With planned emissions cuts still far smaller than needed to prevent runaway climate change, turning the promises made at the just-ended Glasgow summit into real-world investment within a year will be the mark of its success, analysts said Monday.
Britain — which hosted the COP26 U.N. climate conference and will lead work through to the 2022 gathering in Egypt — must now team up with activists and green-minded businesses to shift plans and maintain pressure on laggard countries, they said.
That could include everything from expanding a pioneering funding program to help South Africa break its coal dependency with other nations, to dialing up political pressure on less-climate-ambitious countries such as Australia, Russia and Brazil.
For now, efforts to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a level scientists say gives the best chance of keeping people and nature safe — are “hanging by a thread,” said Richard Black of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
“We don’t need more pledges … That’s not really credible anymore. We need actions, policies,” Black, a senior associate with the U.K. nonprofit, said at a briefing on the COP26 outcome.
The summit, which ended on Saturday, achieved some notable commitments, including committing to double the financing for adaptation to climate impacts, to “phase down” coal power, to cut “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies and to end deforestation by 2030.
But campaign groups lamented that it was far from enough to keep the world on a safe path, with Asad Rehman of the COP26 Coalition, a U.K.-based group of climate justice organizations, saying it showed “utter disregard of science and justice.”
Nations’ emissions-cutting pledges for 2030 put the world on track for 2.4 C of temperature rise, with projected emissions twice what is needed to hold onto 1.5 C, according to Climate Action Tracker researchers.
David King, a former British chief scientist, said in his view “there was no real understanding in the (Glasgow) agreement of the extreme nature of the crisis.”
But the government of Bangladesh, current head of the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 55 countries, said the talks had nonetheless delivered “substantial progress.”
“The world has recognized the urgency of the situation here in Glasgow — now the hard work begins back home,” it said in a statement after the meeting ended.
Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities network of large metropolises pushing climate action, said the top priority should be “big breakthroughs” in action on the ground.
“As world leaders depart Glasgow, it is now up to others to pick up the torch,” he said in a statement.
The Glasgow Climate Pact asks countries to come back by the end of 2022 with more ambitious plans to cut their emissions by 2030 in a bid to hold onto the fast-fading 1.5 C goal.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations were required to update their carbon-reducing plans only every five years.
The new request for faster ratcheting — alongside pressure from climate activists and businesses eager for clearer market signals on how to drive green shifts — mean more leaders now feel “squeezed from both sides” to take action, said Chris Stark, head of Britain’s independent Climate Change Committee.
Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy U.K., an industry trade association, said the Glasgow deal’s first-ever references to phasing down coal and fossil fuel subsidies amounted to “a really strong market signal” for business.
That could drive shifts in private investment that will ultimately have a bigger influence on emissions than smaller amounts of government climate finance, the analysts said.
But long-overdue rules governing carbon markets, finally agreed upon in Glasgow, leave open the possibility that companies and countries making net-zero pledges could rely too heavily on offsetting emissions rather than cutting them, Pinchbeck said.
Whether carbon trading systems actually reduce global emissions is “a wait-and-see” prospect, she said during the online discussion.
One significant shift at the COP26 talks, she noted, is that more leaders have grasped not just that climate change presents a genuine risk in their own countries but that demands for action are coming from a broader spectrum of society.
“Countries understand the threat of climate change now physically but also in terms of social pressure and the pressure from businesses,” she said.
Amber Rudd, a former U.K. secretary of state for energy and climate change, said that with politicians weighing up what swifter emissions cuts might mean for their re-election chances, keeping up public pressure for climate action was crucial.
Leaders are too often interested only in future climate action that is NIMTOO, or “not in my term of office,” she added.
“Politicians know what they need to do. They just don’t know how to get re-elected after they’ve done it,” she said — a worry that clear public support for climate action could alleviate.
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