The climate promises made in Glasgow now rest with a handful of powerful leaders

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A march organized by environmental groups and activists during the United Nations global conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, November 3, 2021 .. (Andrew Testa / The New York Times)

GLASGOW, Scotland – After two weeks of high talk and bitter negotiations between nearly 200 nations, the question of whether the world will make significant progress to slow global warming still boils down to the actions of a handful of powerful nations who remain at odds over how best to addressing climate change.

The United Nations global conference on climate change closed on Saturday with a hard-fought deal calling on countries to return next year with stronger emissions reduction targets and promises to double the money available to help countries cope with the impacts of global warming. It also mentions by name – for the first time in a quarter-century of global climate negotiations – the root cause of climate change: fossil fuels.

But it failed to stop the world from avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Even if countries keep all the emissions promises they have made, they will still put the world on a dangerous path to a planet that will be about 2.4 degrees Celsius warmer by the year 2100, compared to pre-industrial times.

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This misses by a large margin the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees that scientists believe is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of warming. And it sets the stage for widening storms, fires, droughts and rising sea levels, as well as for the social and economic upheavals that would accompany a growing climate crisis.

A relative handful of political leaders around the world – in capitals like Washington, Beijing and New Delhi – hold much of the influence on keeping those promises and whether the warming arc can be sufficiently bent away from disaster. But they face a complex combination of pressures: industry interests obstructing regulations, demands for money from developing countries to help them shift away from fossil fuels, and an increasingly vocal movement among citizens to contain emissions faster and deliver what they call climate justice.

Chief among the leaders facing such pressure is United States President Joe Biden, who is pursuing one of the largest climate legislation efforts ever attempted in the country, but who is meeting strong resistance not only from Republicans, but also from Republicans. as key senators within his own party.

At the same time, in China, Xi Jinping – recently elevated to the pantheon of Communist Party leaders alongside Mao Zedong – will be able or willing to bring together provincial leaders to curtail their use of the coal that fueled China’s economic rise. ? Can Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose representatives undermined the language of the final coal agreement on Saturday at the eleventh hour, achieve his commitment to fivefold renewable energy sources by 2030? Will Brazil keep its promise to join other countries to reverse deforestation in the Amazon?

The pledges kept the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees “at hand, but his pulse is weak,” said Alok Sharma, the British politician who chaired the summit. “And it will only survive if we keep our promises, if we translate commitments into quick action.”

The quick-action test includes what his own government does.

Britain, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in history, has said it wants to reduce its emissions by 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

But Britain is also facing criticism for building new roads and airports – both potential sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which are among the main causes of global warming – and for continuing to extract oil and gas in the North Sea. Mikaela Loach, a young British woman who is suing the British government over an oil and gas project, responded to the summit’s outcome on Twitter by dubbing it “# CopOut26”.

“We cannot sit back and wait for governments to make the right decisions,” he wrote. “WE all have to be part of the movements. We must act to end the era of fossil fuels. “

Also this past weekend, young climate activist Greta Thunberg criticized the United States for its offshore oil lease sales.

The courts have already begun to weigh. Citizens in Germany, Pakistan and the Netherlands have sued to force their governments to take stronger action against climate change. In the United States, an environmental nonprofit is suing the government on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs.

And in the first climate case against a private company, a local Dutch court this year instructed Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world, to drastically reduce emissions from all of its global operations. The company appeals against the court.

For businesses, the biggest impact of the Glasgow climate meeting will likely come from a deal announced on the sidelines: A coalition of the world’s largest investors, banks and insurers that collectively controls $ 130 trillion in assets have pledged to use that capital to achieve “net zero” emissions targets in their investments by 2050. This push would make limiting climate change a central focus of many important financial decisions.

But lawmakers will likely face pressure from the industry to write new regulations that define just what constitutes zero net investment.

Success or failure could depend significantly on what government regulators come up with, said Simon Stiell, environment minister of Grenada, a Caribbean island nation particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. “I expect there will be a significant delay between these commitments and getting to a point where you have the carrots and then you have the stick,” he said. “That piece is not part of the discussions that took place.”

In addition, the consequences of the Glasgow Summit for private companies are less clear. In Europe, many companies have already adjusted their business models for the next decade to align with the new European Union laws presented last summer, prior to the summit, which include high carbon taxes that apply to an increasingly wider range. of industries.

Airbus, for example, is developing hydrogen-powered aircraft technology. The European auto industry is doubling by switching to electric vehicles, even though many carmakers have not adhered to the Glasgow pledge to phase out sales of gasoline cars. ArcelorMittal, the largest steelmaker outside of China, based in Luxembourg, says it aims to reduce the company’s “carbon intensity” in Europe by 35% by 2030. This is partly due to it. high carbon taxes.

The oil and gas companies, however, are by no means retreating from their core businesses, even though it is the burning of fossil fuels that creates carbon dioxide that is heating the world. The leaders of these companies say they need their fossil fuel revenues to finance investments in alternative energy, particularly at a time when oil and gas prices are enormously high. “We are an ATM at these types of prices,” BP CEO Bernard Looney said in an analyst call this month.

European and American oil and gas companies could potentially benefit from a controversial paragraph in the summit document. It calls for a “phasing-out” of coal, but says nothing about reducing oil and gas production. With the decline of coal, producers of liquefied natural gas, a competitor of coal in electricity generation, are on the verge of conquering new markets.

Some of the promises made in Glasgow could be a test case for a wide range of industries. For example, a landmark deal to cut deforestation in half by 2030 would inevitably impact a number of companies using deforestation-related products, such as palm oil and wood. “Almost every sector of our economy is part of the crime of deforestation,” said Mindy Lubber, head of Ceres, a nonprofit that works with businesses and investors to address their environmental impacts.

Some scientists saw the results of the Glasgow Summit as a call for further scientific action.

Maisa Rojas, a climate modeler at the University of Chile, said researchers need to better quantify the impacts of climate change on vulnerable people and communities. This will help address an issue that has been one of the most hotly discussed in Glasgow: “loss and damage”, or the question of what is owed to people who have barely contributed to global warming but are harmed most by it.

“We need a systematic understanding and monitoring of what is happening,” said Rojas, director of the University’s Center for Climate and Resilience Research.

Indeed, one of the most important issues that risky countries like Grenada intend to press in the coming months is the financing of loss and damage. These nations did not win their battle in Glasgow, instead getting only a commitment from rich countries to have a “dialogue” on the issue of compensation in the future.

Stiell argued that the mere provision of disaster relief, as suggested by some countries including the United States, is insufficient. Funding for losses and damage is also needed for slow land wear due to rising sea levels and agricultural losses due to long-lasting droughts. “There must be results beyond dialogue,” he said.

Many of the young activists who protested outside the talks said the promises did not go far enough to address a problem they are already living with. Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a Philippine activist who joined tens of thousands of activists on the streets of Glasgow to rally for “climate justice”, said the result was “a stab in the back by those who they define leaders “.

“But the youth climate movement will continue to fight,” he said, “even when we’re angry, sad or scared, because that’s all for our generation.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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