To defend fragile 1.5C goal, Glasgow Climate Pact must get results - fast

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 15 November 2021 17:24 GMT

Extinction Rebellion activists hold a banner during a protest outside the venue of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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Turning COP26 climate change pledges into action within a year will determine whether the Glasgow conference was a success, analysts say

* Shift from promises to action in 2022 needed to retain 1.5C goal

* Politicians feeling pressure - but fear re-election losses

* Pledges still far from adding up to sufficient climate action

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, Nov 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With planned emissions cuts still far smaller than needed to prevent runaway climate change, turning the promises made at the just-ended Glasgow summit into real-world investment within a year will be the mark of its success, analysts said Monday.

Britain - which hosted the COP26 U.N. climate conference and will lead work through to the 2022 gathering in Egypt - must now team up with activists and green-minded businesses to shift plans and maintain pressure on laggard countries, they said.

That could include everything from expanding a pioneering funding programme to help South Africa break its coal dependency to other nations, to dialling up political pressure on less-climate-ambitious countries from Australia to Russia and Brazil.

For now, efforts to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius - a level scientists say gives the best chance of keeping people and nature safe - are "hanging by a thread", said Richard Black of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

"We don't need more pledges... That's not really credible anymore. We need actions, policies," Black, a senior associate with the UK nonprofit, said at a briefing on the COP26 outcome.

The summit, which ended on Saturday, achieved some notable commitments, including to double financing for adaptation to climate impacts, "phase down" coal power, cut "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies and end deforestation by 2030.

But campaign groups lamented it was far from enough to keep the world on a safe path, with Asad Rehman of the COP26 Coalition, a UK-based group of climate justice organisations, saying it showed "utter disregard of science and justice".

Nations' emissions-cutting pledges for 2030 put the world on track for 2.4C of temperature rise, with projected emissions double what is needed to hold onto 1.5C, according to Climate Action Tracker researchers.

David King, a former British chief scientist, said in his view "there was no real understanding in the (Glasgow) agreement of the extreme nature of the crisis".

But the government of Bangladesh, current head of the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 55 countries, said the talks had nonetheless delivered "substantial progress".

"The world has recognised the urgency of the situation here in Glasgow - now the hard work begins back home," it said in a statement after the meeting ended.

Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities network of large metropolises pushing climate action, said the top priority should be "big breakthroughs" in action on the ground.

"As world leaders depart Glasgow, it is now up to others to pick up the torch," he said in a statement.

RATCHETING UP ACTION

The Glasgow Climate Pact asks countries to come back by the end of 2022 with more ambitious plans to cut their emissions by 2030 in a bid to hold onto the fast-fading 1.5C goal.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations were required to update their carbon-reducing plans only every five years.

The new request for faster ratcheting - alongside pressure from climate activists and businesses eager for clearer market signals on how to drive green shifts - mean more leaders now feel "squeezed from both sides" to take action, said Chris Stark, head of Britain's independent Climate Change Committee.

Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy UK, an industry trade association, said the Glasgow deal's first-ever references to phasing down coal and fossil fuel subsidies amounted to "a really strong market signal" for business.

That could drive shifts in private investment that will ultimately have a bigger influence on emissions than smaller amounts of government climate finance, the analysts said.

But long-overdue rules governing carbon markets, finally agreed in Glasgow, leave open the possibility that companies and countries making net-zero pledges could rely too heavily on offsetting emissions rather than cutting them, Pinchbeck said.

Whether carbon trading systems actually reduce global emissions is "a wait and see", she said during the online discussion.

One significant shift at the COP26 talks, she noted, is that more leaders have grasped not just that climate change presents a genuine risk in their own countries but that demands for action are coming from a broader spectrum of society.

"Countries understand the threat of climate change now physically but also in terms of social pressure and the pressure from businesses," she said.

Amber Rudd, a former UK secretary of state for energy and climate change, said that with politicians weighing up what swifter emissions cuts might mean for their re-election chances, keeping up public pressure for climate action was crucial.

Leaders are too often interested only in future climate action that is NIMTOO, or "not in my term of office", she added.

"Politicians know what they need to do. They just don't know how to get re-elected after they've done it," she said - a worry that clear public support for climate action could alleviate.

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(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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