This article was originally published by The Conversation.
Written by Wesley Morgan, Climate Council Researcher, Griffith University
The first week of the UN climate talks in Glasgow is drawing to a close. While there is still some way to go, the progress made so far gives some hope that the Paris climate agreement reached six years ago will work.
The big powers have made significant commitments to reduce emissions this decade and have pledged to move to net zero emissions. New coalitions have also been announced to decarbonize sectors of the global economy. These include phasing out coal-fired electricity, commitments to reduce global methane emissions, ending deforestation and plans for net-zero emissions shipping.
The two-week summit, known as COP26, is a critical test of global cooperation to tackle the climate crisis. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to produce more ambitious national plans to reduce emissions every five years. Delayed for a year by the COVID pandemic, this year is when new plans are expected.
The promises made so far at the top may start to push the global emissions curve down. Credible projections from a team of experts, including Professor Malte Meinshausen of the University of Melbourne, suggest that if the new commitments are fully funded and honored, global warming could be limited to 1.9 ℃ this century. The International Energy Agency has reached a similar conclusion.
It is real progress. But the Earth system responds to what we put in the atmosphere, not the promises made at the peaks. The commitments must therefore be supported by funding, as well as by the necessary policies and actions in the fields of energy and land use.
A significant gap in ambition on reducing emissions also remains, and more climate action is needed this decade to avoid catastrophic warming. Achieving the necessary emission reductions by 2030 will be a key goal of the second week of the Glasgow talks, especially as global emissions are expected to strong rebound in 2021 (after the drop induced last year by COVID-19).
Australia, for its part, contributed virtually nothing to the global efforts in Glasgow. Alone among advanced economies, Australia has not set any new emission reduction targets this decade. On the contrary, this week has bolstered Australia’s reputation as part of a small, isolated group of countries – with like Saudi Arabia and Russia – resilient to climate action.
Global dynamics: what have the great powers brought to Glasgow?
Since the last United Nations climate summit, we have seen a global momentum towards climate action. Over 100 countries – representing over of them-third global economy – have set firm dates for achieving net zero emissions.
Perhaps more importantly, as the Glasgow summit approaches, the advanced economies of the world – including the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the New Zealand – have all stepped up their 2030 targets. The G7 group of countries promised halve their collective emissions by 2030.
The major economies of the developing world also made new commitments at COP26. China has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2060 and has stepped up its targets for 2030. It now plans to peak in emissions by the end of the decade.
This week India also pledged to reach net zero by 2070 and ramp-up of the installation renewable energy. By 2030, half of India’s electricity will come from renewable sources.
The early days of COP26 also saw a series of new announcements for the decarbonization of sectors of the global economy. Great Britain declared the end of coal was in sight, as she launched a new global coalition to phase out coal-fired power plants.
The United States has also joined a coalition of countries that plans to reach zero net emissions in worldwide shipping.
But this week the developed world below to keep a ten-year-old promise – providing US $ 100 billion each year to help the poorest countries cope with climate impacts.
Honoring climate finance commitments will be critical to building confidence in the talks. For its part, Australia has committed to 500 million additional Australian dollars in climate finance to countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific – a figure well below Australia’s fair share in global efforts. Australia has also refused to join the Green Climate Fund.
Missing the moment: the Australian Way
As the rest of the world continues the race towards a net zero emissions economy, Australia is barely out of the starting blocks. Australia has brought Glasgow the same 2030 emissions target it set in Paris six years ago, even as its main allies pledged to meet much tougher targets.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived with limited plans to accompany its last-minute net-zero announcement by 2050. The Australian Way strategy, which consisted of little more than a brochure, failed to provide a credible path to this goal. It was met with derision worldwide.
On the way to Glasgow, at the G20 leaders’ meeting in Rome, Australia blocked global momentum to cut emissions by resist calls for a gradual phase-out of coal-fired electricity. Australia also refused to sign the global pledge on methane.
Worse yet, Australia is using COP26 to actively promote fossil fuels. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the summit is an opportunity to promote investment in Australian gas projects, and the Australian fossil fuel company Santos has been prominent brand at the site’s Australian pavilion.
The federal government is promote carbon capture and storage as a climate solution, although it is widely seen as a license to extend the use of fossil fuels. The technology is also extremely expensive and has yet to be proven on a large scale.
The fence section
The first week in Glasgow delivered more climate action than the world promised in Paris six years ago. However, the summit results are still well below what is needed to limit the warming to 1.5 ℃. Attention will now turn to negotiating an outcome to further increase climate ambition this decade.
Vulnerable countries have proposed countries that have not yet reached improved targets for 2030 must return in 2022, well before COP27, with more ambitious emission reduction targets.
This week the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a group of countries from all traditional negotiating blocs in the UN climate talks. Led by the Marshall Islands, the group was crucial in obtaining the Paris Agreement of 2015.
In Glasgow, this coalition is pressing for a result that will keep the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5 ℃.
But significant differences persist between the United States and China. Many developing countries want to see more commitment to climate finance from rich countries before committing to new goals. Can consensus be reached in Glasgow? We will be following the negotiations closely next week to find out.
Wesley Morgan, Researcher, Griffith Asia Institute and Climate Council Researcher, Griffith University