COP26: little progress on the key issues so far
The world leaders came and made their big promises, despite the rain 150,000 people took part in the biggest climate march ever in the UK, Boris Johnson came back to bring Churchillian inspiration (in his mind anyway) and the sun came out. Now the COP is in its final stages and the chances of agreement on the key issues look slim.
I mentioned to a friend that this was my tenth COP and he asked if they have achieved anything. Since the first one I went to, COP6 in the Hague in 2000 (so bad they had to come back six months later in Bonn for COP6.5), global carbon dioxide emissions have risen by 42%, the world’s average temperature has increased by over half a degree Celsius and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increase by 12%. Would things be even worse without the COP process? Yes, but it’s not clear by how much.
The Prime Minister has been trying to collect more ‘net zero by 2050’ pledges to wave about as a sign of success. These pledges usually mean something might happen in thirty years’ time. The ‘net’ bit of net zero means you don’t really have to try too hard to reduce your emissions or stop producing fossil fuels because you’ll buy credits in a carbon market or pay some-one to plant some trees in some part of the world you don’t care about. Net zero by any date isn’t something that’s in the Paris Agreement, although the UK is trying to force it in there.
After the glitzy promises on net zero, forests, methane and coal funding, the negotiators have to talk about the real things that actually fit under the Paris Agreement and the UN convention on climate change.
These COP discussions are about actual plans from each countries under the Paris Agreement. These are about overall pathways from now into the future and show that we are headed for 2.7ºC of warming by 2100, rather than that crucial 1.5ºC, and even then only if every country does everything they promise.
Boris Johnson will no doubt claim great progress in Glasgow but on the real issues little has been achieved, with talks expected to go late into the night on Friday and into Saturday.
This week the screens that tell you what is going on are full of informal discussions, contact groups, even informal informal groups, as the talks try to resolve knotty issues.
As well as the lack of enough action to reduce emissions, the $100bn a year of climate finance promised for 2020 might only get up to that total by 2023 while much, much more is really needed, funding for countries who are suffering irreparable climate harm isn’t even really on the table and countries representing half the world’s population want rules of carbon trading and offsetting which would actually increase emissions rather than reduce them.
The huge turn out for the big march and the other protests in Glasgow and around the world show that people are wise to the flashy promises of world leaders and want actual cuts in emissions now and an end to fossil fuels, not vague schemes that might make a difference at some point in the future.
Dr Richard Dixon is Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.