Leading up to COP26: U.S. and China make important pledges; activists demand fossil-free future

As the IPCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow approaches on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, international leaders are grabbing microphones, activists are lobbying, and important new reports are being released .  A chronology of some important highlights:  

On September 13, an Open Letter was delivered to the UN General Assembly, calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. Signed by over 2000 academics and scientists from 81 countries, the Letter calls  for international cooperation on climate change and an end to new expansion of fossil fuel production in line with the best available science, and a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production of fossil fuels “in a manner that is fair and equitable”. 

On September 16, World Resources Institute and Climate Analytics released  Closing the gap: The impact of G20 climate commitments on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, which offers hope. The report argues that if G20 countries set ambitious, 1.5°C-aligned emission reduction targets for 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, then global temperature rise at the end of the century could be limited to 1.7°C.  This hinges on the fact that G20 countries account for 75% of global GHG emissions.

A new, related report from the UNFCC is far less hopeful – in fact, Greta Thunberg , as quoted in Common Dreams, states that “this is what betrayal looks like”. The Synthesis Report of Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement compiled the emissions reduction pledges of 191 countries as of July 31 2021, and evaluated and analyzed their targets and plans .  The bottom line: “The total global GHG emission level in 2030, taking into account implementation of all the latest NDCs, is expected to be 16.3 per cent above the 2010 level.”  Such a course would lead to a “catastrophic” increase in average temperatures by 2.7 degrees C. by the end of the century. While Argentina, Canada, the European Union, United Kingdom and United States strengthened their 2030 emission reduction targets (compared to the NDCs they submitted five years ago),  China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have yet to submit their updated NDCs. The latter countries are responsible for 33% of global greenhouse gases.

On September 18, the EU and U.S. launched a Global Methane Pledge, promising to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 – which is a step in the right direction, but fails to meet the target of 45% reduction in this decade , as called for by the UNEP in its Global Methane Assessment Report released in May 2021.  However, according to Inside Climate News, “Global Methane Pledge Offers Hope on Climate in Lead Up to Glasgow “, and The Conversation U.S. describes “Biden urges countries to slash methane emissions 30% – here’s why it’s crucial for protecting climate and health, and how it can pay for itself”  ( Sept. 17). It remains to be seen if Canada will join the eight countries already signed on to the new Methane Pledge; in Canada, the existing regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry  target a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. The Liberal election platform pledged to “Require oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030 and work to reduce methane emissions across the broader economy.”  (More Canadian context appears in The Energy Mix,  and from the WCR here, which explains the federal-provincial equivalency agreement re methane regulations.

The opening of UN General Assembly on September 20, began with a fiery speech by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres about global inequality, saying that the world is “sleepwalking”  to climate change disaster and pleading yet again for urgent action and  international cooperation.  Discussions around Covid-19, racism, and climate change are creating the “sombre mood” of the meetings . Yet speeches by U.S. president Biden and China’s Xi Jinping offer hope for climate change actions:

On September 21, US president Biden’s address to the General Assembly included a pledge that the US will become the world’s leading provider of climate finance, promising to double U.S. aid to $11bn by 2024.  Some reaction to the pledge was sceptical, given that the $100 billion in aid already pledged by developed countries has not been achieved. Canada is one of the worst offenders, with an average contribution only 17% of its fair share in 2017 and 2018, according to  “Climate Finance Faces $75-Billion Gap as COP 26 Looms 1,000 Hours Away” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 21).

Also on September 21, China’s leader Xi Jinping announced to the United Nations General Assembly that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”  The impact, as explained here by the New York Times, can be huge, given that  “China built more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined” last year. “‘Betting on a low-carbon future’: why China is ending foreign coal investment” (The Guardian, Sept. 22) highlights two important points: 1. the announcement signals that China is serious about climate action even though it hasn’t confirmed attendance at COP26, and 2. Real climate progress lies in reduction of China’s domestic coal production, which is 10 times higher than foreign production according to the report in Germany’s DW . So far, China has not specified plans re domestic production, nor re the timing of its commitment to end coal financing.

On September 22, a statement by over 200 civil society organizations from around the world called on progressive governments and public finance institutions to launch a joint commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels at COP26.  According to the spokesperson for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said: “While a growing number of governments are turning away from coal and oil, international financial institutions are still providing four times as much funding for gas projects as for wind or solar.”  The full statement and list of signatories is here and includes 28 Canadian organizations – including the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ).

#Wemaketomorrow is an activist campaign coordinated by the Trade Union Caucus of the COP26 Coalition. Planning and actions for COP26 are already underway at https://www.wemaketomorrow.org/ . The main COP26 Coalition website organizes The People’s Summit, “a global convergence space for movements, campaigns and civil society”, which this year, because of Covid-19, will feature in-person and virtual events.

More to come!

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