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Climate action 2021: Carbon pledges, green energy, more funds—but will it be enough?

In yet another year of extreme weather events, countries scrambled to do their bit to cool a warming planet. For some it is a sign of hope, others see it as a case of too little, too late

December 27, 2021 / 05:14 PM IST
To date, Earth's average surface temperature has risen 1.1C compared to late 19th-century levels.

To date, Earth's average surface temperature has risen 1.1C compared to late 19th-century levels.


Melting glaciers, deadly floods, record high temperatures, devastating wildfires and desperate pleas for help—climate change and the destruction it brings was for all to see in 2021.

Yet it was not all gloom and doom. Countries stepped up efforts to fund environmental initiatives and India made one of the most awaited announcements of achieving the target of net-zero emissions by 2070.

After protracted negotiations,  2021 also saw around 200 countries sign a deal to try and slow down runaway global warming. While the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, or COP26, did not live up to everyone’s expectations, it still made some progress.

Here are some of the developments in 2021 that will have a bearing on how the climate crisis pans out:

COP26 Glasgow Summit

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The UN climate conference marked the transition from defining the rules for the 2015 Paris treaty to implementing its provisions. The climate conference, held from October 31 to November 12, saw 196 countries agreeing to draw down coal-fired power and a promise to double financial aid each year—to roughly $40 billion— to help poor nations brace for climate impacts.

Countries also agreed to consider more ambitious targets for reducing carbon pollution every year instead of once every five years.

More than 100 nations also sought to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade.

G20 Summit

Leaders of the Group of 20 major economies committed to the Paris Agreement goal of stalling global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Leaders also said "the use of carbon pricing mechanisms and incentives" could be used as a possible tool against climate change.

Brazil, China, India, Germany and the US  account for an estimated 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

India's commits to net-zero emissions by 2070

At the COP26 summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India's economy would become carbon neutral by 2070. India is among the last of the world's major carbon polluters to announce a net-zero target.

"India will achieve the target of net-zero emissions by 2070," Modi said at the COP26.

He also announced that the country would increase its 2030 target for installed capacity of "non-fossil energy", mostly solar, from 450 to 500 gigawatts.

As much as 50 percent of India's energy requirements will be catered to by renewable sources by 2030.

Modi said the carbon intensity of India's economy—the amount of emissions produced per unit of GDP—would be reduced by 45 percent by 2030, up from the previous goal of 35 percent.

UN confirms record Arctic temperature

The United Nations on December 14 recognised the 38 degrees Celsius temperature measured in Siberia in 2020 as a new record high for the Arctic.

The sweltering heat was recorded on June 20, 2020, in Russia's Verkhoyansk town, the highest temperature ever recorded above the Arctic Circle, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

According to the UN agency, this is the first time WMO added record heat in the Arctic to its archive of extreme weather reports.

Though all parts of the planet are warming, some areas are heating faster than others, and the Arctic's pace of change is more than twice the global average.

New York's seawall

After major storms exposed weaknesses in the infrastructure in the city, New York is erecting a $1.45-billion system of walls and floodgates to protect it from rising sea levels.

Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which killed 44 city residents while affecting 1,10,000 more and leaving $19 billion in damages, was the trigger for establishing the East Coast Resiliency Project (ESCR), measuring  four kilometers along the shoreline of Lower Manhattan.

The completed wall will reach as high as 16.5 feet, as per Tom Foley, New York's acting Design and Construction Commissioner.

The city also plans to plant 1,800 trees, double the number that the project's construction destroyed, along with an additional 1,000 in the neighbourhood.

Germany’s 60-billion climate-change fund

The German government approved 60 billion euros ($68 billion) in funding for combating climate change and modernising the country.

The supplementary budget entails putting the money into a government fund that is being redesigned as a climate and transformation fund. It will be used to finance projects aimed at fighting climate change and improving Germany's infrastructure.

Germany's coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and pro-business FDP has announced ambitious plans to tackle climate change, including ending coal power and generating 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

‘Climate change to devastate world's poorest economies’

The 65 most vulnerable nations will see GDP drop 20 percent on average by 2050 and 64 percent by 2100 if the world heats up 2.9 degrees Celsius, a report released at the COP26 in Glasgow said.

Even if global temperature rise is capped at 1.5C, in keeping with the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal, the same countries would take a GDP hit of 13 percent by 2050 and 33 percent by the end of the century, the study commissioned by Christian Aid said.

To date, Earth's average surface temperature has risen 1.1C compared to late 19th-century levels.

Eight of the top 10 most affected countries are in Africa, with two in South America.  All 10 face GDP damage of more than 70 percent by 2100 under our current climate policy trajectory, and 40 percent even if global warming is capped at 1.5C.

Last 7  years were the 'hottest'

According to World Meteorological Organization, the years from 2015 to 2021 are on track to be the seven hottest on record.

The preliminary WMO state of the climate report said that global warming from greenhouse gas emissions threatens "far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations".

The average temperature for 2021 was around 1.09 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels, UN found.

And the average temperature over the last 20 years (2002-2021) for the first time exceeded the symbolic threshold of 1C above the mid-19th century.

Saudi Arabia’s $1-billion climate initiative

Saudi Arabia earmarked over $1 billion for new environmental initiatives this year. Days after pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman announced initiatives to fund the "circular carbon economy" and provide "clean fuel" to help feed 750 million people worldwide.

The projects were targeted to cost 39 billion riyals ($10.4 billion). Saudi Arabia will contribute 15 percent and seek the remainder from regional funds and other countries, Prince Mohammed said.

The "circular carbon economy" is a concept by Saudis that aims to remove and store carbon for reuse in other products.

(With inputs from agencies)
Megha Mishra
first published: Dec 27, 2021 05:14 pm
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