Reasons to be Cheerful About COP26

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Now that we're half way through the global climate summit in Glasgow, OGN summarises the best bits of good news amid the blizzard of announcements during the past week.

The US is back in the fold: You may recall that COP25 was marred by Donald Trump's refusal to attend, raising questions about the potential for global action without the participation of the world’s second largest emitter. Fortunately, Joe Biden has brought the US back into the Paris agreement (and has just secured a $1 trillion infrastrucure package to put his country back on track for a sustainable future) and, of course, attended COP26.


Methane Pledge: America has also partnered with the EU to establish the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade; signing up 90 countries to the pledge. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide. It has a stronger warming effect than CO2, but it is also much more short-lived in the air. As a result, CO2 is more important in the long term. The advantage of cutting methane emissions now is that it provides a short-term win, slowing the rate of warming and buying time for cuts in CO2 emissions.


Coal is on the way out: Coal is the single biggest contributor to manmade climate change, but numerous countries have either abondoned coal mining completely or are in the process of phasing it out. 190 nations have agreed to end all investment in new coal plants. Although coal is still growing in China, India, and Indonesia, the declines in other large countries are a promising sign, and it's becoming incresingly clear to all nations that sustainable energy is now on parity, or cheaper, than coal. That means, according to Wright's Law, that the game for coal is most definitely up. Overall, though, the COP26 pledges are being seen as – at the very least – a welcome additional nail in the coffin of coal power.


Trees: More than one hundred countries backed a UK led declaration to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Crucially, the signatories include Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo – homes to the largest remaining swathes of rainforest. The pledge was also signed by China, Russia, Indonesia, the UK and the US. Overall, the countries involved are said to be responsible for 85 percent of the planet’s forests.


South Africa: Rich nations, including the US and UK, announced $8.5 billion to speed up South Africa’s energy transition. And with another carbon-neutrality goal, this time from Nigeria, BloombergNEF now calculates that only 11 percent of emissions are untouched by net-zero ambitions.


India: India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced that his country would hit net-zero emissions by 2070: a significant move even if the target year was later than many had hoped. The pledges on greenhouse gas emissions on the table at the Cop26 would limit global temperature rises to below 2C, the first time the world has been on such a trajectory, according to research. India's plans, the world’s third biggest emitter, have made a sizeable difference to the global temperature estimate, research by the University of Melbourne has found. With India’s and other recent national pledges, 90 percent of global GDP was now covered by net zero pledges, up from only about 30 percent a year ago.


Private Sector: UN climate finance envoy Mark Carney announced that more than 450 banks, insurers and assets managers with $130 trillion in assets under management had committed to set science-based targets in line with net zero emissions by 2050. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, or Gfanz, “is the gold standard for net zero,” Carney told the summit.

“The enormous resources and relentless focus of GFANZ can unlock the $1 trillion of additional annual investment needed for the net zero transition in emerging markets and developing countries by the middle of this decade,” he said. That should become really good news once everyone can agree and define what that really means.


Water and climate coalition: The world has a climate crisis and a water crisis, but the two are rarely seen as being two sides of the same coin. A new group called the Water and Climate Coalition, launched at COP26, aims to make good on that by firming up the links between the two and hence preventing parts of the world from either drowning or being parched.


Global climate consciousness continues to grow: More and more people, especially from younger generations, are calling for stricter emissions reductions measures both at a governmental and corporate level, as well as in their personal lives.


Even small victories count: The Paris agreement seeks to limit global warming to 1.5C, but even a 0.1C reduction in warming makes a difference. Full mitigation of climate change will take enormous effort, but every closed coal plant, new wind turbine, and green energy innovation makes a difference!


Temperature rise: Fresh hope that the world might avoid catastrophic global heating emerged from two studies released at COP26. Both suggested that humanity is on track to limit temperature rises to a shade under 2C if, of course, countries stick to the commitments they’ve made during the summit. This represents real progress on the situation in the run-up to COP, when the cumulative effect of existing national commitments would only have limited the rise to 2.7C. The new studies, by Climate Resource and the International Energy Agency, produced estimates of a 1.9C and 1.8C rise respectively.


Quote of the Week (from John Kerry): "We're a day-and-a-half into this, and I've seen more energy and more commitment and more urgency than I've ever seen. And I've been doing this since 1988."

 

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