“The Pulse of 1.5 is Weak” but Alive: More COP in Review

November 13, 2021

Susan Joy Hassol and Michael Mann in Los Angeles Times:

For those looking for reasons to be cynical about the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland — COP26 — there seemed to be more than ample cause early on. Yet for those looking for hope, grounds for this too emerged later.

COVID-related restrictions made it difficult for climate activists to participate in the proceedings, contributing to a feeling that the process favored the power brokers over the people. The fact that fossil fuel executives comprised the largest delegation at the conference didn’t help matters.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the world’s largest carbon emitter, China, and petrostates Saudi Arabia and Russia were AWOL. Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia was shunned for his woefully inadequate climate commitments. Yes, there were pledges aplenty, but the “implementation gap”seemed ever more yawning. A leaked draft of the COP26 decision text lacked any mention of a fossil fuel phaseout.

There was understandable anxiety, despair and righteous anger on the part of young people given the insufficiency of the progress and the bad actors who are creating obstacles. This led some to insist that the talks were just more “blah, blah, blah,” that COP26 was dead on arrival, and even that the entire process should be abandoned.

But we believed walking away would be counterproductive. After all, the U.N. COP process provides the only multilateral framework for negotiating global climate policy. And while the speed of work had been inadequate, some real progress was being made in key areas: on deforestation, methane emissions and, most importantly, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.

By the end of the first week, the latest commitments from various countries for the first time appeared to offer a chance of keeping the warming of the planet below 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels. That’s half of what we were heading toward prior to the 2015 Paris summit (COP21).

It’s not good enough, of course. We need to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert many of the worst impacts of climate change. But the latest commitments are meaningful and can be built upon.

The final COP26 decision statement, for the first time in a COP agreement, contains language directing all nations to increase efforts toward phasing down unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, though it gives no firm deadlines. Yes, the last-minute change from “phase out” to “phase down,” at the behest of India, was disappointing, and the reference to “unabated coal” leaves a dubious “carbon capture” loophole.

And while some worried that adding “inefficient” before subsidies introduced another loophole, we read it as an admission that such subsidies are by their very nature inefficient. Importantly, nations are also asked to return one year from now to strengthen their pledges, instead of waiting five years, as was set in the 2015 Paris agreement.

In another welcome development, a group of nations said they were creating plans to end fossil fuel extraction. The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, founded by Denmark and Costa Rica, includes France, Ireland, Sweden, Wales, Greenland and Quebec. While most of the largest oil and gas producers in the world, including the U.S. and Russia, are nowhere to be found in the alliance, some of the signatories are substantial producers or have substantial reserves. When Denmark made the decision in 2019 to begin its phaseout, it was the biggest oil producer in the European Union, and Greenland has huge reserves that it will forgo. Of course, this is only a first step.

But the biggest breakthrough was unexpected. On Wednesday, China and the U.S. — the world’s two largest climate polluters — said they would commit to “enhanced climate actions” to keep global warming to the limits set in the Paris agreement. Most critically, the statement included a commitment to phase down coal. And while we can’t yet quantify the impacts of this development, it presumably moves us closer to the 1.5 Celsius goal. This level of U.S.-China cooperation quickly shifted the entire COP26 narrative and outlook.

It is noteworthy that a similar bilateral agreement in 2014 brokered by the same two lead negotiators — China’s top climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and then Secretary of State John F. Kerry — laid the groundwork for the Paris agreement a year later. This week’s agreement might prove even more important. Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden will reportedly meet virtually next week to discuss further actions.

The key aim of COP26 was to “keep 1.5C alive.” Despite pessimism among many heading into Glasgow, there is still reason to believe that 1.5 Celsius is achievable. But only if the hard work begins now. We need to hold leaders accountable for their pledges and see to it that plans are carried out. Our future depends on it.

2 Responses to ““The Pulse of 1.5 is Weak” but Alive: More COP in Review”

  1. A COP seen as an instrument to reduce global emissions can only seen as a failure. The global emissions of CO2 are only reduces in times of crisis or now in lock downs. But it is not fair to see a COP only as an instrument. It is highly symbolic and a perfect opportunity to meet other people live.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    Metaphor stew. Sorry.
    What a load of shit everybody’s peddling. We are not staying under 1.5. We are not staying under 2. NDCs are completely inadequate to stay under 3, and few countries are meeting their NDCs. Net zero and 2050 are nothing but lies to hide the fact that virtually nothing is being done to actually solve the problem. They’re just more denying delayalism. Anything done under the framework of 2050 is horseshit. It’s designing for failure. It’s deck chairs.

    Paris was sabotaged by the US—as always, Europe’s bad cop. It was designed to fail, so of course nothing’s been done to fix it. 1.5° would have been a real goal but more than 100 poor countries were bribed, bullied and extorted into doing a head fake toward 1.5 along with the rich countries (the rich people, that is), then ignoring it. Mentioning it anyway made it fake. Creating means unable to keep us under 2° made that a fake goal, too, and reevaluation of that fake goal only every 5 years is like planning to break the 100 meter record by starting out walking, planning to decide at the 50 meter mark how fast to do the rest. Meeting every year now to refine the loopholes negating the entire treaty—how is that an improvement?

    Articles keep pointing out problems and dismissing them, but they clearly ARE very serious problems. The things pointed out as loopholes—carbon capture, “inefficient” subsidies, etc. ARE loopholes, spliced into the agreement to make it impotent. If you believe that’s the behavior of people who want to change something you’re deluding yourself.

    Though it’s a stupid and destructive stance on which to base our relationships, capitalism isn’t the cause of our problems, it’s a tool used by the Wetiko-infected vampire oligarchs to suck life from the world most efficiently. By killing the world, they demonstrate their supreme dominance, while also showing they don’t care enough not to (psychopathy). We can’t dismantle capitalism in time to avoid catastrophic warming, but if we respond strongly and peacefully enough we can replace the oligarchs with a progressive democratic government and by eliminating GHGs, buy us time to create alternative institutions.

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