Goodbye Glasgow: What’s Next for Global Climate Action?

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By Klaas Lenaerts, Bruegel Research Assistant and Simone Tagliapietra, Senior fellow at Bruege. Originally published at Bruegel.

The world is on track for a 2.4°C global temperature increase above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century if countries stick to the 2030 emissions reduction targets (in jargon, nationally determined contributions, NDCs) they submitted in Glasgow (CAT, IEA, UNEP). This is bad news, as the science has made clear that to avoid the most dramatic consequences of climate change, humanity needs to keep the global temperature increase within 1.5°C.

Taking into account the long-term net-zero pledges that have been made by a number of countries, most recently by India, would limit the rise to 1.8°C in 2100 after some limited overshoot (CAT, IEA, UNEP). However, this figure should be taken sceptically, as most of these pledges are currently not backed-up by real action or planning.

Reducing the Global Emissions Gap

Given this context, the first climate priority for 2022 should be to reducing the global emissions gap by ensuring that NDCs are enhanced to a level compatible with the 1.5°C trajectory. The Glasgow Climate Pact agreed by the 197 countries at COP26 provides a solid foundation for this.

First, the document strongly emphasises the 1.5°C goal rather than on the 2°C goal, both of which are included in the Paris Agreement. All 197 parties agree that the 1.5°C goal should be the norm, as the 2°C goal has been shown to be significantly more harmful and riskier. This development is very important. As the latest IPCC report illustrates, extreme heat events will occur roughly twice as frequently as today at 1.5°C warming levels, while at 2°C this their frequency would triple.

Second, in acknowledging the global emissions gap emerging from the current 2030 pledges, the document calls on countries to return with strengthened NDCs by the end of 2022. The European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom pushed for this earlier date because 2025, when NDCs should normally be revised again according to the Paris Agreement, is much too late to halve emissions this decade, as is required in a 1.5°C scenario.

While the Glasgow Climate Pact provides the institutional foundation to deliver on this front in 2022, delivery should not be taken for granted. Even though the Paris Agreement requires updated NDCs to be more ambitious than the previous versions at each iteration, many countries submitted the same targets as before for COP26 (eg Australia, Russia, Switzerland), while some even backtracked (eg Brazil) (CAT). And the omens for COP27 are not good: Australia and New Zealand have already said they will not adjust their NDCs, which are currently seen as inadequate. It might therefore be challenging to persuade laggards, to whom this call is addressed in the first place, to scale-up their pledges in 2022.

Two complementary actions might help incentivise countries to strengthen their 2030 climate pledges and, importantly, their climate action over the next years: international climate finance and bottom-up, sector-specific, climate deals. While failing to deliver results, Glasgow did advance the global discussion in these respective areas. Building on these advances, global climate action could bring substantial results in 2022.

Delivering on Climate Finance to Foster Action and Ensure International Climate justice

In general, ambitious developed countries should use 2022 to convince their peers to strengthen their climate measures if they have not done so already, including through the G7 and the G20. Much frustration was voiced over the last-minute intervention by China and India to weaken the pact on the ‘phase out’ of coal, and rightly so. China is no longer among the group of least-developed nations and is rapidly creating its own historic responsibility in terms of cumulative emissions. India does not yet bear historic responsibility and still needs help to lift its population out of poverty. However, there is simply no carbon budget to allow India to take the same polluting path as China or the West did. Instead, rich countries should scale up financial and technological support to provide credible alternatives to coal-powered development. Agreements to wean individual countries off coal, like the $8.5 billion pledge made to South Africa, can serve as a template for future commitments as they produce greater accountability for the governments involved. At the same time, individual countries should not be neglected because of a lack of multilateral funding.

The issue of climate finance is perhaps the greatest source of frustration, which is of rich countries’ own making: the failure to deliver the $100 billion per year by 2020 that was promised to developing countries during the Copenhagen summit in 2009. Depending on how ‘support’ is measured – particularly how loans are treated – the shortfall can be anything from $20 billion (as estimated by the OECD) to $80 billion per year (estimated by Oxfam, which notably argues that besides grants, only the benefit accrued from lending at below-market rates should be counted, not the full value of loans).

The Glasgow Climate Pact merely urges rich countries to deliver the same promised amount until 2025 and to at least double the financing destined for adaptation, from $20 billion in 2019. In comparison, the first dedicated UN report estimates that the NDCs of developing countries alone imply a total financing need of $5.8 to $5.9 trillion up to 2030.

Developed countries, starting with the US, should urgently make good on their promises and scale-up international climate finance. It is important to underline that several complementary options can be pursued: bilateral funding can be paralleled by multilateral funding, multilateral development banks, private sector contributions, philanthropy, Special Drawing Rights from the International Monetary Fund, and voluntary carbon markets – for which Glasgow did represent a game-changer with the adoption of rules governing the international trade in emissions reduction units after six years of haggling that had held up the Paris Agreement rulebook.

It is particularly important to flag the issue of loss and damage. This concept entered international climate negotiations in 1991, when the Alliance of Small Island States called for a mechanism that would compensate countries affected by rising sea levels. Over time, more and more vulnerable countries also realised that they are affected by climate change that is beyond their capacity to mitigate alone. The idea of a mechanism to help them address loss and damage has gained wider support over time. COP26 got very close to creating a ‘Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility’ aimed at channelling funding from rich nations to poor and climate-vulnerable countries. However, the initiative was ultimately rejected by rich countries, as they feared unlimited liability. The issue of loss and damage represents a cornerstone of international climate justice and for this reason this item will now have to be placed at the top of the 2022 climate agenda.

Fostering Global Climate Action through Bottom-Up and Sector-Specific Deals

Some of the most notable achievements at COP26 occurred outside of the Paris Agreement framework, with numerous side-deals struck by varying groups of countries. For example, some of the most forest-rich countries in the world signed up to stop deforestation by 2030, with over €16 billion in public and private funding promised to facilitate this. More than 100 countries joined the US and EU-led pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% between 2020 and 2030. Apart from the contentious ‘phasing down’ of unabated coal power which all countries signed up for, some have also committed to phasing out coal by the 2030s and 2040s or as fast as possible thereafter. A number of small producers (but some with big reserves) of oil and gas said they will stop issuing new drilling licences after 2040 or 2050. In addition, economies including China, India, the EU and the US signed a statement on the ‘Breakthrough Agenda’, declaring their goal of making clean power, zero-emission vehicles, green steel and green hydrogen globally available and competitive. Finally, in the area of private finance, the Glasgow summit saw the birth of a ‘Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero’, which could mobilise substantial resources, though the reported $130 trillion is clearly a gross overestimation.

Many of these deals suffer from softened language (eg on phasing out/down coal), disappointing precedents (deforestation) and the absence of some of the parties that matter the most: Russia, India, China and Australia did not join the Global Methane Pledge and the biggest producers and users of coal also refused to sign the coal initiative. Furthermore, the additionality of these agreements with respect to NDCs has been called into question.

Nevertheless, these sector-specific side-deals make commitments more concrete and ‘modular’. They allow countries to create their own paths towards more sustainability, which may work better given their diverse circumstances and levels of ambition. And they allow participation of other parties that will ultimately have to deliver climate action: local authorities, the private sector and civil society.

Leading countries may want to consider joining and encouraging others to do so before the next COP at the end of 2022. For example, Germany could send a signal to domestic and global car makers by joining the plan to eliminate emissions from new cars by 2040, something which is being discussed at EU level already.

It is impossible not to mention another side-deal that galvanised attention in Glasgow: the ‘US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s’. Coming from the world’s two largest polluters – together representing 40% of global emissions – the declaration represented a breakthrough in the Glasgow negotiations. This resembled a similar agreement brokered in 2014 by the same two lead negotiators, then-Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s top climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, which paved the way for the adoption of the Paris Agreement a year later. So, while the practical impact of the declaration remains ambiguous due to its lack of concrete commitments, it represents an important political document to establish some common-sense guardrails on climate, in an otherwise chilly relationship of mutual mistrust.

2022: Crossing the Climate Bridge?

Closing the Glasgow conference, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said that at COP26 parties built “a bridge between the admirable promises made six years ago in Paris and the concrete measures that the scientific evidence calls for and societies around the world demand”. She was right: COP26 was an important step in the fight against global warming. However, the conference failed to narrow the global emissions gap. Building on the achievements of Glasgow, the world has a real opportunity in 2022.

Rich nations have a clear responsibility in the year ahead: make good on their $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries and act to protect vulnerable communities. This is the key to giving substance to the Paris Agreement’s core principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and to ensure international climate justice.

Laggard countries, meanwhile, must revise their 2030 emissions reduction pledges and policy actions, taking into account the sector-specific deals signed in Glasgow that will hopefully be further enlarged over the following months.

It is only by promptly undertaking these actions during 2022 that countries will ultimately demonstrate that Glasgow was about real progress rather than ‘blah blah blah’.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

23 comments

  1. Synoia

    Does anyone believe that any of the polluters will keep their (unenforceable) “commitments”?

    For example, the US would have to eliminate single family hones, a/c and Cars.

    Reply
    1. cnchal

      I don’t. What I do believe is that when the realization hits that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are going to get too high for breathable air, it’s gonna be war. Another three decades or so to go. Who wants to be the general to tell the President those F35s are for show only?

      Know what we don’t have enough of? Power sucking data centers to record every digital fart in the world in an attempt to sell you garbage you neither want nor need and because they use so much, they get a steep discount on the price of electric power.

      By the way, don’t we have a chip crisis? For now not nearly enough but in the future way too many.

      Every time someone tells me you can’t stop progress, I point out the dark ages were not that long ago.

      Reply
    2. ptb

      Sadly, no… The US weaning off the maximum-per-capita-energy-expenditure lifestyle is a big ask. But that’s ok. Not sure if any serious observers expect the US has to lead the way here. Regions lacking energy reserves will do this.

      Also, wealthy countries can offshore what’s left of manufacturing chemicals / fertilizers / construction materials / heavy industry, then demand austerity from the residential sector in whatever part of the world it gets sent to. I think the fraud inherent in that tactic is also understood now.

      Reply
    3. Michael von Plato

      RE: “Does anyone believe that any of the polluters will keep their (unenforceable) “commitments”?”
      A: No.
      I could go on, but -NO.

      Reply
    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      Several million words ago, a Naked Capitalism links-post offered an article about some experimental so-far-very-efficient bus-route and timing approaches to low-energy people-transit to and from single-family-home suburbs in the Toronto area.

      Does anyone have a link to that article?

      Reply
    5. rjs

      Man announces he will quit drinking by 2050 —A Sydney man has set an ambitious target to phase out his alcohol consumption within the next 29 years, as part of an impressive plan to improve his health. The program will see Greg Taylor, 73, continue to drink as normal for the foreseeable future, before reducing consumption in 2049 when he turns 101. He has assured friends it will not affect his drinking plans in the short or medium term. Taylor said it was important not to rush the switch to non-alcoholic beverages. “It’s not realistic to transition to zero alcohol overnight. This requires a steady, phased approach where nothing changes for at least two decades,” he said, adding that he may need to make additional investments in beer consumption in the short term, to make sure no night out is worse off. Taylor will also be able to bring forward drinking credits earned from the days he hasn’t drunk over the past forty years, meaning the actual end date for consumption may actually be 2060. To assist with the transition, Taylor has bought a second beer fridge which he describes as the ‘capture and storage’ method.

      Reply
  2. JoeC100

    As someone who has been deeply involved in zero-carbon energy for 30+ years, none of this matters until we have low cost and very rapidly deployable zero carbon energy sources. The current PV/wind/EV momentum is turning into a slow moving train wreck.

    The good news is that there are couple of technologies emerging that may have these characteristics. As they are currently “invisible” to the climate advocacy/modeling community, they will need to be physically demonstrated before the story changes. In one case, a technology is in the process of physical demonstration and could be proven within the next two years. The other case will probably take 10-15 years to get enough physical demonstration to get the appropriate “big dogs” to pick up and move this rapidly.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Do you have websites and links describing these hypothetical presumed technologies? Are they tangible vaporware? Or are they purely imaginary vaporware?

      Reply
  3. William Kidder

    Can this be true? If so, why is it not better known?

    Arctic Sea Ice Extent Currently Second-Highest In 15 Years, And Growing
    …soon to be the outright highest of the past two decades (since 2001). Arctic sea ice data is in plain view of the world’s media, yet outlets would still rather quote activist-scientists than show an unambiguous chart. Articles of “catastrophic ice melt” still pepper the global news feeds, even as signs point to a cyclical shift in the northern polar region. Source: https://electroverse.net/arctic-sea-ice-extent-currently-second-highest-in-15-years-and-growing/

    Reply
    1. Eloined

      Perhaps would be better known if the level had yet reached the historical (1981-2010) average, which it has not (see http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/). Cute link you shared: “The poster child for AGW is of course the Arctic…. [Y]ou do need to be informed of the ‘climate crisis’ in order to discern it — your own senses aren’t enough.” ” Please. For me the poster child is either the mild-trending winters or the record-breaking spring-summer drought.

      Reply
      1. Sue inSoCal

        It’s my humble opinion we’ve kicked this can down the road too long. No problem throwing the vulnerable countries under the bus! (One of the comments on the private climate patreon account link suggested that perhaps the soon to be underwater island countries have “sunk.” Uh oh.)

        Reply
    2. Grebo

      That “unambiguous chart” does not support his belief that “it could indicate a more permanent ‘trend change’”. The last month the ice has approached the average for 2004-13. The year overall has been well below it. This is well within (new) normal variation and not in the least surprising. One month of slight rise does not make a long term trend.

      Reply
    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      How thick/deep is this newly regrowing ice? How much actual cubic miles of ice by volume did the Arctic Ocean host year-by-year from today back into the past? Knowing that would tell us how much actual ice is restoring or disappearing.

      And where is this new ice forming? On the average-salty sea? Or right next to the melt-off zones of Greenland, etc. where the sea is getting so fresh-waterised by adjacent glacier melt runoff that its freezing point temperature is rising enough to freeze where purely salt-sea water doesn’t? That would also be nice to know.

      Reply
  4. ArvidMartensen

    Our governments by and large are an instantiation of us, the voters. We turn blind eyes to things because it suits us. As in .We know politicians are corrupt but they gave us a tax break.

    Amongst us, there are those who can see the coming carnage of global heating. But there are many of us who don’t want to know because things are great for us the way they are, good job, relationship, lots of money, new toys, holidays etc.Others of us are too busy surviving to think about anything but getting through daily life intact.

    I have a brother-in-law who is diagnosed with pre-diabetes and has stents now in his heart due to blockages. He has been told that exercise and cutting down on sugar will help him live better and longer. So he ambles down a very flat road for about 300 metres a couple of times a week. And he loves his soft drinks/sodas which are full of sugar. He cannot imagine being disabled by amputations or heart attacks so he just plods along doing what feels good, and ignoring doctor advice to properly exercise and give up sodas because doing that would not feel good one bit. And of course, bad things will never happen to him because he is ok so far.

    It is very hard to imagine what will happen when our global temperature rises too high to sustain our ecosystem that allows us to live. Personally, I think of the time of the dinosaurs when the world was a giant, hot swamp full of huge, aggressive, hungry critters. Hard to see how farming would survive in this world. Or suburbia. Or the internet infrastructure and FB, Insta etc.
    But for those who cannot imagine a future different to now, they will still keep on voting for whoever promises no change so we can keep on doing what we are doing. It feels good and is no trouble. They will listen to the info that says to them, it’s all ok, just go out and live your life and have fun. Like that the Arctic ice is growing.
    Maybe we need more fear campaigns not less. Maybe we need scenario planning at a global level to spread the bad news of what we could lose if we sit on our hands. Maybe that would cut through.
    It’s a pity my brother-in-law doesnt know a few diabetes sufferers in wheel chairs.
    And maybe there needs to be a Survivor show on TV along the lines of taking ordinary people deep into the Amazon and leaving them there to see if they survive, as a proxy for our possible future.
    We need ordinary people to take charge from the self-named “elites” who are on show at the semi-failed COP-26, wheeling and dealing and not achieving enough to save the planet.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      When I look at two back-to-back DemParty conspiracies to prevent Sanders getting the nomination he was on track to winning, I wonder how much an instantiation of us the government really is.

      Should we believe that the Nazi-era Governorate-General over Poland under Hans Frank was an instantiation of the Polish people? Were the antebellum plantations an instantiation of Black fitness for nothing more than slavery anyway? There are limits to ” its what you are anyway so its what you deserve”.

      And it seems that you may have realised this in mid comment, based on your finishing with a call for ordinary people to take charge from the self-named “elties”. How to do that without winning a civil class war and slaughtering those elites out of existence so that ordinary people will in fact be able to take charge?

      Reply
      1. ArvidMartensen

        Yes there were a ton of dirty tricks around the campaign for Sanders, and the vote counting was a fraud. But the closest I know of that he got to calling it out was his comment “I can count”. If the candidate won’t out corruption, then whose responsibility is it? He failed the young people who were putting their trust in him. Perhaps that is why he is still in the Senate.

        Every vested interest lies, cheats, steals, kills etc to grow their power and wealth, and puts out propaganda to keep the suckers quiet and compliant. My view is that the suckers are not blame free in 2020. Through lack of time or interest, they just swallowed the propaganda and voted for Biden or Trump in droves. Probably.

        And Hitler’s suckers joined his Armies, grew food, manned his munitions factories etc.Given the pervasiveness of the use of slaves in Germany during WWII, I understand that the general population was aware of what Hitler was doing to Jews, Gypsies, Communists and Socialists etc. They turned a blind eye. But very few Germans swore to being lifelong Nazis after the war ended – no longer convenient. Of course there were principled Germans who subverted the system, Schindler for example, and others unnamed.

        It is not blaming the victim to say that ordinary people bear some responsibility for their elected leaders. Ordinary people swallow the propaganda. It is not impossible to question propaganda. You have to look at what the pirates/thieves/lackeys promise, and then look at what they actually do. Biden is Exhibit 1. Trump is Exhibit 2. Perhaps Sanders is Exhibit 3. Johnston is Exhibit 4. The list is very long.

        And the same goes for climate change. What these “elites” are giving us is mostly PR, trying to balance competing forces (voters? oligarchs? donors?) so as not to upset anyone and stay in power. The Climate has no seat at the table.
        What are the “leaders” and oligarchs saying? Vs. What are they actually doing? Greta Thunberg is an honest girl, she sees the emperor is naked. We need millions like her. Maybe we need millions more autistic people to really get some traction.

        The first step is for ordinary people to look at what these “elites” (lol) are promising, and compare them to what they are actually doing. That is the responsibility of the ordinary people and if they choose not to exercise it, then they are complicit in what happens.

        And you are right. The “elites” won’t give up their power willingly. They are iron fists in velvet gloves.Looking at the West and the militarisation of the police. The “elites” are already factoring in a civil war. They are building bunkers in the desert, becoming citizens of NZ, moving to Hawa’ii etc.

        Then you have Bezos opining that only certain people will be “allowed” to stay on Earth and the surviving plebs will be shunted into space. In Scotland a couple of centuries ago the British conquerors became of a mind to farm sheep where Scot’s farms were. So they banished Scottish farmers to the US. Easy peasy. Now most of Scotland is devoid of farmers.
        That is the future some “elites” are planning for us. When will us suckers decide enough is enough?

        Reply

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