Dr Aidan Bell, co-founder EnviroBuild explains why COP events are important because they provide a focal point on the environment every year.
COP events are often preceded with great hope: COP 15 in Copenhagen was Obama’s first as US President, so was entered with great hope, and ended with a political accord outside the UNIPCC process which was noted by COP.
Sometimes they are hailed as having been a great success: COP 21 in Paris was hailed as a legally binding agreement to limit climate change to a global 2oC rise from pre-industrial levels. In reality the only binding portion of the agreement was that countries submitted a plan; it was generally overlooked that there was no actual commitment to reduce CO2 within those plans.
This year the geopolitical situation is far from positive most notably with Russia joining Iran and North Korea as international pariahs and the USA and China upping the ante in their political exchanges with respect to Taiwan and the vital semiconductor industry. There are also rising tensions around the ‘loss and damage’ funds, paid being asked for from developed countries by the Climate Vulnerable Forum group of 55 countries whose members comprise 14 per cent of the world’s population, yet contribute only one per cent of CO2e. This money would be in addition to the annual $100 billion already committed, although that money has never been fully delivered.
On the positive the time of writing it is hoped that Bolsanaro will allow a peaceful transition to Lula in undoubtedly the best sustainable political result of the year.
Greta Thunberg’s comments that the entire meetings are “people in power… to [use] greenwashing, lying and cheating.” and that the conferences “are not really meant to change the whole system”, but instead encourage gradual progress. is basically correct. Global politics must be consensual and there are so many different actors that change is too slow when not seen as an emergency.
I think it is undeniable that without COP the trend for global warming would be worse, but radical change is not on the agenda.
The IPCC indicates that a 43 per cent decline in CO2e is required by 2030 to achieve 1.5C. After Glasgow the aggregated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) indicated there would instead by a 13 per cent rise. In the year since, where every country was meant to submit an improved NDC only two dozen countries have submitted updated NDCs, cutting the expected increase to 10.6 per cent. A reduction of around 27 per cent is required to hit 2oC.
IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea has said “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”
What would constitute success? Optimism for big agreements is low. Therefore, for President Biden and President Xi to even sit in a room together and have a bilateral talk would at this stage would be a success. Without those two talking there is no hope of significant global shift
What do I expect? The gap between requirements is huge, and the current outlook makes a 1.5oC rise feel beyond reach. Politicians are saying political words, but their actions are lacking. Without moving with the sort of action that it appears is reserved for global financial crashes, invasions, or pandemics then even 2oC looks ambitious.
I expect this COP to be a flop, with some positive announcements around the speed of roll out of renewable energy, and maybe even hydrogen. I do not expect the $100 billion of aid from developed to developing countries to be upped significantly and this will likely prove a stumbling block. The developed world is asking developing economies to leave fossil fuels in the ground, but not currently paying enough to allow them to leap straight to renewable technologies. I would not expect any concessions on loss and damage.
There is likely to be a renewed call for NDCs for the next COP and diplomatic pressure to bring the 2030 number in line with scientific advice. By 2023 I think the NDCs will be looking like keeping temperatures under a 2C rise, but under interrogation of the specifics those NDCs will probably be under delivered upon.
What more can you do? Let people in power know that this is an issue upon which your vote depends. This is possible in a democracy, but feels pathetic advice when matters such as basic human rights struggle to overthrow dictators.