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Climate talks: blah blah blah?

Climate talks: blah blah blah?

0:00

A year on from Cop26 in Glasgow, are the UN’s climate talks really saving humanity from a climate catastrophe?

“The most famous climate protester in the world, Greta Thunberg, could have been posing for selfies with prime ministers and presidents, Instead she was in a park in one of the poorest parts of Glasgow.”

ITV News

Since the last UN climate talks, in 2021, there’s been a war in Ukraine, soaring gas prices – and a can of soup thrown at a painting.

“What is worth more – art or life? Is it worth more than food? More than justice?”

Guardian

And there’s also been this…

“A third of Pakistan is underwater. That’s according to the country’s climate change minister, who called the devastation caused by extensive flooding a crisis of unimaginable proportions.”

BBC News

Oh, and two UK prime ministers have come and gone – and the current one has u-turned on his decision not to attend the next round of UN climate talks that start in Egypt next week.

So, a year on from Cop26 in Glasgow, is Greta Thunberg right to despair of our politicians?

“Build back better –  blah, blah, blah. Green economy, blah, blah, blah.”

BBC News

***

There’s a blizzard of numbers around the UN’s climate talks. But there’s only one that really matters: 1.5C. 

That was the outcome of the breakthrough 2015 climate summit in Paris, when countries aimed to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. We’re already approaching this threshold, and people around the world are being battered by natural disasters made worse by a changing climate. But once we get above it, things become much worse.

Here’s Alok Sharma, president of Cop26, talking to Tortoise’s climate editor Jeevan Vasagar.

“So I think that is the big win from Glasgow is to be able to say with credibility that we’ve kept 1.5 alive but as I said at the time and I continue to repeat is that its a really fragile win because to be be able to deliver that it needs every country to follow through and implement the policies and commitments that they themselves made at Cop26 and that’s what we have been trying to push forward on this year.”

Tortosie

Alok Sharma was able to say that the 1.5C goal is still alive because countries agreed at Glasgow that they would strengthen their climate plans. But as of last month, only 24 have come back with new or updated offers to cut emissions, which need to come down very fast this decade if we want to maintain a planet that’s liveable for most of humanity. 

Instead, the UN says that greenhouse gas emissions are going to rise by 10.6 per cent by the end of this decade, compared to 2010 levels.

***

There is some good news though. Technology is making a big difference. Sales of electric vehicles are rising worldwide – nearly ten per cent of the cars sold around the world last year had a plug on them. The cost of solar panels has been falling for a decade.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to some countries burning more coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, as the price of gas has soared. But in the longer-term the war is expected to accelerate the shift to renewables.

Closer to home, green energy accounts for more than 40% of the UK’s electricity generation, and it’s one of the few countries in the world with emissions targets that are in line with the Paris agreement.

So, what happens next? 

***

Keeping 1.5 alive depends on the world’s two biggest emitters. China and the US came together in Glasgow, putting aside differences to agree to work together on emissions cuts. It was a welcome surprise to everyone, including the UK hosts.

But since then, relations between the two have become increasingly prickly.

“Now to the escalating tensions between the US and China, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meeting with Taiwan’s president overnight. China’s accusing the US of playing with fire.”

ABC News

Here’s Jonathan Pershing, program director of environment at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in the US.

“It’s not just that the meeting in Glasgow yielded a significant joint agreement, almost every iteration of major climate progress has been achieved after the US and China have found some bilateral common ground. At this moment that doesn’t look very promising.”

Tortoise

The presidency of Cop passes to Egypt this weekend, with thousands of delegates flying into Sharm el Sheikh. Greta Thunberg is boycotting the event over the host country’s human rights record.

The focus in Sharm might end up being less on cutting emissions, and more on dealing with the immediate crisis faced by many countries in tropical regions of the world. Rich countries have repeatedly broken promises to provide $100bn a year in climate finance by 2020. And the world’s wealthier nations are coming under pressure to help pay for the costs of climate disaster – loss and damage as it’s known in the jargon.

This is Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, speaking in Glasgow last year. 

“Failure to provide the critical finance and that of loss and damage is measured, my friends, in lives and livelihoods in our communities. This is immoral and it is unjust.”

Mia Mottley, opening speech Cop26

Alok Sharma is still hopeful. But admits that the clock is ticking.

“I think 1.5 is still alive, but the pathway is narrowing. And I think with every day that ticks by that pathway narrows further. The reality is that you know during this decade we have to cut emissions by 45%. Now we are seeing progress but things aren’t going fast enough.”

Tortoise

A combination of technology and political willpower has got us a long way towards a better future. But it’s time for governments to show more ambition and more speed.


This episode was written by Jeevan Vasagar and mixed by Ella Hill.


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