At CoP25, nations, especially developed economies, must commit to meaningful climate action; urgent implementation should follow.
The 25th Conference of Parties (CoP25) begins amid pessimism on global climate action—the UN has just warned that the world, even if all nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are met, will be hotter by 3.2oC by 2100 since global emissions will be 30% higher than the 2oC limit, and 120% higher than the 1.5oC limit in 2030.
Given the US has indicated it will walk out of the Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 countries committed to the 2oC pathway—if incumbent president, Donald Trump, a climate-change-denier, wins the 2020 elections, it will do so after November 2020—the NDCs will definitely not be met.
Action on phasing out of fossil fuels, a large source of greenhouse gases, has been muted—the UN’s Production Gap report estimates that the world is on track to produce 150% more coal in 2030 than the absolute 2oC (warming above pre-industrial levels) compliance limit, and close to thrice of what is consistent with 1.5oC pathway.
Oil production will overshoot the said limits by 16% and 59% respectively. The fourth-largest coal-producer, Australia, and Brazil, a major oil economy, have both threatened a US-style Paris-deal-walk-out though they haven’t made any actual announcement. Climate action by three major fossil fuel producers, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, is estimated to be critically insufficient (that is, if all countries were acting similarly, the world would heat beyond 4oC by 2100). Yet, fossil fuel phase-out—this would require planning commensurate to the paradigm shift that it is—is not on the explicit agenda for CoP25.
Indeed, with the UN having said that the point of no return is upon us, and studies having warned that deferment and delay on such action exponentially increases costs of mitigation, it is surprising that nations are still pussyfooting on this.
The Katowice meeting (CoP24) was a lost opportunity—predictable, though, with host Poland being a major coal economy—but, if countries fail to make good in CoP25 and the major economies remain unwilling to adhere to the common but differentiated responsibilities principle, the Greta Thunbergs of the world would be right in accusing them of betraying future generations.
The world is already 1.1oC warmer than pre-industrial levels, and even this warming has had disastrous effects—with just 12 years of emissions left to exhaust the carbon budget for 1.5oC warming, a planetary climate crisis is looming.
Disasters rooted in climate change have already forced 20 million people to leave their homes annually over the past decade; people are seven times more likely to be internally displaced because of floods, cyclones, and wildfire than volcanic eruptions and earthquake, and three times more likely than because of conflict. The US shirking from the responsibility that its historical and current emissions demand in terms of climate action—it is currently the second-largest emitter and the largest per capita emitter—and the fact that NDCs are nowhere near as ambitious as required mean that CoP countries ex the US will have to vastly increase their commitment.
At the UN Climate Action Summit, held in New York in September, nations didn’t inspire much faith. CoP 25 may be the last forum to commit to meaningful climate action—Paris Agreement kicks in from the coming year. One of the key points of discussion at CoP25 will be the modalities of carbon markets that will allow big emitters to buy carbon credits from countries that keep well within their emission goals.
For this mechanism to work, countries will have to first commit to sharper cuts—emissions must go down by 7.6% per year over the next decade if the world is to keep to the 2oC pathway—and developed nations must agree to stick to common but differentiated responsibilities.