Is Glasgow COP a Glass Half Full?

November 7, 2021

Still a week to go in the Glasgow COP meeting, might be a little soon to write it off.

Washington Post:

Here was President Biden and more than 100 other leaders, representing more than 85 percent of the world’s forests, pledging to halt deforestation over the next decade. Here were scores more nations signing on to the newly formed Global Methane Pledge,which aims to cut emissions 30 percent by the end of the decade.

Here was the prime minister of India vowing huge investments in renewable energy in the massive country — one of a number of nations to commit to new national climate targets. Here were nearly two dozen countries detailing plans to stop spending tax dollars to fund international fossil fuel projects.

Here were titans of the financial world, who together control $130 trillion in assets, touting a pledge to use their monetary might to help the world hit net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

Outside the venue earlier this week, Thunberg, the Swedish activist, said the gathering was shaping up like so many that had come before it: Too much talk, too little action.

“They have led us nowhere,” Thunberg said on one of multiple occasions this week that she has criticized the United Nations summit known as COP26. “Inside COP, they’re just politicians and people in power pretending to take our future seriously. … Change is not going to come from inside there.”

But not everyone is ready to declare the summit a failure at its halfway mark.

“COP26 is probably unfolding in a way that exceeds expectations compared to where we were a couple months ago, in no small part because I do think we’ve seen a few countries — a few important countries — step up,” said Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And whether your glass is half full or half empty depends a lot on your expectations of what this COP was likely to deliver.”

Bapna and others have noted that while nations were always unlikely to put the world on a 1.5 Celsius path this year alone, the world is moving in the right direction, even if not fast enough. He noted that only a handful of years ago, existing policies put the world on a pathway to 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming. Recently, a U.N. analysis found current pledges would steer closer toward 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit).

Science:

Nations meeting here at a major climate conference have announced new commitments to cutting greenhouse gases that would—if realized— put nations on a path to meeting a key goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The new pledges, including revised commitments from India, China, and other nations, would keep warming to 1.9°C this century, a new analysis finds. That edges the world closer to the Paris goal of keeping warming “well below” 2°C.

But the new commitments are “not cause for unbounded optimism,” cautions University of Melbourne climate scientist Malte Meinshausen, an author of the new projection, released yesterday by analytics company Climate Resource. Meinshausen worries countries won’t follow through. “The world has set its course on roughly the right horizon, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

The new warming estimate doesn’t fall far below other recent projections, notes Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute. A U.N. report released in October that tallied recent pledges—including long-term commitments to reach “net zero” emissions by balancing emissions with carbon-sequestration efforts—projected warming of about 2°C. Similarly, a recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report projected that existing commitments would limit warming to 2.1°C. (An update to that report now projects 1.8°C, according to a tweet today from IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.) So, it’s “not very surprising” that new commitments from India and China could shave off a couple more decimal places, Hausfather says.  

Shortly before the climate summit here began, Meinshausen and his colleagues compiled the pledges that nations had submitted to the United Nations, including both near-term commitments to reducing emissions by 2030 and longer term pledges that commit to net zero emissions by 2050 to 2070. Some of those targets depend on financial support being delivered as promised, whereas others are unconditional. They fed those emissions projections into a climate simulation that generates a range of possible warming outcomes.

The presummit pledges would lead to between 1.5°C and 3.2°C of warming this century, the projections showed, with a 50% chance of staying below 2.1°C. Now, however, the commitments would lead to a 50% chance of staying below 1.9°C. (The range of possible warming is 1.3°C to 2.7°C.) The new pledges made this week include India’s commitment to reach net zero by 2070, China’s new climate pledges, and 11 other updated national pledges to reduce emissions by 2030.

Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, cautions that even if nations follow through perfectly on their pledges, there would be a one in two chance of exceeding the 2°C target. He also notes that high-level announcements made at the summit are lacking crucial detail. India, for example, hasn’t made clear whether its net-zero commitment only applies to carbon dioxide, or to all greenhouse gases.

New York Times:

It was the kind of spotlight associated with a certain other young climate activist: A hall full of world leaders and a speaking slot preceding the secretary general of the United Nations.

The woman in the spotlight was not Greta Thunberg, but Txai Suruí, a 24-year-old Indigenous climate activist from Brazil, making her first appearance on the world stage. On the opening day of the global climate summit in Glasgow, she made an eloquent appeal drawing attention to the devastating deforestation of the Amazon.

“The Earth is speaking,” Ms. Suruí said. “She tells us that we have no more time.”

“The animals are disappearing,” she added. “The rivers are dying, and our plants don’t flower like they did before.”

Ms. Suruí told the heads of state in the audience that they were “closing your eyes to reality” and their timetables for reducing carbon emissions and scaling back the use of fossil fuels were inadequate.

“It’s not 2030 or 2050,” she said. “It’s now.”

Ms. Suruí’s speech at the summit came as organizers faced criticism for a notable omission from the program: Ms. Thunberg, who said that she had not been invited, but joined scores of protesters on Monday outside the conference hall.

Recalling to world leaders the murder of one of her childhood friends, who she said had tried to combat deforestation, Ms. Suruí said that she had witnessed the toll of climate change firsthand.

“Indigenous peoples are on the front line of the climate emergency,” she said. “We must be at the center of the decisions happening here.”

Ms. Suruí said that her father, a tribal chief, had taught her “we must listen to the stars, the moon, the wind, the animals and the trees.”

12 Responses to “Is Glasgow COP a Glass Half Full?”

  1. jimbills Says:

    So much concern about cynicism being a gateway drug to nihilism. Cynicism is just a proper (and reasonably rational) psychological response to the world screwing up over and over and over again. It is also borne of a deep desire for change to occur. Cynicism doesn’t mean the desire goes away – if anything, cynics really want that change to occur far more than the average person, and they get a bit miffed when it doesn’t.

    Nihilists DON’T want the change to occur. They’re a different animal altogether.

    I really think Mann (an others) are building a straw man out of this concern that scaring people about climate change will just make them nihilists. Greta’s not a nihilist. She’s the one out there trying her best to get people to change, while the bureaucrats inside COP26 are doing their best to greenwash superficial change.

    • peNdantry Says:

      Superbly put. I have a lot of respect for Michael Mann, but he’s off the mark here.

      I also have a great deal of respect for Peter Sinclair, but when he starts off a post with

      Still a week to go in the Glasgow COP meeting, might be a little soon to write it off

      which suggests that COP25+1 will be any different from the same old same old we’ve seen before, I begin to think he’s been taking too much positively charged hopium.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        The second week is where the real money is. The FF companies can bribe all the politicians they want, but that won’t help if the banks and investment funds turn off their capital tap.

        • peNdantry Says:

          Am I missing something? I think it’s up to the politicians whether their subsidies are also turned off. Here in the UK at least, our government has the gall to insist that the fossil fuel industry isn’t being subsidised by our nation. (It cherry-picks reports that back up that claim, ignoring others that show they’re in denial of reality. Corrupt to the core.)

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            The politically-supported subsidies matter, of course, but making FF companies pariahs in the investment world is critical to “stop digging” in the hole we’re in.

          • jimbills Says:

            84% of the world’s energy use is fossil fuels. They are also a prime component of plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, and medicines. They’re needed for steel. In such a system, there is NO ‘turning off’ of funding for them. It would detonate the economy to do so. And in fact, the promises by big finance were about a promising fund new renewables development, and not to cut off funding for fossil fuels.

            COP26: Fossil fuel industry has largest delegation at climate summit
            https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59199484

          • peNdantry Says:

            So, in a nutshell, same old story: ‘the economy’ is more important than ‘the environment’. The reality that there can be no economy on a dead planet goes completely over the heads of those jetting around the planet to their holiday homes and multi-million-dollar yachts, and so, we are all totally screwed.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yep!

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Cynicism is more likely to send me down a slippery slope to felony assault.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      FWIW, I do get that there are aspects of oil extraction that we haven’t replaced yet, but it should be a “no-brainer” to stop projects that will produce as if current consumption patterns persist. It doesn’t help that oil producers compete among themselves to supply the same market and keep it as cheap as possible to keep consumers from switching to competing energy and material alternatives.

      Moreover, money for new FF extraction projects competes with money to invest in building out alternative infrastructure (e.g., cellulose-based replacements for plastics, airplane biofuel plants, etc.). Stopping the production of a new coal power plant or oil-transfer terminal can free up funds for more planet-friendly companies’ projects.

  2. jimbills Says:

    Countries’ climate pledges built on flawed data, Post investigation finds
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2021/greenhouse-gas-emissions-pledges-data/

    ‘At the low end, the gap is larger than the yearly emissions of the United States. At the high end, it approaches the emissions of China and comprises 23 percent of humanity’s total contribution to the planet’s warming, The Post found.’

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      We have a long history of international crises that has shown that “pledges” don’t mean much on the part of nations (especially not from POTUS, who has to answer to a dysfunctional Congress).

      I have more “faith” that Emperor Xi would decree a major emissions cut than that politicians will risk their re-elections upsetting their campaign donors and electorate.


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