Fred Pearce has a unique ability to make big, complex important matters more understandable:
Negotiators at the Glasgow climate conference will face a critical choice: Set firm emissions targets for 2030, or settle for goals of achieving “net zero” by 2050? The course they set could determine if we have a shot at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire and the biggest shipbuilder on the planet, next month hosts the 26th conference of nations aiming to halt dangerous climate change. The negotiators face the challenge of turning the aspiration of the 2015 Paris Agreement to achieve “net zero” emissions by mid-century into the detailed near-term action plans necessary to turn those hopes into reality in time to halt warming at or near 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sadly, while aspiration is going well, progress on action is slow, say scientists. Most big emitters have in recent months promised to achieve national net-zero targets by 2050, allowing the British hosts to claim that Glasgow will “keep 1.5 alive.” But scientists warn that such ambition remains hot air. They say we have to all but halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, or net zero by 2050 will slip out of sight. Yet most of the national plans unveiled so far do little more than prevent further rises in emissions over the coming decade.
The question for delegates meeting in Scotland comes down to this: Should the focus be on 2050 aspiration or 2030 action, on “keeping 1.5 alive” or on delivering credible plans to make it happen?
It is six years now since governments meeting in Paris committed to restricting warming to “well below” 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels while “pursuing efforts” to cap it at 1.5 degrees. They agreed that would require bringing net greenhouse-gas emissions (total emissions less any agreed carbon capture) to zero by mid-century.
But even amid the euphoria, negotiators recognized that there was a gap between national emissions pledges on the table in Paris and the declared goal. So they set up a timetable for ratcheting up commitments and for taking account of emerging science. The first deadline for new pledges, known as nationally determined contributions, was set for 2020 and postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.
So the Glasgow Conference of Parties (COP26) should be high noon for delivery — for turning aspiration into action.
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