In the runup to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, there was much uncertainty about whether it will result in a global consensus that ambitions must be higher. While many countries recently made important moves on the climate front, members of the Group of Twenty (G20) are being criticized for offering a weak joint statement on their plans at their latest gathering.
As world leaders convened in Glasgow for talks on adopting 1.5 degrees Celsius as the target for limiting global warming, the United Kingdom was struggling to cope with floods and bad weather. There were even reports of tornados in the country hosting the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26, and some participants were unable to reach Scotland’s biggest city.
Extreme weather in the UK at the time of the gathering is one of the reminders that the world needs stronger measures against climate change. But there were many unknowns during the preparations of the conference and its organizers were far from optimistic on the possibility to accelerate ambitions.
As COP26 was beginning, G20 said global carbon neutrality needs to be achieved “by or around mid-century”
To make matters worse, the most powerful countries are under fire for offering just a generalized commitment to climate action. The Group of Twenty (G20) met in Rome over the weekend and acknowledged the need for a range of measures “across mitigation, adaptation and finance” to achieve global net zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality.
However, the joint statement said the goal needs to be reached “by or around mid-century.” G20, which gathers major developed and emerging economies, came under fire from environmentalists and the press for failing to support the 2050 target and to offer detailed pledges and funds, especially for reducing methane emissions and stopping the use of coal.
The energy sector accounts for almost three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions, and an overwhelming majority comes from coal. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reaching net zero by 2050 is necessary to keep the rise in temperature at a maximum 1.5 degrees.
Biggest polluters continue to set bad examples
Smaller and less developed countries are looking to the G20 for cues and to set an example, especially as its members are responsible for 80% of global emissions. Any enthusiasm at the Glasgow conference may have also been weakened by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lack of determination to block a coal mine project in Cumbria, though he did say he is against it.
Smaller, poorer nations may refrain from adopting more ambitious targets if G20 countries don’t show greater determination
Instead, COP26’s host urged the developed world to commit more funds for climate action and told the BBC the planet is at “one minute to midnight” with regard to climate change. Johnson said countries should promise to get gasoline and diesel cars off the roads faster and prevent deforestation. He acknowledged that the possibility of success at the conference is “in the balance.”
The wording in the G20’s joint statement clearly reflects the decisions by China, Russia and Saudi Arabia to aim for carbon neutrality only by 2060.
Turkey adopted a 2053 target. The country recently ratified the Paris Agreement as one of the last remaining UN members that didn’t do so. But Turkey separately protested its designation as a developed country as it implies greater responsibility and committing more funds for international action.
India refused to set a net zero date and said it considers itself a “victim” of global warming and not a contributor. Australia has just announced it would work on a 2050 goal.
Struggle to endorse 1.5-degree goal
The 2015 Paris Agreement, reached at COP21, stipulates that global warming must be kept at “well below” two degrees Celsius. Heads of state and government and delegates from all over the world are now discussing the possibility to set the limit at 1.5 degrees.
However, at the current pace, the level could be breached during the current decade. It means the world would need to redouble efforts to try and reverse the process and hold the rise in temperature at a maximum of 1.5 degrees by 2100. But even if emissions rapidly drop, it would take decades for the warming to ease, due to an extremely high presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
As COP26 was just beginning, the G20 said carbon pricing mechanisms and incentives should be used “if appropriate” for clean energy transition, leaving the definition of appropriate open.
The conference lasts until November 12.