Will a deal emerge from Glasgow that has the teeth to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees? Or will the forces of inactivism prevail?
If the climate crisis is to be solved by governments and consensus, Cop is the only process in town. By 6pm today, that process is supposed to have produced an agreement between 190 countries that is robust, just, and keeps the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C within reach.
Draft agreements published overnight have the bones of a deal. Do they have the meat? It’s an existential question. Here are the key sticking points:
If all non-binding targets and net zero announcements were met, global temperatures would increase by 1.8 degrees; India’s revised NDC and new pledges on methane and coal have shaved a combined 0.3 off previous estimates. But those are promises. Temperature rise based on current policies lies in the range of 2.6 to 2.7. That spells catastrophe.
In acknowledgment of the need for further action, the UK presidency’s draft text requests all countries to return next year to Cop27 in Cairo to submit improved emissions targets. The proposal for bi-annual rather than 5-yearly check-ins is regarded as the single most important part of the agreement. As of Friday morning, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are opposing it.
Since the last Cop, money has become a central issue – and the most fraught. “Beyond 100 billion a year” is what the text suggests after the developed world failed again to hit the target for funding clean energy and adaptation in poorer nations. The African group of nations set out a proposal for $700bn a year from 2025. India wants a $1trn of finance to help it deliver on its new net zero targets. If the UK, US and EU want a deal – and to avoid accusations of “glaring injustice” – they will need to fund it.
How much more they need to find isn’t the only unresolved question. Others include…
- What’s the new split between grants and loans? (Currently it’s 29:71).
- Between public and private finance? ($55bn:$24bn in 2018)
- Between adaptation and mitigation? (Currently 25:75).
And what about implementation? Multilateral development banks have so far failed to produce a plan to ensure that funds, once released, get to the right places and people. Rich countries have also been squeamish about paying for loss and damage. “Reparations” ringing any bells?
Trees will keep being chopped down until Article 6 – the agreement on rules for trading carbon – makes it more lucrative to leave them standing. But that’s not the only incentive to get a deal over the line: the booming market in offsets has the private sector slavering. The chances of Article 6 being resolved are good, but technical obstacles remain. If rules are passed that allow for creative accounting (counting one tree in two places) the deal won’t be effective at curbing emissions. Another point of contention is whether there should be a levy on carbon trades that goes towards developing countries.
If yearly pledges become a settled part of the process, many more Cops could draw audiences and scrutiny like Glasgow, Paris and Copenhagen. And there’s no doubt the felt effects of climate change, and the climate movement’s revamped message of justice, will continue to galvanise public interest. Before Egypt 2022 though, look out for the biodiversity conference in Kunming next May. Xi Jinping will surely be there. It might also be a chance to get a deal on natural capital similar to Glasgow’s on trees. Are oceans next?
But there’s a much more gloomy scenario too: this Cop lets 1.5 die and the process dies with it. We shall see.
At yesterday’s ThinkIn in partnership with ROCKWOOL, we were joined by Jennifer Layke, Global Director for Energy at the World Resources Institute, Jens Birgersson, President & Chief Executive Officer at ROCKWOOL Group, and Tracie Pearce, Chief Customer Officer, Homes, at Santander to discuss the renovation revolution.
- Building renovation is a valuable step toward meeting climate targets. In 2019 the building and construction sector accounted for 38 per cent of global energy and process-related CO2 emissions.
- To make it happen, collaboration is required between individuals, the government, banks and utility companies.
- Government needs to simplify the renovation process for the estimated 500,000 Grade I or II listed homes in the UK and encourage a greater proportion of the workforce to be trained in the sector.
If you missed the ThinkIn, you can read our summary and watch it back in our app and online.
Catch up on our series of ThinkIns at The New York Times Climate Hub in Glasgow
Who should pay to save the rainforest?
How far can we go with the technology we already have?
Talk is cheap. What should CEOs actually do about the climate crisis?
Too slow, too many cars – can we change the electrification roadmap?
How do we kick start the renovation revolution?
Strong words needed
Word is, at Paris in 2015, Saudi Arabia delayed a final deal by arguing for two hours over the inclusion of a “should” in the text. This time around they want an entire section removed and, no surprises, it’s the bit that discusses phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. After wrangling overnight the disputed paragraph now calls on countries to accelerate “unabated” coal power and “inefficient” subsidies for oil and gas. Campaigners are adamant that the language needs to stay – an agreement on fighting climate change that fails to mention fossil fuels would be a strange thing indeed.
Band of Bogas
In a small but symbolic move, a group of countries and sub-national regions have promised to end oil and gas production within their borders, laying down a gauntlet for others. The founding members of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (Boga) – Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, as well as Greenland, Quebec and Wales – are collectively responsible for only 0.2 per cent of oil production. The group is unlikely to persuade oil giants like the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia to join soon. But it’s a rare, concrete commitment to phase out the fossil fuels, which makes middling producers like the UK – responsible for 1.2 per cent on its own (most of it in Scotland) – look like laggards.
Where are EU?
The absence of Angela Merkel is being keenly felt. Despite Europe’s commendable commitment to adaptation financing, Politico reports that certain EU members are holding out against tougher sections of the deal. Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission, has been vocal about keeping coal, oil and gas phaseouts on the table – but he’s not been helped by poor timing. Greta Thunberg and Friends of the Earth have both slammed the EC for backing a new list of 30 gas projects, worth $30 billion, in the same week as Cop26.
the 100 year life
Being immersed in the Cop bubble can make it hard to see the wood for the trees. And while the ministers and negotiators have been scrutinising every word of the draft agreement, the cost of living crisis that is predicted to batter the UK’s poorest over winter continues. But the two crises’ are linked. Speaking in Glasgow’s city chambers yesterday the mayor of Turku spoke about setting up a circular economy in one of Finland’s oldest cities, and Melbourne’s mayor described a grand plan for a renewable energy hub. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and new-in-the-job west Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin were left describing the fight for affordable public transport in a deregulated market and mess of red tape. It’s not a new cause for leaders outside London. But Brabin admitted to Tortoise that it’s made harder by the “sleaze” and “corruption” wafting out of Westminster. Burnham called for grabbing the climate crisis “by the scruff of the neck”. That’s hard when you’re fighting for scraps.
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Additional reporting by Ellen Halliday and Phoebe Davis and Giles Whittell.
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