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CoP26: Empty pledges in Glasgow won’t cool down an overheated planet

The world will get hotter by at least 2.7 degrees Celsius if the Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow this year does not make additional efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow

October 30, 2021 / 11:16 AM IST
The last time earth saw a similar concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when global temperature was 2-3 degrees warmer, and the sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now (Representative Image: Shutterstock)

The last time earth saw a similar concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when global temperature was 2-3 degrees warmer, and the sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now (Representative Image: Shutterstock)

– The climate crisis is particularly worrying for India because most of the districts in the country are highly vulnerable to natural disasters like floods, droughts and cyclones triggered by global warming.

– Wealthy nations continue to drag their feet on providing money to help developing countries like India to mitigate and adapt to the climate emergency as negotiators and activists head to Scotland for the summit starting October 31.

When the United Nations chief says that we are on track for a climate catastrophe, the world needs to sit up and take notice. Whether it heeds the warning and acts on it will become clear during the two-week negotiations that start on October 31 at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

The early signs are not encouraging. At current national climate pledges, the planet is headed for an average rise in global temperatures of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, according to a report by the United Nations released this week. The measures detailed in all the national plans submitted under the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 as of September 30, and those that haven’t been submitted, like China’s, through 2030, would still leave the world 2.7 degrees warmer by 2100, said the report by the United Nations Environment Programme.

That is well above the goals of the Paris Agreement and would lead to catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate, according to the 12th edition of the Emissions Gap Report. “To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years,” the report said.

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“We are still on track for climate catastrophe, even with the last announcements that were made,” UN secretary-general António Guterres said, reacting to the report.

Even the economic slowdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic did not have a perceptible impact on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which reached new record levels last year, the World Meteorological Organization reported in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin this week.

The concentration of planet-warming carbon dioxide was an alarming 413.2 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, almost 150 percent above pre-industrial levels, the bulletin reported.

“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” said Petteri Taalas, director-general of the UN weather agency, in a press release. “We are way off track.”

The last time earth saw a similar concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when global temperature was 2-3 degrees warmer, and the sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. “But there were not 7.8 billion people then,” Taalas said.

The record concentrations of greenhouse gases mean further emissions need to be capped as soon as possible, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said in a scientific assessment in August. To even attempt keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees compared with preindustrial levels, emissions of carbon dioxide will have to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, nine years from now, reaching net zero around 2050, the group of UN-backed scientists had said.

If the pledges by countries to meet the net zero emissions are met, they can limit the warming. But the current commitments by the major economies like the United States and China do not show a clear path towards it, the UN agencies have noted. Net-zero refers to offsetting carbon emissions to corresponding measures to sequestering it, by efforts such as planting trees and using land sustainably.

Concerns for India

These developments are worrying, particularly for developing countries like India and those in Africa, that do not have the wherewithal to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of a rapidly warming world.

More than 75 percent of Indian districts, home to over 638 million people, are hotspots of extreme climate events, according to a Climate Vulnerability Index released on Tuesday by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a New Delhi-based think tank.

India was the seventh-most vulnerable country in 2020 when it comes to climate extremes, according to Germanwatch, a non-profit based in Bonn, Germany.

CEEW’s study bears out this assessment. The states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar are the most vulnerable to extreme climate events such as floods, droughts and cyclones, possibly brought on by climate change, the index showed.

A surge in extreme events has been observed across India after 2005. CEEW’s sensitivity analysis showed that this was primarily triggered by landscape disruptions. Other factors, such as the urban heat island effect, land subsidence and microclimate changes, are also triggering extreme weather events in India.

“The frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in India have increased by almost 200 percent since 2005,” said Abinash Mohanty, lead author of the index report.

Under such circumstances, what should be India’s strategy at the Glasgow summit? India’s focus at the climate negotiations so far has been to put pressure on wealthy nations to cut emissions aggressively, based on equity and historical responsibility, as well as provide adequate finance to developing countries for climate action.

“India’s principled stance on its right to develop is irrefutable. So is its argument that the primary responsibility lies with the historical emitters,” said Ulka Kelkar, director, climate at World Resources Institute India, a think tank. “However, we have much to lose from climate change and much to gain from adopting a climate-friendly path to development.”

Show us the money

“India has shown how rich countries have been lacking in taking up mitigation targets as per their fair share and how climate finance has been inadequate,” said Harjeet Singh, senior advisor to the Climate Action Network International, a collective of civil society organisations. “However, India must also work with other developing nations to highlight how people are already facing impacts, such as devastating floods, cyclones and rising seas. It should highlight its vulnerability and losses to the disasters fuelled by climate change and demand increased finance for adaptation and addressing loss and damage.”

And there lies the crux of the problems that negotiators from the developing world face. Rich nations are unwilling to admit to their historical responsibility for the current sorry state of affairs and are extremely reluctant to provide funds to poorer countries to help them mitigate and adapt to the worst impacts of climate change.

In 2009, the developed world had agreed to provide $100 billion every year from 2020 to finance such efforts. This collective goal was reaffirmed under the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, in the Climate Finance Deliver Plan, released on October 25, these countries have said they will honour their commitment only in 2023, kicking the finance goal down the road for three years, although they had 12 years to prepare to meet the plan.

“Clearly, the $100 billion delivery plan presented by rich countries lacks urgency and sincerity in tackling climate change,” Singh said. “Despite facing climate disasters in their own backyard, they have not woken up to the reality that the world needs scaled-up climate action, and not merely words.”

India being a large emitter and highly vulnerable to climate change stands to lose the most, if the world doesn’t agree to stronger mitigation targets and adequate finance is provided by rich nations for all aspects of climate action, including for adaptation and addressing loss and damage.

“It is very hard to understand why rich countries spending trillions of dollars in their own economies are unable to raise $100 billion a year for climate finance,” said Kelkar. “There is no plan to provide urgently needed adaptation finance.”

Trillions needed to combat the climate crisis

Even the promised $100 billion a year is a pittance when trillions of dollars are needed to restrain global warming, experts said. But this paltry amount committed to by the developed world was seen as a pledge of good faith. They would now have to re-establish trust by taking some concrete action.

“We can and must do more to get finance flowing to developing nations,” said Alok Sharma, president of the Glasgow climate summit and a member of parliament in the UK, in a statement. “So in the lead up to CoP26, it’s vital we see further pledges from developed countries and action on key priorities such as access to finance and funding for adaptation.” The Glasgow summit is also known as CoP26.

Scientists have warned that we only have a few years left to make drastic emission cuts to stop runaway climate change, after which the world will face devastating impacts. Many communities, particularly in the developing world that includes India, are already facing a climate emergency crisis and are being displaced or forced to migrate in large numbers.

Developing countries are already suffering economic losses three times greater than high-income countries due to climate-related disasters, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released on October 28, just a few days ahead of the Glasgow summit.

Adaptation costs for developing countries have doubled in the last decade because of inaction, and will only increase further temperatures rise, reaching $300 billion in 2030 and $500 billion in 2050, the UN trade agency said.

“With loss and damage rising exponentially due to the climate crisis, India must demand climate finance for adaptation-based climate actions at the Glasgow summit,” said CEEW’s Mohanty.

UNCTAD economists said scaling up adaptation finance must be on the table in Glasgow. It should go with reforms of the international financial system to get more climate adaptation funds flowing to developing countries, they said in the report.

“The Glasgow summit needs to ensure that there is a system to provide finance for addressing loss and damage to help climate survivors recover from the impacts and rebuild their lives,” Harjeet Singh said. “It must also trigger scaling up of ambition for emissions reduction and provision of finance to developing countries.”

“A good outcome at this CoP in Glasgow is needed to keep faith in the multilateral process, which is important for a global commons problem like climate change,” said Ulka Kelkar.

This article was first published on Mongabay here.



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first published: Oct 30, 2021 10:53 am
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