This is what The Toronto Star had to say this week on Glasgow climate summit and the credibility of governments:
As we noted (recently), the prospects for COP26, the United Nations climate conference that opens on Oct. 31 in Glasgow, are bleak.
Yet the mounting consensus points to the international summit as being the most crucial global gathering at least since the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Two points help explain why.
— The first is that the goal of slashing emissions to zero by mid-century — the Net Zero by 2050 target — has too often had the sleepy effect of giving governments and industry license to set long-term goals when short-term urgency is required.
— The second is that the winds of political change can blow a country so far off course in its commitments that it struggles to reclaim credibility on the climate crisis.
The two are intertwined as the crushing developments in the United States demonstrate. By the time then-president Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, his administration had already been hard at work tearing apart his predecessor’s climate action policies. Out went the Clean Power Plan, by example, which could have cut power plant emissions by a third by 2030. And into the trash went the United States’ fledgling reputation on the climate action stage.
President Joe Biden moved quickly, administratively that is. In rejoining the Paris Agreement he reclaimed his country’s professed commitment to address climate change at home and abroad. But a report this week from the International Institute for Sustainable Development helps illustrate the impact of time lost: The world’s governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the Paris Agreement. Specifically, U.S. oil production is forecast to increase 17% from 2019 levels while gas production is set to rise by 12%.
The U.S. remains the world’s largest oil and gas producer. Biden has pledged to cut his country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, using 2005 levels as the baseline. So the goal is clear; the pathway not so much.
That’s the tripwire. Promises are one thing; legislative action is quite another.
At week’s end Biden was still trying to salvage his once $3.5 trillion (U.S.) Build Back Better legislation that has been whittled to a $2 trillion spending package that includes the administration’s action plan on climate change.
It had been the president’s aim to swoop into Glasgow, with special climate envoy John Kerry at his side, as a world-leading climate change crusader having passed the most robust climate change legislation in U.S. history. Instead, he faces fierce opposition from a coal-country Democratic senator who refuses to support a piece of the legislation called the Clean Energy Performance Program. The senator’s home state of West Virginia still derives 90% of its electricity from coal.
The upshot? Biden may head to Scotland empty-handed.
At least Biden will be there. The odds are against Chinese President Xi Jinping attending COP26 at all. Xi did strike a progressive note in December when he said that in meeting the climate challenge, “no one can be aloof and unilateralism will get us nowhere.” Yet China’s goal of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and only then starting to move toward carbon neutrality by 2060, is laggardly for the world’s largest emitter of atmospheric gases.
The majority of China’s domestic energy needs are still met by coal, Chinese banks fund the lion’s share of international coal-fired plants — Xi announced in September that such financing will cease — and the future of new coal plant startups in China remains unclear. At present, coal production in the country is firing on all cylinders to meet a power shortage. That’s disconcerting given UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent statement that “accelerating the global phase-out of coal is the single most important step to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement within reach.”
Xi announced last spring that China would start phasing out coal in 2025. Again, critics point to the absence of step-by-step goals.
It is no longer alarmist to state that the future of humanity hangs in the balance. The present path leads, in the words of the secretary-general, to a “catastrophic” endpoint.
If future climate summits are to have any credibility at all, the Glasgow crowd will have to announce tightened timelines and concrete agendas in their climate action plans, awkwardly named Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In a synthesis of NDCs submitted by the middle of last month the UN forecast a 16% increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to 2010.
Surprising? Not really. What else should we expect from a fragmented and, yes, unilateral approach to a collective crisis.