the weekend. Don’t take my word for it: Figueres thinks the same. “Because of the maturity of the text, I don’t think the COP will end on Friday. I think it will start on Saturday because, frankly, one big, big problem and that’s finances.”


Quote of the day

“We are not there yet on the most critical points.” COP26 President Alok Sharma, at a press conference this afternoon, to let us know that the negotiations are likely to come to an end again.

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