Climate efforts have entered a delicate new phase

Never have so many governments, businesses and financial institutions promised so much. China says it will cut carbon emissions by practically zero by 2060. BP aims for net zero emissions by 2050, just as HSBC, the EU, President-elect of the United States Joe biden and investors asset management worth $ 9 billion. This madness of commitments to tackle climate change is welcome, but it risks being confused with what it is not: action to reduce emissions at the scale and at the pace needed to meet targets. of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

the 189 countries in this pact are supposed to reduce their emissions to keep global warming well below 2 ° C, and ideally 1.5 ° C, on a planet that has already warmed by about 1C since the 1850s. The pandemic has inadvertently shown what is needed. Scientists believe economies battered by Covid have been produced 34 billion tonnes of CO2 of fossil fuels in 2020, an epic drop of 2.4 billion tonnes from 2019.

However, the same scientists say that a decline of about this magnitude is needed each year through 2030 to have a chance to meet the 1.5 ° C target – and daily emissions are already returning to what they were at the end of 2019. There is a huge gap between the promised safer climate and the policies in place to achieve it. reach.

This does not mean that the world should go into permanent lockdown. But you have to keep that in mind when China says it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, but continues to build power plants that burn coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Or when an oil company says he will cut its emissions per barrel of crude produced, but not its absolute amount of carbon pollution. Or when an asset manager supports green accounting rules but votes against shareholders’ resolutions to speed up emission reductions.

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It is a vital context for the G20 countries, which represent 78 percent greenhouse gases. Their Covid recovery and rescue plans could shift their economies to greener bases more quickly, but the UN believes that so far they are spend 50% more on sectors linked to fossil fuels than on low carbon energies. Unfortunately for the British hosts of the UN COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow in November, the international climate action negotiating system has itself become part of the problem.

When these negotiations were launched almost exactly 30 years ago, on December 21, 1990, they were ahead of public opinion. Today, talks lag behind a public rightly demanding faster and deeper action. As four former senior UN climate officials write in a new analysis negotiations, “to continue at the rate of the last 30 years is unthinkable”.

The United Kingdom must deploy all its diplomatic power to make COP26 a turning point. Instead of another unwieldy gathering marked by lofty rhetoric and distant goals, the meeting should be used to boost policy coordination such as meaningful carbon pricing and regulation; phase out coal and end fossil fuel subsidies that G20 countries have pledged to begin phasing out in 2009.

Governments of all sizes must follow the lead of Mr Biden, who is preparing to make climate change a priority in his new US administration, rather than handing it over to specialist agencies. The good news is that estimates of the global costs of moving to a zero carbon economy have collapsed, although headwinds remain.

The pandemic is far from over, especially in the UK. Yet if the nation that was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution can seriously advance a zero carbon revolution, it will provide a legacy that will last for decades if not centuries to come.

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