If you were like us trying our best to follow all the events at COP26 in Glasgow last week you needed a couple days to wind down after it all. It was like a firehose of information, announcements and initiatives. As with things that are generally political in nature these were of varying quality, transparency and deliverability.
Being totally honest we were kind of hiding a bit from it by the middle of the second week.
While hiding behind the proverbial sofa we got to thinking that, whatever was or wasn't agreed at COP26 the fundamental challenge remains the same. It'd either be a bit easier or a bit harder by whatever was agreed by the delegates from around the world
At present the world emits about 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and equivalents* per year. It's a lot to reduce and remove.
Pledges and NDCs* (Nationally Defined Contributions) prior to COP26 still had us on a track for around 2.7 degrees of warming, nudging down towards 2.4 at best case. It's in the higher range of future scenarios the IPCC* talked about in their recent report, with potentially increasing weather and climate extremes as a result.
COP26 was billed as the event to keep the amibtion of the Paris Agreement* to limit future climate change to an average 1.5 degrees celsius.
During the first week the efforts at the conference looked like they were getting close to agreeing pledges and commitments that would, in theory if enacted fully, limit heating to about 1.8 degrees. By the end of the conference that looked more like 2.4 degrees (as a best case if these new pledges are implemented by 2030).
So, we're still on, more or less the same trajectory we were before COP26 heading towards 2.7 degrees or more. Quotes from Greenpeace gave us a bump by saying that the 1.5 degrees goal is "only just alive" and from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres "it's an important step but it's not enough."
It's still progress, and in this fight it all matters.
A few of the brightspots that were agreed at COP26 include:
- 100 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, covering about 85% of the world's forests
- Over 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. It could save us about 0.2 degrees of future warming
- Pledges from governments and companies about being "nature positive" and protect biodiversity
- Nature based solutions were acknowledged as a critical tool we have and our greatest protector for drawing down emissions
- For the first time coal being "phased down" was part of the agreement. There was ambition that this would be with a clearer deadline to "phase out", though the language was watered down in the final hours. Over 40 countries agreed but the world's most coal dependent countries - Australia, India, China, USA - didn't sign-up. Still, coal is on notice
- Article 6 and carbon markets have been long in discussion, as a result the price of carbon varies hugely geography to geography. Article 6 is a plan to standardize and centralize them. Hopefully this will help as they've been a hot mess for way too long
- China and the USA made a joint statement about working together to limit climate change was a win, even if lacking details. As the current highest and histroically highest emitters these two countries are the 500lb gorillas in the room in making progress decarbonizing while also having the transition being in line with climate justice* principles
A few of the disappointments and missed opportunities include:
- Loss and damage caused by increasingly extreme weather was excluded from the final agreement. These impacts will disproportionally effect the most vulnerable countries in the Global South trying to adapt and plan
- Developed countries were urged to double their climate finance for developing countries by 2025, though new funding wasn't announced
- Over 450 finance organizations agreed to use some of their assets under management to fund decarbonization and renewable energy but the detail and real amount of finance as well as ending fossil fuel investment was a bit lacking, so it smelt a bit like greenwashing
Did we miss anything? Let us know and we'll update!
Now COP26 is over and we can see the new commitments our collective next steps are still the same was before. How do we collectively work together to reduce and remove humanities dependance on fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases to decarbonize our world and reach net zero* (and beyond)?
The real climate and decarbonization work never stopped and it will continue.
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Climate Buzzword Dictionary
The Climate Crisis - the accelerating heating of our planet due to human activity
Net zero - a target to stop producing Greenhouse Gases from human activity by 2050. It combines reducing, removing as well as offsetting hard to eliminate emissions. Also called Net-zero 2050
Paris Agreement - international agreement to limit climate change to 2 degrees Celsuis while aiming for 1.5C increase in average global temperatures
Greenhouse Gases - Abbreviated to GHG. 98% made up of Carbon Dioxide, Methane or Nitrous Oxide. Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. See Carbon and Equivalents
Carbon and equivalents - bundle of main greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane & nitrous oxide. Abrev. CO2e
NDCs - abbreviation of Nationally Determined Contribution. Pledges by governments for the amount of carbon reduction they plan to commit to.
IPCC - The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Set up to assess and document the evidence for climate change. The IPCC* is politically neutral towards the policy choices of governments. They don’t conduct the research themselves. They bring together scientists and scientific papers to assess the evidence. Then governments and experts review drafts and revisions before publication.
Climate Justice - a term to frame climate change as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature. Also called Environmental Justice
Greenwashing - tactic to hide emissions in low or zero carbon assets. Or misleading information about the emissions from a particular activity or company
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