COP26 may be last, best hope to avoid climate catastrophe
IT MUST SUCCEED: Boris Johnson and the entire planet are depending on it. ‘Code Red’ declared
‘On climate, the world will succeed or fail as one’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a lot riding on the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, which starts in two weeks.
So does the entire rest of the world.
This may be our last best chance to avoid calamity. If it fails, global temperatures may exceed the 2°C rise after which global warming is inevitably calamitous.
The proceedings, which run for 12 days, are already drawing considerable international attention from major media and minor ones alike. There cannot be too much attention.
Almost seven billion people are affected: Each and every one of us in the developed world, already, today, and every day.
There just is not a bigger story at the moment – notwithstanding the attempted coup in America!
In the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2021 released on Oct. 13, the Overview of the 386 page report states:
“In the run-up to a crucial COP26 meeting in Glasgow, this World Energy Outlook-2021 provides a detailed picture of how far countries have come in their clean energy transitions, and how far they still have to go.
“A new global energy economy is emerging, but will need to take shape much more quickly to avoid severe impacts from a changing climate.”
The report is not very optimistic, noting that global temperatures will continue to rise past the 1.5°C mark in 2030 and still be climbing when they reach 2.6°C in 2100. But there are a few hints that alternatives might be possible:
“An outlook based on today’s policy settings, the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), shows aggregate fossil fuel demand slowing to a plateau in the 2030s and then falling slightly by 2050, the first time this has been projected in this scenario.
“Almost all of the net growth in energy demand comes from low emissions sources.”
But this won't happen without a major – and expensive – effort. The report continues:
“Actions in four key areas over the next decade are essential to keep the door to a 1.5 °C stabilization open:
a massive push for clean electrification;
a renewed focus on realizing the full potential of energy efficiency;
concerted efforts to prevent leaks from fossil fuel operations;
and a boost to clean energy innovation.”
The report says unequivocally that “an international catalyst will be essential to accelerate clean energy deployment and to allow developing economies – where per capita emissions are often very low – to chart a new lower emissions path for development.”
That catalyst could just be COP 26. “Getting the world on track for net zero emissions by 2050 requires transition-related investment to accelerate from current levels to around $4 trillion annually by 2030,” the IEA report says.
The developed world is going to have to dig deep into its pockets to come up with this kind of money, but the urgency is dire.
Both in the run up to the COP26 conference and during its 12-day run, the two key figures to watch will undoubtedly be UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and conference President Alok Sharma.
According to The Guardian, the UK prime minister was a late convert to climate action, having scoffed at climate science in his column at The Daily Telegraph as recently as 2015.
“Observers have been exasperated by his perceived failures: the absence of a clear net zero strategy in the UK, few public appearances highlighting climate until recently, when he raised groans at the UN for riffing on Kermit the Frog, and a lack of ‘grip.’
“Yet his volatile mixture of charm, optimism, camaraderie and cunning – and his undoubted capacity to surprise – could yet prove a winning combination.”
Johnson has designated as conference host his Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Alok Sharma, COP 26 president. His job will be to corral 196 nations into agreeing to national plans on greenhouse gas emissions that add up to a global plan for limiting temperature rises to 1.5C.
Also attending will be United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, who made global headlines last year by declaring “Humanity is waging war on nature … we are facing ‘code red for humanity’ ”
US President Joe Biden will also attend.
The biggest unknown about the conference at this writing is whether the world’s largest emitter of global warming gasses will send its President, Xi Jinping of China. He has not committed as of yet but the role of his country is vital to the success not only of the conference but of all efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures.
In a speech Oct. 12 at the UNESCO World Heritage Center in the French capital, where nearly 200 nations struck the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, COP26 President Alok Sharma called on world leaders to honor the commitments they made six years ago.
“The world has not done enough,” he said. “Emissions have continued to rise and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a code red for the climate.”
Sharma pointed out that temperatures have already risen at least 1.1 °C above pre industrial levels and extreme weather is on the march around the world.
“If temperatures continue to rise,” Sharma said, “we will step through a series of one way doors, the end destination of which is climate catastrophe.
“It is a matter of survival. And it is why I have always been clear that in Glasgow, the world must deliver an outcome, which keeps 1.5 °C in reach.”
Sharma said he is urging countries to commit to net zero emissions by the middle of the century, and to set up, ambitious plans to cut emissions by 2030.
The need for urgency was emphasized in a study published Oct. 11 by the peer-reviewed journal Nature, in which scientists examined over 100,000 separate studies of events – like droughts, floods and heatwaves – that could be linked to climate change.
“Increasing evidence suggests that climate change impacts are already observed around the world,” they report.
“[W]e infer that attributable anthropogenic impacts (those caused by humans) may be occurring across 80% of the world’s land area, where 85% of the population reside.”
“Attributable” in this context means that they can be directly linked to climate change. I wasn't exaggerating above when I said it's affecting all of us – 85% of us excludes only those is living in the Antarctic and, perhaps, at the North Pole! It is a deadly serious matter, vital to the health of the planet and every one of its inhabitants.
In a letter released Oct. 11 titled #HealthyClimate Prescription organizations representing 45 million health-care workers issued “an urgent call for climate action from the health community ahead of COP26.”
The summary above the letter reads: “The 2021 United Nations climate negotiations in November (COP26) are a critical moment and opportunity to put the world on a path that protects people from catastrophic climate change. The health community around the world is coming together to send a message to national leaders and country delegations, calling for real action to address the climate crisis.”
Over 450 organizations representing over 45 million health workers, together with over 3,400 individuals from 102 different countries, “have written an open letter to Heads of State around the world as well as every nation’s lead climate negotiator, calling for urgent climate action to protect people’s health.”
The doctors and nurses are clearly aboard and they're ready to write a prescription. But you don't need to be a medic to know the disease and it's cause.
The most authoritative source of climate data in the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in its National Climate Report – Sept. 2021, noted that “18 individual billion-dollar weather and climate disasters [were] identified during first nine months of 2021,” in the US alone.
These 18 events put 2021 in second place (so far) for the most billion-dollar disasters – behind 2020, when there were 22 such events.
September was the fifth warmest on record in the contiguous United States.
“September temperatures were above average from the West Coast to the Great Lakes and into New England. Colorado and Rhode Island ranked third warmest on record for the month while five additional states across the West and Northeast ranked in the top five for September.”
We knew it was a warm September in Southern California; my air-conditioning was running every day and even most nights during the month. My electric bill was through the roof.
In an absolutely exquisite visual presentation of the consequences of rising sea levels (caused by climate change) on human habitats Picturing Our Future from Climate Central wins the prize for innovation and information.
“Climate and energy choices this decade will influence how high sea levels rise for hundreds of years. Which future will we choose?” is the headline.
A fabulous interactive map allows you to pick a scenario for just how each 0.1 °C rise in temperature will submerge major coastal cities around the globe.
The image above is of what will happen to the Santa Monica pier in Southern California at a 3°C increase in temperature. It's horrifying!
You can adjust the sliders to compare the outcomes of different warming scenarios. Which legacy will we choose?
“Using state-of-the-art new global elevation and population data, Climate Central shows that, under high emissions scenarios leading to 4 °C warming and a median projected 8.9 meters of global mean sea level rise… 50 major cities, mostly in Asia, would need to defend against globally unprecedented levels of exposure, if feasible, or face partial to near-total extant area losses.”
The high tide line could encroach above “land occupied by as much as 15% of the current global population (about one billion people). By contrast, meeting the most ambitious goals of the Paris Climate Agreement will likely reduce exposure by roughly half and may avoid globally unprecedented defense requirements for any coastal megacity exceeding a contemporary population of 10 million.”
Climate envoy not optimistic
In an interview published Oct. 14 by the Associated Press Kerry says world short of climate goal President Biden's special envoy for the climate was not especially optimistic.
“Crucial UN climate talks next month are likely to fall short of the global target for cutting coal, gas and oil emissions, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry says,” The AP reported, “after nearly a year of climate diplomacy that helped win deeper cuts from allies but has so far failed to move some of the world’s biggest polluters to act fast enough.
“In an interview with The Associated Press, Kerry credited the United States, the European Union, Japan and others that over the past year have pledged bigger, faster cuts in climate-wrecking fossil fuel emissions ahead of the talks in Glasgow, under nudging from Kerry and the Biden administration.
“He expressed hope enough nations would join in over the next couple of years. ‘By the time Glasgow’s over, we’re going to know who is doing their fair share, and who isn’t,’ he said.
“Kerry also spoke of the impact if the US Congress — under a slim Democratic majority — fails to pass legislation for significant action on climate by the US itself, as the Biden administration aims to regain leadership on climate action.
‘It would be like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement, again,’ Kerry said.”
Ouch! Biden may yet have his Trump moment if the Democrats in Congress cannot get their act together within the next two weeks.
John Kerry is the consummate diplomat. One would expect him to accentuate the positive, but in this AP interview he does not. The outlook for domestic action on climate is cloudy at best, most likely stormy.
The cost to the under-developed world will be in the trillions if CO2 emissions are not drastically cut, and it is far from certain that the major developed economies will step up to the plate to make it happen – especially China!
Swedish climate activist Greta Thornburg and her cohort are absolutely correct to call this a "climate emergency.”
The world must wake up and take notice because it is already five minutes to midnight.