Warmth, less ambition, and a win by the industrialised world

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT – If you want to watch the conclusion of the U.N. climate conference COP26 in Bonn this week without being spoiled by incessant telly coverage, please bear with us. Here are…

Warmth, less ambition, and a win by the industrialised world

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT – If you want to watch the conclusion of the U.N. climate conference COP26 in Bonn this week without being spoiled by incessant telly coverage, please bear with us.

Here are the key takeaways:

The change agenda

UN Photo/Kim Haughton

The global quest to adapt to climate change just got a lot tougher.

While all the signatories to the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC’s predecessor, agreed that a massive, 4°C pathway for global temperature rise was “technically and economically infeasible,” six parties made a strong case in Bonn that it should be lowered to “well below” 2°C. That would leave a hole in the global goal of holding climate change to a 1.5°C, and increasing the chances of staying below that target.

These additions to the Paris text arrived on top of a move to address the disadvantage of people living in the most vulnerable regions. A list of 13 priority areas, developed by the poor, developed in Bonn, that the UNFCCC could address through its climate-savvy Paris Future Forum would be made public for consultation in 2019.

One of the most surprising announcements from this year’s conference in Bonn was a release of new estimates for how we are on track to warm 2°C. Progression toward that goal looks like this:

* In March 2017, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the Climate Policy Initiative and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency reported that the increase to 2°C was “mostly chance” and that it could be limited to 1.5°C

* In September, the IPCC suggested that the world’s 6 most-exposed countries in 2030 – those who use two-thirds of the world’s most-exposed coal, including Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – could warm 7°C by 2100

* In November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration stated that the world can warm as much as 3°C by the end of the century.

A shift to negative emissions?

Although the Paris Agreement set no numerical limit on what nations might achieve in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reduction, it sought to guide those efforts through a process that sets guidelines for the measurement, reporting and verification of such reductions.

“We are on track to reach well below 2°C, but we need much stronger commitments if we are to cap temperatures between 1.5°C and 2°C,” Nairobi deputy city manager Andrew Kimutai said at a press conference.

However, this expectation appears to be based on assumptions that boost the need for further carbon reductions. The optimism surrounding the shift from fossil fuels to nuclear, including in the UK, suggested by the UN’s Sustainable Development Commission in October was a significant catalyst for the supermajor move.

If an agreement to develop a set of carbon-negative “Blue Carbon” technologies to become an industry are reached, this would represent a major leap forward.

While UN delegates remained skeptical of the idea, achieving the necessary number of projects to be developed in time for the Paris climate agreement’s 2020 entry date seems like an ambitious goal.

In response to the scaled-back emissions reductions goals, UK Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington stated that it would be “imprudent to assume” that the G20 countries’ climate goals will be different from those of their G7 counterparts in 2020.

A new UN Working Group on Financing agreed to “consider [and] begin work” on how to raise $100 billion for climate mitigation and adaptation from public and private sectors. This could amount to a new “decarbonisation fund” that might supplant the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s flagship Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Some worry that this could lead to it getting diverted from addressing climate change altogether, though.

According to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who represented Donald Trump at the Bonn meeting: “If we don’t get a true global financial commitment from developing countries, it’s a waste of time and money. That’s what we heard from some countries.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misidentified India as being among the 13 priority areas.

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