Will Glasgow Climate Promises Be Kept?
The Glasgow Climate Pact was adopted by nearly 200 countries just before midnight on November 13 at the 26th United Nations climate change conference (COP26).
The rallying cry of the activists and negotiators in Glasgow was “Keep 1.5°C Alive,” a slogan that distills the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change’s goal of limiting the global average temperature increase this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Barring that, the Paris Agreement aims at least keeping the increase below 2°C. The figure currently stands at approximately 1.1°C.
The delegates declared a tentative victory. “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive,” announced U.K. Minister of State Alok Sharma, who served as president of the COP26. “But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.” Some activists were somewhat less positive. “It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5C goal is only just alive,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan in a statement.
So what does the pact say? Various climate activist groups have made a big deal about the fact that, supposedly for the first time in nearly 30 years of climate change negotiations, an official U.N. document finally mentioned the f-words (fossil fuels) and the biggest global source of carbon dioxide emissions, coal. But so what? The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the U.S. Senate ratified in 1992, mentions fossil fuels four times, greenhouse gas emissions 15 times, and carbon dioxide twice. There are other documents, such as the 2016 Paris Agreement, that do not explicitly mention fossil fuels, but the climate change negotiators bargaining over their details were not unaware that it is burning fossil fuels that produces most greenhouse gas emissions.
The first draft of the Glasgow Pact called for signatories to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.” But that was watered down at the insistence of the world’s two largest coal-burning countries, India and China, in the last hours of the conference. So the final version instead calls for “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Unabated means that the emissions from coal-fired power generation are not captured and sequestered somehow, e.g., pumped underground or absorbed by new forest growth. Phasedown implies that emissions will be lowered but not eliminated. (India and China have no intention of phasing out coal anytime soon.) As for “inefficient” subsidies, well, what may be inefficient in one country is a down payment for social peace in another.
“How can anyone expect that developing countries can make promises about phasing out fossil fuel subsidies? Developing countries have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication,” argued India’s environment minister, Bhupender Yadav, in Glasgow. “Towards this end, subsidies provide much needed social security and support.” As an example, Yadav pointed to the subsidized liquified petroleum gas meant to help low-income Indian households replace burning wood and cow manure for cooking and heating.
Burning fossil fuels accounts for the bulk of the 36.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide projected to be emitted into the atmosphere by humanity this year. Of that, coal contributed 40 percent to global emissions, followed by oil at 32 percent and natural gas at 21. Early on at COP26, there was much talk about the supposedly impending “end of coal.” China and India didn’t get the message. In fact, faced with power shortages earlier this year, China has ramped up coal production to the highest level since March 2015 and has approved expansion of more than 153 coal mines. India is planning to boost its coal production from 750 million tons now to more than a billion tons by 2024.
Instead of ending, world coal consumption will continue to rise slightly through 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s projections, even while renewables will account for most of the increases in global electric generation over the next three decades.
“In many developing countries, not everyone has access to electricity and energy supply is not adequate,” observed Chinese spokesman Zhao Lijian at a post-COP26 press conference on November 15. “Before asking all countries to stop using coal, consideration should be given to the energy shortfall in these countries to ensure their energy security. We encourage developed countries to take the lead in stopping using coal while providing ample funding, technological and capacity-building support for developing countries’ energy transition.”
In 2020, Chinese annual per capita carbon dioxide emissions stood at 10.1 tons, exceeding the average for the rich countries in the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). In fact, China’s annual per capita carbon dioxide emissions are higher than those for Germany (7.7 tons), the United Kingdom (4.6 tons), and France (4.6 tons). In comparison, the U.S., Canadian, and Australian averages are 13.7, 14.4 [link?], and 15.2 tons per capita respectively.
Zhao surely knows that developed countries have already been taking “the lead in stopping using coal.” U.S. coal consumption is down nearly 60 percent since peaking 2007. Coal consumption in the United Kingdom since 2006 is down almost 90 percent and the European Union’s consumption has fallen by about 66 percent over th
Article from Reason.com