Over the past few days, a large number of political leaders and activists from around the world have gathered in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss crucial climate change issues at the 26th edition of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP).
This meeting was created in 1992 as part of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. The first edition was held in 1995 and, in principle, included a commitment by the 200 signatory countries to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The 26th edition was to be held in 2020, but was postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although in perspective, the agreements established this week look promising, it is important to analyze whether the goals set by the countries are really realistic and what are the real nuances of the achievements so far. On this occasion, we tell you about it.
What are the commitments established at COP26?
The draft agreement, released by the COP26 presidency, requires countries to present net-zero emissions targets for 2022 and plans to achieve them in the long term. In addition, participants were asked to accelerate modifications to fossil fuel subsidies, calling them inefficient.
Initially, a draft was published that talked about phasing out fossil fuels. The latest revision of the document mentions the "uninterrupted" elimination of this scourge.
China and the United States join forces?
China and the United States, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, agreed to work together to limit global warming to 1.5°C through decarbonization, reducing methane emissions and transitioning to clean energy. China has previously shown its refusal to reduce its carbon footprint in the short term, which means that the new declaration recognizes the urgency of different actions to promote real change.
On deforestation, leaders from at least 100 countries pledged to halt deforestation altogether by 2030. The commitment comes in the midst of record deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in October. Brazil owns 60% of the Amazon territory.
Jair Bolsonaro, president of the South American nation, went beyond the COP26 agreement, and stated that the elimination of deforestation in his country would occur two years earlier, in 2028. However, environmental groups view the Brazilian government's promises with skepticism, and blame the country's top political leader for the increase in deforestation.
So far, Bolsonaro has enthusiastically backed increased mining and agricultural activity in the region. In his administration, more than 10,000 km2 of forest territory has disappeared in the region. To give you an idea, that's the equivalent of the size of Lebanon.
Emission reduction funds
At least 450 financial organizations from around the world, which together manage close to US$130 trillion, have committed to invest resources in renewable energies and other clean technologies with the aim of diverting resources away from industries that generate polluting gases from fossil fuels.
The initiative seeks to engage private companies in zero emissions commitments and encourage them to invest more resources in cleaner technologies. However, the only way to achieve this is to eliminate funding for fossil fuels, a commitment that was not made in the agreement.
The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), created by Denmark and Costa Rica, aims to put an end to the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels. Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, Wales and the Canadian province of Quebec have also joined the alliance, which already includes Portugal, California and New Zealand.
BOGA members are committed to ending concessions and licenses for oil and gas production and exploration.
Paris Agreement loses momentum
The document states that the goals of the Paris Agreement require greater commitment from governments. In short, the world is not on track to meet them.
Recall that the Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in global average temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and, as far as possible, to avoid exceeding 1.5°C. Currently, the planet has a warming level of 1.1 degrees Celsius, and cuts in polluting gases have been shown to be insufficient, and even had a record increase in 2020.
Although the UN assures that the greenhouse gas reductions estimated for 2030 are up to 7% higher than those proposed in previous agreements, the truth is that countries are far from achieving them. For this to happen, nations must reduce their emissions by 22% to meet the 2°C target. If the level of warming is to be kept below 1.5°C, countries must reduce their emissions by up to 50%.
Although the plans envisaged at COP26 look promising on paper, organizations such as Greenpeace claim that it is not enough. In addition, mention was made of the fact that the rich nations have not kept their promise to allocate US$ 100 billion each year to the poorest countries to help them in the fight against climate change.
What should we expect from COP26?
In general, the last day of the conference was fraught with skepticism because the final draft of the agreement is flawed in the most important aspects, especially in financing and the mechanisms for monitoring compliance with the agreement by the countries involved.
Not all countries have adopted the same commitments. Each nation sets its own targets and must review them periodically. For example, the European Union (EU) has said it will reduce its emissions by 50 to 52% by 2030 compared to 2005 figures. China has also pledged to reach its emissions cap by the same year, but pledging is not enough.
The COP26 agreement has not been to the liking of environmental groups, who claim that it is an agreement that does not establish clear rules for countries' actions. In fact, they believe that the main oil exporting countries will try to make any move to oppose the rapid advance of decarbonization, since the agreements are not binding.
The outcome document was signed by almost all of the 200 countries attending the Summit and, although not legally binding, is expected to set a global agenda against climate change for the next decade.
In short, the COP26 summit ends with more uncertainty than progress. As we have mentioned on other occasions, if any strategy is not implemented at a global level, where the most powerful sectors of society are included, the world will simply lose the battle against climate change.
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Reuters (2021). "U.S. and China unveil emissions deal in bid to save UN climate talks". Nov, 2021. Link: https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/un-climate-agency-publishes-draft-final-glasgow-deal-2021-11-10/
Arciniegas, Y. (2021). "COP26, día 11: primer borrador expresa "alarma", ecologistas lo tachan de insuficiente". France24. Link: https://www.france24.com/es/medio-ambiente/20211110-cop26-borrador-acuerdo-calentamiento-global-transporte
Europa Press (2021). "Ecologistas lamentan el escepticismo final en la COP26 ante un nuevo borrador que es "un paso atrás" en ambición". Link: https://www.europapress.es/epagro/noticia-ecologistas-lamenta-escepticismo-final-cop26-nuevo-borrador-paso-atras-ambicion-20211112120718.html
Birol, F. (2021). "COP26 climate pledges could help limit global warming to 1.8 °C, but implementing them will be the key". Link: https://www.iea.org/commentaries/cop26- HYPERLINK "https://www.iea.org/commentaries/cop26-climate-pledges-could-help-limit-global-warming-to-1-8-c-but-implementing-them-will-be-the-key"climate-pledges-could-help-limit-global-warming-to-1-8-c-but-implementing-them-will-be-the-key
United Nations (2021). Draft decision 1/CP.26. Proposal by the President. Versión PDF. Link: https://unfccc.int/documents/310987