Wullie Davidson’s Blog: COP26
COP26 – The 26th Conference of the Parties
The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) gets under way in Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition Centre on Sunday, October 31, ending on November 12. The conference will be attended by 30,000 delegates from 196 countries. Glasgow has around 15,000 hotel rooms, so many delegates will be required to commute from over 100 miles away. Thankfully, threatened strike action by ScotRail employees has been averted. Eye watering prices of more than £1,600 a night for flats have been advertised on Airbnb.
The Paris Agreement 2015
Since the landmark Paris agreement in 2015 (COP21), COPs 22 to 25 have been held in Marrakech, Bonn, Katowice and Madrid. However, COP26 is the most important meeting since Paris, as it is the first time that parties will be expected to commit to enhanced ambition since 2015. Under the Paris agreement, countries submitted pledges to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. Each country is expected to submit enhanced contributions every five years, to ‘ratchet up’ the measures they take to mitigate climate change. 2020 was therefore set to be the first iteration of the ‘ratchet mechanism’, but this was postponed until 2021, because of the pandemic.
It’s fair to say that there has been a lack of positive vibes surrounding COP26. Boris Johnson has expressed serious doubts that the necessary progress will be made. Greta Thunberg has described it as an ineffectual talking shop, where promises will be made, but not kept. She has good reason to be cynical. The Paris agreement included promises of $100 billion a year to developing countries, to help them decarbonise, but developed countries have not delivered on that pledge. Also, dozens of countries have failed to update and enhance their pledges to limit their greenhouse gas emissions by October 2021, as they agreed to do in Paris.
COP25 Madrid 2019
At COP25, in Madrid, in 2019, President Trump stonewalled every initiative, and Russia, India, China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia were also intransigent participants. The Director of Strategy and Policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Alden Meyer, who has attended climate negotiations since 1991, said that he had never before seen the almost total disconnect between what the science said was required, and what the climate negotiations delivered, in terms of meaningful action.
The problem, of course, is politics
The problem, of course, is politics. In order to counter the most serious problem that mankind has faced, a spirit of largesse and altruism, which transcends national short term economic self interests, is required. But, OPEC countries demand that proposed restrictions on fossil fuel extraction be watered down. Australia, which is a major exporter of coal, refuses to budge on limiting its coal mining operations, and, when the greenhouse gas emissions of livestock farming, particularly methane, was brought up, both Brazil and Argentina, which have large cattle farming industries, refused to comply, with Argentina even suggesting that a meat based diet could actually help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is what the negotiators have to contend with.
The 1.5 C target
President Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement, but President Biden quickly reversed this. The US representative at COP26 will be John Kerry, the first US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. The highly ambitious aim of the Paris agreement is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, hopefully keeping global temperature to 1.5 C above the pre-industrial temperature. We are currently at 1.2 C. The original target in Paris was 2.0 C, but Pacific island nations, at risk of disappearing under rising seas, insisted it be reduced to the unrealistically low 1.5 C. The agreement has been criticised as being insufficiently binding, and the International Energy Agency has recently stated that, even if the parties to the agreement all honoured their pledges, this would fall short of the net zero target by 60%. Moreover, a UN report released on October 19, and published by the UN Environment Program, found that governments are still planning to extract double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be compatible with the Paris climate accord’s goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5 C. Even the less ambitious target of 2 C would be exceeded.
There is a time lag between the emission of greenhouse gases and the eventual ‘equilibrium temperature’ that results from this. This is because of the many positive feedback effects that kick in, enhancing the warming, after the initial warming by greenhouse gases, such as reduced planetary albedo, due to decreased snow and ice cover, release of CO2 and methane from melting permafrost and warmer wetlands, ocean surface stratification, resulting in less heat being transported to depth, and reduced net uptake of CO2 by warmer oceans. So, if man disappeared from the planet tomorrow, it would continue to warm, and probably exceed the 1.5 C target.
We owe it to future generations to reduce emissions
Even if the current targets are unattainably low, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to have meetings in the future when we fail to meet them. We owe it to future generations to do as much as we can to reduce emissions. If a ‘business as usual’ scenario would result in a catastrophic 4 C of warming by 2100, even just managing to reduce this to 3 C would be well worth the effort. I think that’s the ballpark we’re in, now.
Wullie Davidson, 28 October, 2021
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