The COP26 climate talks have high hopes, as the world is already feeling the effects of the failure of the Kyoto Protocol, which failed to change the trajectory of the world economy 20 years ago. The Paris Agreement is designed to do just that, and the Glasgow talks are a turning point.
Let’s start our compilation from activist and energy expert Oleg Savitsky analysis of what happens in Glasgow on COP26.
Being present here and watching as a mosaic of individual initiatives by governments, companies, cities, and international organizations gradually develops into a larger holistic picture is very exciting. I see the beginning of a new industrial revolution that must be larger in scale and scope than the previous two in the 19th and 20th centuries, which shaped today’s polluted and unjust world. In the last 30 years, their inherited dependence on fossil fuels has caused a climate crisis that threatens to lose much of life on Earth. Here, at COP26, the Third Industrial Revolution, the need for which the great visionary and naturalist economist Jeremy Rifkin spoke to the governments of the EU, the United States, and China, is already beginning to materialize.
For context, it is essential to note that the growth trajectory of renewable energy in the world in 2020 has changed significantly – this is no longer a direct trend: annual growth increased from 180 GW in 2019 to a record 260 GW, and RES accounted for 90% of all new capacity. This explosive growth will only accelerate as global energy demand grows through developing countries. Climate change adaptation measures also require energy from clean sources. The need to replace fossil fuels in transport, heating, and industry increases demand even more. At the same time, investment in coal capacity is completely stopped (this was stated by China, the World Bank, and all multilateral development banks). Therefore, the demand will be met by cheap electricity from RES.
The rapid development of renewable energy sources in the last ten years, which has made them the cheapest and most competitive electricity generation technologies today, also opens the way for restructuring other sectors of the economy – first of all, transport and industry.
The Breakthrough Agenda is based on this – an unprecedented international plan for the introduction and scaling of clean technologies, designed to help keep global temperatures rising at 1.5° C. With the support of the United Nations, it brings together governments and leading companies around the world to increase and strengthen decarbonization measures each year in each sector through public, private and public-private global initiatives, and points to breakthroughs that will help ensure success in rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The first government initiatives under this program have already been presented at COP26 and are called Glasgow Breakthroughs. They cover five critical sectors of the world economy, which account for more than 50% of global emissions: electricity, road transport, metallurgy, hydrogen production, and agriculture. Glasgow Breakthroughs ’industry initiatives contain specific commitments and provide funding for innovative technologies in these five key sectors.
I would especially like to focus on Glasgow’s breakthrough on steel, an initiative to restructure the metallurgical sector. It aims to make pure steel, produced with almost zero carbon emissions, the best choice on world markets in each region by 2030.
Today, the global metallurgical industry, which employs more than six million people, is responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To align its development with the International Energy Agency’s carbon neutrality scenario, the sector must abandon coal and make the transition to electricity, increasing its share from 15% to 70% by 2050. Achieving this goal will require significant investments and scaling up of innovations, including the introduction of hydrogen technologies and electrification.
Glasgow’s breakthrough on steel starts with turbocharging: seven of the ten largest steel-producing countries have initiated at least one green steel project, and nine companies, representing about 20% of world steel production, have set firm commitments to achieve zero emissions. This genuinely groundbreaking initiative in the metallurgical sector has brought together world governments to work together to accelerate innovation and create economies of scale to make near-zero-carbon steel cheap, affordable, and widespread in global markets by 2030.
On the eve of COP26, leading European electric vehicle manufacturers (as they now position themselves) Volvo and Mercedes Benz announced the transition to carbon-free steel in their supply chains. Australia and Namibia have launched large-scale industrial projects to create new integrated metallurgical complexes based on DRI (direct iron reduction) technology, which will use hydrogen produced from electricity obtained from RES.
BreakthroughAgenda, in general, has already been supported by: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Guinea-Bissau, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Morocco, Namibia, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Great Britain, United States of America.
Subsequent international initiatives also contribute to the progress and coordinate their activities to achieve their goals
Glasgow breakthrough on steel:
- Clean Energy Ministerial’s Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative
- Climate Group’s SteelZero
- First Movers Coalition
- Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT)
- Mission Innovation Industry Mission
- Mission Possible Partnership’s Net-Zero Steel Initiative
- Responsible Steel.
The latest data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show that the growth trajectory of renewables is already changing. In 2020, RES accounted for 90% of all new capacity in electricity, and annual growth increased from 180 GW in 2019 to a record 260 GW. Since the beginning of COP26, several new initiatives have been announced to support energy innovation and accelerate the transition to renewable energy, which will contribute to further explosive changes.
Many governments worldwide were not ready for this new reality and did not expect such a rapid development of RES. Commitments to increase the share of RES, reflected in the first round of nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement submitted in 2015, provided a total average annual increase in renewable energy use of only 3.6% during 2015-2030, which was critically insufficient to achieve necessary emission reductions and sufficient rates of fossil fuel substitution in the world.
But now there is the reason for optimism – according to the IRENA analysis, all new nationally determined contributions submitted by countries to COP26 mention the energy sector as a critical area of climate action, and the transition to renewable energy is recognized as a pivotal way to decarbonize the sector. Moreover, the rapid development of RES is recognized as the key to achieving carbon neutrality by the middle of the century and mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, as energy remains the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than two-thirds of total emissions.
In submitting renewed nationally determined contributions, 72 Parties to the Paris Agreement in various regions of the world have used the support of the International Renewable Energy Agency to strengthen their goals and plan for the energy transition. A recent IRENA survey found that of the 194 nationally defined contributions, 143 include quantified targets for the share of renewable energy in total supply, 109 have quantified targets for renewable energy in the electricity sector, and 31 countries have quantitative targets for RES for the transport sector and/or heat supply.
IRENA continues to expand its support to its members in improving and implementing their energy decarbonization plans. Support will be enhanced by supporting policy and program development, as well as analytical work, training and institutional support, helping countries create an enabling environment for large-scale investment in renewable energy.
Along with IRENA, the European Commission is also actively developing international scientific and technical cooperation to innovate and scale breakthrough technologies, with a particular focus on accelerating the global transition to renewable energy. The EU is implementing this policy as part of MissionInnovation, a global initiative that stimulates public funding and private investment in research, development, and demonstration projects. Mission Innovation is a crucial intergovernmental platform that innovates in clean energy through collaboration focused on practical steps. The members of this initiative are jointly responsible for more than 90% of the world’s public investment in clean energy innovation.
Mission Innovation 2.0 was launched by the European Commission this year. In Glasgow, it is essential that it was joined by the United States and several other countries; in general, government participation has expanded to 23 countries. The US federal government will now direct targeted funding to its 70 national laboratories. Mission Innovation 2.0 will stimulate public-private partnerships and investment through sector-specific activities that will accelerate the development and implementation of innovative solutions in critical areas to reach the turning points in this decade for the availability and scalability of clean technologies. The goal is to make them attractive and accessible to all countries, and to give governments around the world the confidence to make ambitious plans for the transition to clean energy and decarbonization in general.
At COP26, governments and intergovernmental initiatives have already made several statements in support of and strengthening Mission Innovation 2.0 and the rapid development of RES, including the COP26 Presidency event: “Accelerating innovation: cooperation for a net-zero future” on November 9 and the Sustainable Innovation Forum 8-10 November.
World’s militaries avoiding scrutiny over emissions, scientists say
Countries do not have to include armed forces’ emissions in their targets despite the fact that estimates sector creates 6% of greenhouse gases, The Guardian states.
Armed forces are among the biggest polluters on the planet but are avoiding scrutiny because countries do not have to include their emissions in their targets, scientists say.
The world’s militaries combined, and the industries that provide their equipment, are estimated to create 6% of all global emissions, according to Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR).
Owing to what they describe as a “large loophole” in the Paris agreement, governments are not required to provide full data on greenhouse gases being emitted by armed forces. Previously, under the Kyoto protocol, militaries were given an automatic exemption from CO2 targets, after lobbying from the US government.
Campaigners say the current situation, whereby it is only voluntary for states to include armed forces in their carbon-cutting obligations, is undermining efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
SGR’s executive director, Dr. Stuart Parkinson, said that as military spending increased, the loophole continued to grow.
“Military carbon emissions matter because they are a potentially large loophole in the Paris targets – especially for the high military spenders like the US, China, UK, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and France,” he said.
“With military spending rapidly rising, this loophole is set to grow at a time when other emissions are falling. The seriousness with how these nations deal with this issue will affect action in other sectors and in other nations.”
The Ministry of Defence says the UK military’s total annual carbon footprint is 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), but SGR estimates the true figure to be 11m tonnes.
That is roughly the amount 6m average cars would emit annually. The UK-based company with the largest carbon emissions is BAE Systems, whose emissions account for about 30% of the UK arms industry’s total output.
A recent report from SGR and the Conflict and Environment Observatory estimated the carbon footprint of EU armed forces in 2019 to total 24.8m tonnes of CO2e, with France accounting for about a third of that.
Meanwhile, the US government says its armed forces emit 56m tonnes of CO2e but, while there are bigger gaps in the data, SGR estimates it to be significantly higher at 205m tonnes.
The stark figures are supported by Brown University’s Costs of War project, which in 2019 said the US military was “the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.”
SGR said the estimates were conservative and did not include the environmental impact of fighting wars. For example, the Iraq war was responsible for 141m tonnes of carbon releases in its first four years, according to an Oil Change International report.
Let’s be clear, this is the US government’s most advanced and best funded climate policy. To militarise the consequences, while failing to tackle the causes of the climate crisis.
Nick Buxton (@nickbuxton) November 10, 2021
Parkinson added: “Many nations don’t specifically report any military carbon data. Those that do often report partial figures. So figures for military aircraft could be hidden under ‘aviation,’ military tech industry under ‘industry,’ military bases under ‘public buildings,’ etc. Indeed, it’s not just the public who are unaware, the policymakers are also unaware, and even the researchers.”
While the issue is not on the agenda at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, demonstrations have called for the UK to focus its spending on fighting climate change ahead of the armed forces.
Anya Nanning Ramamurthy, a campaigner for the Peace Pledge Union pacifist group, said: “I don’t think many people realize that military emissions aren’t included in the data. We have seen a massive increase in military spending in the UK, the largest in nearly 70 years, while we are in this climate crisis – they promise one thing, then go off and do another.”
This week a website was launched to monitor military emissions data. The Military Emissions Gap says it is dedicated to “tracking, analyzing and closing the military emissions gap.”
US-China deal on emissions welcomed by global figures and climate experts
UN and EU say the agreement could help pave the way to wider breakthrough, though concerns remain over ‘patchy details,’ The Guardian reports.
An unexpected agreement between the US and China to work together on cutting emissions has been broadly welcomed by leaders and climate experts.
The world’s two biggest emitters appeared to put aside their differences at the Cop26 climate summit and on Wednesday unveiled a joint declaration that would see close cooperation on emissions cuts that scientists say are needed in the next 10 years to stay within 1.5° C.
The agreement calls for “concrete and pragmatic” regulations in decarbonization, reducing methane emissions and fighting deforestation, Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said in Glasgow.
Tuvalu’s minister for justice, communication, and foreign affairs, Simon Kofe, gives a Cop26 statement while standing in the ocean in Funafuti, Tuvalu.
The two countries will revive a working group that will “meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade,” the joint declaration said.
Global leaders and climate experts broadly welcomed the agreement, with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres calling the move “an important step in the right direction.”
Genevieve Maricle, director of US climate policy action at WWF, said the world’s two largest economies “have the power to unlock vast financial flows from the public and private sectors that can speed the transition to a low carbon economy.”
A US-China bilateral agreement in 2014 gave a huge push to the creation of the historic Paris accord the following year, but that cooperation stopped with the Trump administration, which pulled America out of the pact.
“While this is not a gamechanger in the way the 2014 US-China climate deal was, in many ways it’s just as much of a step forward given the geopolitical state of the relationship,” said Thom Woodroofe, an expert in US-China climate talks. “It means the intense level of US-China dialogue on climate can now begin to translate into cooperation.”
EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans agreed the pact gave room for hope. “It shows … that the US and China know this subject transcends other issues. And it certainly helps us here at Cop26 to come to an agreement,” Timmermans told Reuters.
The Climate Council head of research, Dr. Simon Bradshaw, described the focus on accelerating action this decade as “significant”.
Still, some experts noted the declaration was short on commitments that would significantly reduce heat-trapping gases.
“It’s a good sign that the world’s two biggest emitters can actually work together to face the biggest crisis of humanity but there’s not a lot of meat there after the methane stuff,” said Byford Tsang a China policy analyst for the European think tank E3G.
Bernice Lee, research director at Chatham House, said while cooperation between the US and China was positive “details remain patchy”.
“The statement is not enough to close the deal. The real test of Washington and Beijing is how hard they push for a 1.5C-aligned deal here in Glasgow.”
‘We are not on course’: scientists warn action must match words at Cop26
Climate experts say their message is getting through but more urgent work is needed, The Guardian states.
Scientists attending Cop26 have sent a clear warning to policymakers: get a move on, because every moment of delay, every extra fraction of a degree of global heating will have dire consequences.
That message has been reinforced at Glasgow with reports, forums and discussions, but those involved in channelling the science to the world’s leaders are frustrated that words are still not being matched by actions.
Peter Stott, a climate scientist at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre who has been attending Cops since 1998, said he was marginally more optimistic than he had been before the Glasgow summit. “I have mixed emotions. I feel relieved that things have started to move, but I am concerned about the speed,” he said. “The scientific message we have talked about for 25 years is being acted on. That is a vindication. We might be starting to turn the corner. But I feel a strong sense of anxiety I haven’t felt before. I want to see the policymakers get a move on. In the next two years we have got to cut emissions rapidly.”
He said the success or failure of this Cop would not be determined by speeches and targets but by geophysics. “We will know Glasgow had an effect by measuring the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. That is what scientists are looking for. And now it is acknowledged internationally that these concentrations need to go down. In that sense, science has done its primary job.”
New studies continue to underline the risks. This week the Hadley Centre released a report showing that 1 billion people would be at risk of extreme heat exposure if global warming reached 2° C.
Katharine Hayhoe, the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, feels humanity is getting closer to a collective epiphany – an “oh shit” moment – when people finally realize climate impacts pose a far greater threat than the solutions, and decarbonization can be ramped up to the necessary scale of a Manhattan Project or a moon race.
“I don’t think we have arrived there yet but it’s building,” she said. “I think leaders are listening to what is already happening in this world. Fifteen years ago you had to be up in the Arctic or in a low-lying island to experience climate change. Today, wherever we live we are seeing the impacts and governments are responding.” The costs are also becoming more apparent. In the 1980s, US insurers had to pay out fora $1bn disaster every three months. Now, Hayhoe says, it is every two and a half weeks.
Samantha Burgess, the deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Service, said EU satellites were increasingly monitoring record fires, temperatures, and extreme rainfall events leading to floods. “We have overwhelming evidence that the costs of inaction are orders of magnitude greater than the cost of action.”
Compared with the start of the conference, Burgess said she was a little more hopeful about reaching the 1.5° C target because the direction of travel was clearer. “I think the motivation of everyone I have interacted with is very high in the transition to a net-zero future.” But she was cautious about putting too much faith in long-distance goals. “There is a big difference between the policies drafted and the policies implemented,” she said. “Currently we are not on course for 1.5° C. We need to see more political ambition on the pledges to align with the urgent changes described by the scientific evidence.”
How much of a difference Cop will make is fiercely debated. Last week the International Energy Agency said the promises made in Glasgow could put the world on track to limit warming to 1.8° C by the end of the century, if every country lived up to its long-term net-zero commitments. This optimism was hosed down by a subsequent assessment by Climate Action Tracker, the world’s most respected climate analysis coalition, which showed how weak short-term goals were likely to push global heating to at least 2.4° C.
In negotiations, the most vulnerable states are now battling with big emitters to try to hold on to the 1.5° C target, which is the most ambitious goal of the Paris agreement. Glasgow will almost certainly fall short, so one of the biggest challenges remaining at Cop26 is to keep that possibility alive with as much progress as possible and a more aggressive ratchet mechanism in the future.
Stott feels 1.5° C is difficult but worth fighting for. “It’s probably going to be almost impossible to stay below it completely. We may find a way where we briefly go above 1.5° C and then come down again. But what is at stake is so enormous that even if we get close that would still be a massive prize.”
Ed Hawkins, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, concurred on the need to fight for every fraction of a degree. “Every tonne of CO2 matters. Every bit of warming matters,” he said. “There is an understandable focus on 1.5° C or 2° C, but there is no cliff edge. It’s a slope we are sliding down. The quicker we get off, the less bad the consequences will be.”
Hawkins is the scientist behind the “climate warming stripes” that can be seen on walls, pavements, scarfs, ties and dresses in Glasgow. He is encouraged by last week’s announcements on reducing methane, coal and deforestation, but he wants policymakers to act more quickly. “Every tree chopped down and burned ends up in the atmosphere. Setting the target to end deforestation by 2030 leaves the door open for another decade of deforestation. It would be helpful if action could be brought forward.”
He said warming would only stop when the world reaches net-zero carbon, but emissions were heading in the wrong direction. Since the first IPCC gathering in 1988, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from 352 to 410 parts per million, and continues to rise.
“Over the past 30 years, the physical science that explains the dangers of our interference with the climate system has become ever clearer. Yet our ability to tackle the problem seems to have stood still,” he said. “Climate needs to be part of everyday conversations. That will inspire small actions and motivate politicians to act when they see these actions are popular.”
Key Cop26 pledges could put world 9% closer to 1.5° C pathway
Climate Action Tracker data shows world is still heading for catastrophe – but outlook could improve, The Guardian reports.
According to a study by the world’s most respected climate analysis coalition, new Cop26 pledges announced on methane, coal, transport, and deforestation could nudge the world 9% closer to a pathway that keeps heating to 1.5° C.
Climate Action Tracker says the sectoral commitments announced in Glasgow represent potential cuts of 2.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the emissions of Germany, Japan, and the UK combined, or 20,000 fully loaded aircraft carriers. This is in addition to measures previously outlined in national climate plans.
However, this depends on governments keeping their climate promises, which almost none have done until now, and it still leaves the world heading towards ever more dangerous heating levels.
Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute – a partner of Climate Action Tracker – said the figures were low but could improve if more nations signed up.
“It is not surprising that the effect of the Cop26 sectoral initiatives beyond national climate targets is initially small. These initiatives are designed for those that do not sign immediately. The pressure of being put on the spot will help to grow the membership of the initiatives and enhance the effect beyond national climate targets in the long run.”
Many more modest projects have been agreed at Cop26, but the standout four initiatives and their potential impacts are:
Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use
So far, 137 global leaders have signed up to a pledge “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”, which was announced at the beginning of Cop26. Many signatories had already agreed to this goal in a similar earlier declaration in New York, but some critical new signatories included Brazil and China. If this promise is kept, it would be one of the most significant achievements of Cop26.
Climate Action Tracker estimates this initiative could reduce emissions by 1.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, rising two or threefold if others sign up. However, there are grave doubts about the credibility of this declaration. Indonesia has already signaled a change of heart, and Brazil is weakening rather than strengthening forest protection.
The global methane pledge
So far, 108 nations, including the US and the EU, have signed up to this initiative, which aims to reduce human-caused methane emissions by 30% between 2020 and 2030. That will require tighter controls on gas wells and pipes, as well as actions on livestock and municipal landfills.
Climate Action Tracker says these commitments are likely to reduce emissions by about 0.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That figure will increase as more countries sign up. It does not include China’s plan, made on Thursday, to reduce its methane output.
Global coal to clean power transition statement
Forty-six nations have joined this initiative to phase out coal power at varying speeds. Signatories to clause 2 are committed to “transition away from unabated coal generation” in either the 2030s for major economies or 2040s for others. Clause 3 is a promise “to stop new construction for any planned coal plants which have not already achieved financial closure”.
Climate Action Tracker says these actions are likely to reduce emissions by about 0.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is far from on track for 1.5° C, but they note that if all OECD nations and major coal users can be persuaded to sign up, then the impact could be ten times higher.
Declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans
At the time of Climate Action Tracker’s analysis, 22 countries had signed a pledge to reach a 100% share of sales of new cars and vans being zero-emission by 2035 for leading markets and 2040 for other regions. Unfortunately, most of the significant vehicle-manufacturing nations – Germany, Japan, the US, China, and France – are absent.
As a result, the coalition estimates this initiative will reduce emissions by less than 0.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. If the missing nations later join, this could rise more than sevenfold.