Climate change: COP26 starts worryingly after weak G20 leaders’ meeting

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government is hosting the talks, will warn on Monday that humanity has exceeded the time allotted to climate change.

“It is one minute to midnight, and we must act now,” he said in an opening speech, according to comments addressed to reporters.

“We must move from discussions, debates and discussions to concerted and concrete action on coal, cars, money and trees. No more hopes, goals and aspirations, however precious they may be. they, but clear commitments and concrete timetables for change. “

The G20 leaders’ meeting that ended in Rome on Sunday suggests that leaders are finally listening to science, but they still lack the political unity to make the ambitious decisions needed to respond to the present moment.

COP26 brings together around 25,000 people for one of the biggest international events since the start of the pandemic, and it comes after a year of extreme weather conditions that claimed hundreds of lives in unexpected places that even caught them off guard climatologists.

The latest UN climate science report released in August made it clear what needs to happen: limiting global warming to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures to avoid a worsening effects of the climate crisis. To do this, the world must halve its emissions over the next decade and, by mid-century, achieve net zero – where greenhouse gas emissions are no more than how much is removed from it. the atmosphere.

All of this language was in the G20 leaders’ communiqué, including a recognition that to reach net zero by mid-century, many member countries will need to lift their emission reduction commitments, known as determined contributions. at the national level (NDC), during this decade. .

But their failure to end the use of coal – the biggest contributor to climate change – and get all countries to make a firm commitment to net zero by 2050 (as opposed to 2060, like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have pledged) shows that countries that use and produce fossil fuels still have enormous influence over global climate agreements.

Indeed, China’s long-awaited new emissions pledge submitted last week was only a fraction higher than the previous one. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that he would not be forced to reach net zero by 2050. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shown no interest in handing coal to the story. India made no net-zero commitments and, as EU lawmaker Bas Eickhout told CNN, was one of the few nations to oppose the coal phase-out date.

Michael Mann, a leading scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said it was promising executives recognized they need to do more on shows this decade, but what’s important is is to ensure that all major emitters have plans consistent with keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. .

“And also a reduction in the ‘implementation gap’ – that is, the gap between what heads of state have nominally committed to and what they actually do,” said Mann.

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Mann warned that COP26 should not be a summit for delaying tactics and said he still hoped countries could agree to a phase-out of coal in the talks, even if G20 leaders fail to agree. hear on this point.

“The rather conservative International Energy Agency itself has said that there can be no new fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to avoid dangerous warming. And the G7 countries have pledged to phase out coal. and end their support for new coal projects earlier this summer, ”Mann said.

“We must see similar commitments from the G20 countries, including an accelerated timetable for the phase-out of coal.”

The G20 statement pledged to end overseas coal funding by the end of this year. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced to the United Nations General Assembly in September the end of Chinese funding for international coal, thereby excluding the world’s largest donor of coal projects.

Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said the agreement and current emissions commitments are not ambitious enough to avoid the most dangerous levels of warming and that many of them are unlikely to put countries on track to their own net zero. plans.

“To keep the 1.5 ° C target within reach, countries need to set climate targets for 2030 that chart a realistic course for meeting those net zero commitments,” she said in a statement. communicated.

“Currently, a number of G20 countries are not on a credible path to meeting their net zero targets, including Australia, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Turkey.”

“It’s not enough”

UN Secretary General António Guterres said on Sunday that he was leaving Rome “with my hopes dashed, but at least they are not buried.” He hoped Glasgow could still “keep the 1.5 degree target alive.”

His comments reflect the state of mind of many at COP26. If the G20 couldn’t set an end date for coal and make a firm net zero commitment, there is a feeling that worldwide buy-in on these key issues simply won’t happen.

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There is also a problem of trust. The developed world pledged over a decade ago that it would transfer $ 100 billion a year to the Global South to help it transition to low-carbon economies and adapt to the new world of the South. climate crisis.

That target was not met last year, and a report from the COP26 presidency released last week showed it would not be met until 2023, with current commitments in hand.

Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives who heads the Climate Vulnerable Forum, lamented the lack of action in the G20 statement, particularly on the failure to phase out coal. The Maldives are a nation on the front lines of the climate crisis and risk being overwhelmed by rising sea levels by the turn of the century.

“It’s a welcome start,” Nasheed said in a statement. “But that won’t stop the climate from heating to over 1.5 degrees and devastating large parts of the world, including the Maldives. And so, clearly, that’s not enough.”

Net zero, phasing out coal and climate finance will always be a priority for negotiators. Other areas that could prove fruitful are an agreement to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles globally.

Tom Burke, co-founder of climate think tank E3G, was more optimistic, saying the G20 statement showed a shift in mindset among leaders regarding the urgency of the climate crisis.

“The big victory is this shift in focus from 2050 to 2030. I think it’s a big, important victory,” he told CNN.

“This gives a better start than we expected. The political agreement reached at the G20 will create political momentum as leaders meet to launch the COP.”

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