World Tightens Emissions Targets As Glasgow Climate Summit Approaches

Submitted by edg on Thu, 22 Apr '21 9.18pm
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Depending on where the world is with Covid-19, Glasgow will be welcoming the leaders of the planet to its shores in November for COP26 (aka the Earth Summit). Over 12 days, delegates will try to hammer out more progress on averting catastrophic climate change.

COP26 stands for Conference of Parties (the parties being the various jurisdictions of the world), and this the 26th meeting was due to take place last year but was postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

The delay may have been a fortuitous one given that the leading economy of the world now has a climate-concerned President in Joe Biden in the White House rather than a self-professed "very stable genius" who claimed that climate change is a hoax fabricated by the Chinese, who promised "it will start getting cooler" when wildfires ravaged the US's west coast last year, and who reversed many of Obama's climate initiatives (like appointing a notorious climate denier as head of the Environmental Protection Agency).

With the US signing back on to the Paris Agreement on day 1 of Biden's presidency, the best plan that the world has for tackling proliferation of greenhouse gases is back in play.

Climate scientists point out, and most politicians accept, that countries' voluntary commitments to reduce emissions laid out in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the Paris Agreement, were not sufficient to prevent 2°C of warming, let alone the safer, stretch goal of 1.5°C of warming.

Even under current optimistic emissions trajectories we will need to suck carbon out of the atmosphere with negative emissions technology that as yet has not been tested at scale.

So COP26, delayed for a year and now operating under the UK Presidency, has an added sense of importance. While COPs are typically held each year, this is the first time that a ratchet mechanism included in the Paris Agreement, is in effect. Every five years, parties to the Paris Agreement promised to raise their ambitions with submissions of more stringent NDCs.

Hence today on Earth Day, and in recent days, nations around the world have been promising tougher climate targets - the UK will reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 and the USA is looking to reduce emissions by 50%-52% from 2005 levels.

Scotland is aiming for net-zero by 2045 "at the latest", with an interim target of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. 

Targets are one thing. As politicians come and go, real emissions reductions are what count.

Policies continue to to be enacted that are beginning to have an impact: for example, regulations and a rising price on a carbon has seen massive decarbonisation of the electricity sector in developed countries and polluting cars will be phased out in many countries in coming years. Wind energy has boomed in Scotland and renewables taken off around the world.

Cities, like Edinburgh, are beginning to take a more proactive approach to active travel and small-scale electric vehicles as legitimate modes of transport, where before urban planners deemed them fringe.

These are encouraging changes, albeit the transition is not happening fast enough and, for every utterance of "net zero by 2050", there are still too many immediate examples of policies and actions taking us in the wrong direction from expanding air travel to dwindling ancient woodland

Politicians like to say that action on climate change is a marathon not a race. But the drum-beat of scientific data is telling us that we were dawdling at the start of the race and we now need to pick up the pace.

Video: demolition of the 1,200 megawatt, coal-fired Cockenzie power station in East Lothian