The announcement by the US and China that they have agreed on a bilateral statement on climate action during the final days of the 2021 climate negotiations was both a surprise and a new impetus for global action on climate change.
Criticism of the draft COP26 agreement released yesterday has focused on its lack of high ambition and lack of clear milestones, potentially damaging progress on transparency and accountability. The US failed to land new targets, and China’s lack of presence was a major concern in the early days of the conference, as few believe much can be accomplished without the involvement of the world’s two largest economies. . The comments both country representatives made to each other about their failure to act, and the existing geopolitical tensions made it an insurmountable problem. Yet these two countries have come together in an agreement to work together to achieve the 1.5 target.
As it stands, according to Climate Action Tracker, current policies are still putting the world on track towards warming between 2 and 3.6 degrees, but when long-term targets and non-binding 2030 targets are factored in, the chance that the world is on the right track. a trajectory to reduce emissions by the end of the century in line with a warming of 1.7 to 2.6 C. That is far from where we need to be by 2050, or even 2030, but it provides a basis of from which we can take action. And it’s definitely an improvement from where we were in early November.
dr. Tom Hale, associate professor of Global Public Policy, at the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford, says: “Given the tensions between the US and China, the existence of this announcement is not trivial. It creates an opening for future ratcheting and collaboration, including on methane and forests. It increases the likelihood that all countries in Glasgow will gain a broader political commitment to step up action and ambition in the short term. The agreement also gives Presidents Biden and Xi a boost ahead of their summit next week.” Both the EU and the UN have expressed their view that the statement is generally encouraging.
In a statement, both countries acknowledged the gap between existing efforts and what needs to be done to meet the Paris targets. It said: “The two sides emphasize the vital importance of closing that gap as soon as possible, in particular through stepped-up efforts. They declare their intention to work individually, jointly and with other countries during this decisive decade, in accordance with the different national circumstances, to strengthen and accelerate climate action and cooperation to close the gap, including accelerating the green and low-carbon transition and innovation in climate technology.” US negotiator John Kerry said the focus would be on agreeing concrete action and both sides agreed that action in the 2020s is critical.
There were, of course, few details about timelines or how to achieve the long-term goal, but it looks like an unexpected win for the negotiations in general, and could certainly give a boost to the process. dr. Harald Heubaum, deputy director of the SOAS Center for Sustainable Finance, added: “It’s an important step – no global deal can ever succeed without the two largest economies at its heart – but we need to see more detail and get a clear sense from just how the ambition translates into action towards 1.5 degrees, at COP26 and beyond.Declarations are nice, the execution is better.”
A core criticism of this year’s COP was the failure to act against the phase-out of fossil fuels. As Ben Backwell, chief executive of the Global Wind Energy Council points out, “While draft CP.26 and CMA.3 under the Paris Agreement call on the parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies, too few countries have joined the multilateral commitments to phase out coal and fossil fuels made last week. Even fewer have reflected in their NDCs the phasing out of fossil fuels and increased renewable energy targets by 2030 and 2040.”
Today marks the formal launch of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, led by Denmark and Costa Rica. National and regional governments come together to take specific steps to move away from fossil fuel dependency. The membership requirements are simple: make a plan to move away from fossil fuel extraction. There has already been a significant shift in demand dynamics from action against plastic and the transition to electric vehicles to the accelerated deployment of renewable energy.
However, as Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s Environment and Energy Minister noted at today’s launch, it is time to tackle the supply side of the market. France, Ireland, Sweden, Wales, Greenland and Québec have joined the campaign, while California and New Zealand are affiliate members. Italy is cited as a ‘friend’ who, as co-chair of this year’s COP, is simply underscoring the UK’s failure to get involved. Now it is true that none of the signatories are major producers, but it is a signal of increasing pressure to act.
And it is the growing pressure to take action based on widespread underlying acceptance of certain key issues that may be one of the most successful outcomes of this year’s COP meeting. This is strongly underlined by the statement between the US and China, and it is that the world is starting to move in the same direction. The perception of the climate threat has fundamentally changed since the last COP in 2019.
Despite the strong presence of the fossil fuel industry at COP26, which is responsible for much of the anti-action messages of the past decades, the arguments that take place during the negotiations are about details about how we achieve the goals. It is no longer a question of whether we should act, science is no longer up for debate, the need for a 1.5 degree target underlies most discussions amid near-universal acceptance of the reality of the climate crisis.
We may not get an earth-shattering deal in 2021, but there is no doubt that the reality of the need to address climate change through mitigation and adaptation, and an accelerated need for large-scale climate finance, is now a basic agreement between the parties. Bottlenecks remain, but they mainly relate to the details of the implementation. Despite the concerns of many parties that loss and damage will be brushed aside, there are rumors that even this highly controversial topic could make progress. The operationalization of the Santiago network was an important goal for many and it seems that agreement is reached on the function of the network. It is also rumored that AOSIS is proposing a financial mechanism and that the UK government is offering support in the hopes of something concrete coming out of Glasgow.
Today we are in a position that few even predicted days ago. The world’s largest economies have agreed to work towards a 1.5°C future. Even if the how has yet to be agreed, measurable actions and accountability processes will be identified and discussed in the coming months. It is possible that this year will finally be the start of global, coordinated and concerted efforts to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.