The Glasgow conference on the climate crisis has begun.
The long-awaited United Nations summit conference on the climate in Glasgow, Scotland, has begun.
Overnight, 195 countries embarked on their task. The goal: to work out how, or even if it is possible, to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of this decade.
They want to do it without destroying national economies and the livelihoods of billions of people. No pressure. It’s commonly regarded as the most important meeting on the climate crisis yet.
And it is a crisis. The 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2005. The hottest five have been since 2015. All over the world, heatwaves, floods, droughts, cyclones and wildfires have become more frequent and more extreme than at any time in recorded history.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the conference, said on Friday: “When things start to go wrong they can go wrong at extraordinary speed. You saw that with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and I’m afraid to say it’s true today.”
Scientists now warn of the approach of tipping points. From melting ice sheets to rainforest dieback, shifting monsoons to the slowing of the Gulf Stream, they have identified several major climate-related events that could happen this century. The result would be catastrophic for humanity.
It’s not just Greta Thunberg sounding the alarm. Agencies like the World Bank and the Pentagon have warned that because of the climate crisis, national economies and the livelihoods of billions of people are already at risk.
“Humanity as a whole,” Johnson also said, “is about 5-1 down at half-time.”
New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw, who will attend the Glasgow summit, said yesterday: “This decade is make or break for the planet.”
US climate envoy John Kerry has called the conference “the last best hope for the world to get its act together”.
The conference is called COP26. It’s the 26th time the “conference of the parties” (COP) has met and their first major meeting since COP21 in Paris in 2015. At that meeting, countries agreed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius higher than in “pre-industrial times”: the late 19th century. Preferably, to aim for a limit of 1.5C.
Anything higher than that, the scientists of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned, and the consequences could be disastrous. Especially for poorer countries and the coastal zones where most of the world’s population live.
To limit warming to 1.5C, the world has until 2030 to reduce emissions by 50 per cent on the 2005 levels. We then have to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050.
The date of 2030 is important because after that, there will be so much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the targets may become impossible to meet.
Many countries, led by the world’s second highest emitter, the US, have committed to the main targets: 50 per cent this decade and net zero by 2050.
Yesterday, New Zealand joined that group.
But few countries have put in place the measures necessary to achieve those targets. New Zealand has deferred this until next year.
And some of the biggest emitters, including China, India and Russia, have not agreed to the targets. China, by far the world’s largest emitter, has committed only to a 35 per cent cut by 2035 and net zero by 2060.
Currently, the United Nations has warned, the world is overshooting. Even if all the commitments to date are met – something that is far from certain – the world is still on track for 2.7 degrees of global warming by the end of the century.
At Glasgow, they will try to bring that down.
Will Glasgow succeed?
The Glasgow conference will not solve the climate crisis. But it could make real progress. Here are 8 ways to tell if that’s happening.
1. The focus stays on 2030: Targets for 2050 are much less important than what happens right now and for the rest of this decade.
2. Higher targets: We need more countries, especially China, India, Russia and Japan, agreeing to make higher emissions cuts.
3. Money: In 2016, developed countries committed US$100 billion (NZ$140b) a year to help the others transition to a low-emissions future, but the money hasn’t ever been fully paid.
4. More money: Developing countries are also seeking “loss and damage” payments, from the nations that caused the climate crisis, to help pay for damage caused by extreme weather events.
5. Carbon trading rules. A new, transparent and binding set of rules that lead to genuine emissions cuts.
6. Methane: Agreements to end methane leaks from oil and gas pipes and tanks.
7. Natural solutions: Agreement to protect rainforests and wetlands and plant more trees.
8. Keeping the pressure on: An annual review of national targets, starting in 2023.
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