Today climate scientists again underlined the urgency of backing up long term net zero climate goals with real policy measures and pledges to reduce emissions sharply until 2030. This means that an agreement in Glasgow need to include promises to sharpen today’s pledges substantially during the next few years, at least if the Paris goal to keep global warming close to 1.5℃ is to be kept alive.
The number of countries handing in long-term goals to reduce emissions to net zero has increased substantially during the last year, including the worlds largest economies and emitters: from the EU, USA and many others going for net zero in 2050, to China in 2060, and India promising in net zero in 2070 during the COP26. This is a substantial step forward. Not only does net zero greenhouse gas emissions essentially mean an end for fossil fuels. If all the net zero promises would be fulfilled, global warming might be limited to 1.8-1.9℃, according to recent estimates by IEA and others.
The crucial issue is the “if”. As for now, these long term targets are not backed up by robust plans, finance and policy measures. Quite contrary, as reported earlier, if the long term goals are taken out from the equation, current policy measures and short term pledges up until 2030 instead points towards a global warming of 2.4-2.7℃ (or more, might be added, as the temperature estimates are given with a 50% chance of exceeding them).
This gap between the Paris goals and the net zero promises in the far future on the one hand, and the short term pledges and actual policy measures here and now on the other, has increasingly come into focus in Glasgow. Today scientists in the collaboration Climate Action Tracker presented a new report, again highlighting this mismatch.
“There is a massive credibility gap here in Glasgow”, Bill Hare of Climate Analytics and Climate Action Tracker told the audience during a press conference at COP26 today.
The problem is not only the credibility gap itself. Nobody in Glasgow believes that substantially sharpened pledges will be presented during the last few days of COP26. At least not pledges that will be nearly enough to close the ambition gap in emission reduction targets until 2030. The crucial issue during the next few days, according to the scientists in the Climate Action Tracker collaboration, is if the negotiating countries at COP26 will be able to nail down an agreement that says that these targets are to be sharpened next year, and the year after that, and so on. As it is, the ratcheting up mechanism of the Paris Agreement only kicks in every five year – a tempo that in effect would make the 1.5℃ target impossible to reach, at least within the context of the Paris Agreement, and thus also undermining the whole idea behind the agreement, as a serious tool to step-by-step increase the climate ambitions of the world, and to eventually be in line with the original goal of keeping global warming well below 2℃, and if possible 1.5℃.
“I can say what I do not want to happen, and that is that we come out of Glasgow with no agreement about this, and in effect saying: ‘let’s do nothing in five years’. That would be catastrophic”, professor Niklas Höhne at NewClimate Institute and Climate Action Tracker told us during a conversation after the press conference.
In the next few days we will know. Pressure to keep the 1.5℃ goal – and the reputation of the Paris Agreement – alive will surely increase. Will it be enough? It seems likely, at least in some diplomatic way. For instance, the UK hosts will probably not want Glasgow and COP26 to go down in history as the event where the 1.5℃ target finally slipped out of reach. And to end up on a positive note: Yes, the gap is huge. But it has began to shrink, even though annoyingly slow. The crucial issue for the world is where the final landing zone will be: 2.4℃ warming, 1.9℃, 1.7℃, or perhaps even close to 1.5℃? At the end of the day, every tenth of a degree will matter.