A look back at COP26: are we winning the race against time?

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What impact did the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow have on environmental issues in two hours of deliberation and 13 days of tense negotiations? Here’s a refresher.

The annual Conference of the Parties, which concluded its 26th session a month ago, seeks to persuade governments to step up their efforts to fight global warming. The goals of the Glasgow discussions were not to draught a novel pact but to finish the one reached in Paris six years ago and expand on it by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing the temperature curve further to ranges that do not endanger human civilisation. Even as coal-dependent nations lodged last-minute concerns, the United Nations climate talks finished with a pact that for the first time singled out fossil fuels as the primary cause of global warming.

While the accord received acclaim for preserving the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius viable, most of the other roughly 200 national delegations hoped for more. The two-week summit in Scotland achieved a big victory in addressing the regulations surrounding carbon industries yet offered nothing to allay underserved nations’ fears about long-promised climate money from wealthy nations. Last-minute controversy erupted when India, supported by China and other coal-dependent emerging economies, rebuffed a stipulation requiring coal-fired energy to be ‘phased out’. The provision was quickly revised to require nations to ‘downscale’ their coal consumption after a meeting involving delegations from China, India, the United States, and the European Union.

Roughly 200 national delegations hoped for more

Certain countries, such as India, unveiled major steps during the summit. Overturning deforestation, promoting electric vehicles, gradually phasing out coal, keeping a lid on methane emissions, and releasing investor funds for the battle against climate change were among the secondary commitments negotiated by host nation Britain. Nations resolved to concentrate their official deliberations on the most idealistic target in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists and developing nations have consistently campaigned for that limit, although other governments have clung to the alternative of striving for far below 2 degrees Celsius.

Participants notably decided to address coal consumption and fossil fuel subsidies expressly, although the initial ideas were scaled down significantly. Leading polluters will be required to propose fresh goals at the United Nations climate summit in Egypt in 2022 in order to spearhead more awareness and vision. The Glasgow Climate Accord will be the first instance that fossil fuels have been specifically acknowledged in the conclusion of a global climate conference.

A previous pledge to abandon coal and fossil fuel subsidies was softened down to merely relate to unrestrained coal and unsatisfactory fossil fuel subsidies. It is essential to mention that the fossil fuel private sector had many more representatives at COP26 than any other nation. It cast major doubts on the reliability of discussions, especially given that the combustion of fossil fuels is the primary culprit of the global climate catastrophe.

Experts have consistently stated that cutting greenhouse gas output as soon as possible is the best approach for combating soaring global temperatures. Wealthy nations had failed to achieve their goal of $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist poor nations in tackling climate catastrophe, and so there came a lot of animosity into the conference. The concluding deal professed great disappointment for the budget shortfall and urged wealthy countries to provide the funds promptly. The percentage and sum of funds set aside for underdeveloped nations to acclimate to surging sea waters and associated effects of climate change were also boosted, albeit not quite as much as some nations had requested.

It is essential to mention that the fossil fuel private sector had many more representatives at COP26 than any other nation

Requests for the establishment of a fund to pay impoverished nations for the harm resulting from climate change (which developed nations are largely accountable for) were rebuffed by Western nations such as the United States and European Union members. Such a course of action enraged many vulnerable nations, but they approved the deal in the hopes of making headway on the loss and damage topic in Egypt next year.

Following Paris, states have been unable to agree on norms for multilateral cooperation to reduce emissions, including carbon markets. As nations and businesses strive to reduce their emissions, the laws governing what is recognized as ‘Article 6’ will become particularly crucial. Although supporters believe that the agreement will contribute trillions of dollars to combat climate change, several other governments and environmental organizations suspect that it will leave a serious lacuna in the framework, enabling specific carbon reductions to be counted twice.

Facing scrutiny from several of its profound corporations, Brazil made a pivot that sealed the deal. In exchange, the government gets to retain some of the carbon credits it earned under a previous mechanism, which experts believe was untrustworthy. A minor levy on carbon exchanges will contribute to a fund to help impoverished nations adjust to climate change, but protesters had intended for the fee to be imposed more extensively, and they condemned U.S. reluctance in Glasgow over this.

States consented to a number of changes to the regulations governing how and how often nations must present their efforts to cut emissions; disclosure for all countries must now occur every five years, rather than every ten. While this may appear unrealistic, researchers suggest that increased clarity and increased periodic reporting are critical for creating confidence because countries actively monitor each other’s actions. China has been especially concerned about having its initiatives scrutinised too carefully. Although the Glasgow deal outlined a roadmap to tackling the problem by devising a new secretariat committed to the problem, dependent nations argued that this was the bare minimum of acceptable solutions.

It’s too late for piecemeal reforms

“If it’s a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable”, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in the final meeting to approve the Glasgow Climate Pact, continuing, “And this has been, I think, a good negotiation.” It is now purely a race against the clock. Despite its guarded and conciliatory verbiage, the Glasgow Climate Pact appears to be a death pact.

It’s too late for piecemeal reforms after so many wasted years of refusal, diversion, and deferral. The people warranted a resolution at the COP26 climate summit to stop burning fossil fuels beyond 2030. Rather, dominant nations pursued a middle ground between our odds of survival and the fossil fuel industry’s fortunes. There was hardly any margin for concession, though. Humans risk accelerating our climate catastrophe if we do not make huge and dramatic overhauls, as Earth ecosystems cross crucial boundaries and shift into novel and inimical realms.

This isn’t to say that we are giving up. Like the intricate ecological systems on which our existence rely, human-made systems can abruptly shift from one condition to the other. The Earth’s ecosystems on which we rely reflect similarities with our socioeconomic institutions. If they are pushed beyond their tipping thresholds, they can collapse with incredible rapidity, just like natural systems. Our last, best hope is to reap the benefits of those tendencies, causing what researchers refer to as cascading regime transitions.

The potency of “domino dynamics” was demonstrated in interesting research published in the journal Climate Policy in January. This is how the global financial crisis of 2008-09 began: a very tiny shock (mortgage defaults in the United States) was propagated and exacerbated across the economy, nearly bringing it down. This characteristic could be used to spark positive change. As higher productivity, scale economies, and industrial affinities bolster each other, the spread of new technology seems to accelerate. This has recently occurred in Norway, where a tax adjustment made electric vehicles less expensive than petrol or diesel automobiles. The paradigm was overturned nearly instantly as a result of this. Electric vehicles now constitute a significant proportion of all new auto sales, and conventional automobiles are on their way out.

The transition is consequently linked from one country to the next, driven by such a newfound market force. A truly green transport network would necessitate a new type of structural overhaul. It would begin by minimising the amount of travel required and would persuade everyone who is able to walk or cycle to do so, aiding both our health and environmental crises. It would promote public transportation for lengthier routes. Only the leftovers of the dilemma would be addressed by personal electric vehicles, which would provide transportation for those who could not go by other alternatives.

We as humans might have a shot if we can synchronously ignite a domino paradigm transformation in both technology and geopolitics. It feels like a crazy dream. We don’t have an alternative, though. Our existence hinges on increasing the magnitude of passive resistance until we create the world’s largest notable uprising. We should not be blind enough to dig our own graves but instead, change our habits individually and collectively.

Image: Casa Rosada via Wikimedia Commons

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