Dire UN climate warnings cast cloud over COP26 legacy
The United Nations chief’s stark warning of impending disaster at the start of the COP27 climate summit has cast a cloud over the previous gathering hosted by the UK.
But experts say the legacy of COP26 in Glasgow is mixed, with the progress made on agreeing targets tempered by the small number of countries actually meeting them.
“We’re on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” General-Secretary Antonio Guterres said at the start of UN climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheik this week.
Past COPs have produced important and high profile agreements, such as the Kyoto protocol from COP3 or the Paris agreement of COP21 which set a binding target for limiting the rise in global warming to below 2C and preferably 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels. But Guterres’ remarks raise the question of what the UK’s COP26 achieved.
“We left Glasgow with what I described as a fragile win,” Alok Sharma, COP26 president, said in the introduction of the government’s recently published COP26 Presidency Outcomes report, adding that the only way to strengthen the pulse of 1.5C and build resilience is for countries to deliver on the commitments some 200 countries agreed in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
The COP 26 presidency Outcomes report notes that COP 26 was focused on the four goals of Mitigation, Adaptation and Loss and Damage, Finance, and Collaboration. It highlights that 90 percent of the world economy was now covered by a net zero target, up from 30 percent in 2019, that 86 countries have National Adaptation Plans/Adaptation Communications, and that 95 percent of major donors increased their climate finance pledges.
But experts said the real measure of success was delivery. The latest report by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, published in October, showed government plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions fall well short of the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5C (34.7F) by the end of the century.
“Progress over the last 12 months has not been encouraging. Only 24 of the 197 countries that signed the Glasgow Climate Pact have met their obligation to make more ambitious emissions reduction pledges,” Laura Clarke, chief executive of ClientEarth, an environmental law charity, told The House.
“The world is on track for around 2.5C of warming by 2100,” she added.
Professor Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, notes in her chapter in The Climate Book compiled by Greta Thunberg, that each half a degree of warming over 1.5C will see a child born in 2020 face double the number of major heatwaves in their lifetimes.
Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF said the promises by world leaders at COP26 “sounded impressive but won’t count for anything unless they’re immediately delivered.”
In a recent interview with the House, Sharma said he was heartened by prime minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge in parliament to deliver on COP26 commitments.
“And he [Sunak] talked about doing this because we care deeply about the passing to our children of an environment that is in a better state than we found ourselves. I think that is absolutely the right sentiment,” he said. Sunak attended COP27 on Monday after Number 10 initially said he did not have time because of domestic challenges.
Climate experts have said the leaders gathered in Egypt need to look beyond the energy and transport sectors for emissions reductions.
“The global food system contributes around one third of greenhouse gas emissions and is the number one cause of biodiversity loss. Unless we radically change how our land is used and what we eat, we will not be able to tackle climate change,” Norgrove said.
Clarke said equity should be key theme of COP 27. Discussion of loss and damage, where richer developed countries would pay reparations to less wealthy and vulnerable ones that are hit by climate-related disasters, has been a key feature of early negotiations at COP27.
“Meaningful progress needs to be made in providing finance for developing nations to respond to the impacts of climate change – with high emitting developed countries having a responsibility to support those countries on the front line,” she said.
Dr Joshua Wells is a Political Consultant for Dods Political Intelligence (click to find out more about our service)
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.