Negotiators at the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, on Saturday struck a global climate deal aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and averting catastrophic global warming, but the pledges won’t be enough to limit a planetary temperature rise to a key 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.
The COP26 text builds on greenhouse-gas reduction targets established in Paris six years ago by requesting countries, by the end of 2022, revisit and strengthen goals for cutting carbon emissions in line with an ambition to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, according to the document. Negotiators called for “clean energy power” to be “rapidly scaled up” and the “phase down” of coal power and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies to be accelerated.
There was also a commitment by participating countries to boost climate-related finance and support to help poorer countries that bear the brunt of intensifying extreme weather events and public health impacts related to greenhouse-gas emissions.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said the text of the agreement “raises ambitions” and “we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
But experts and climate campaigners said the agreement leaves many issues unresolved and that many earlier proposals were watered down for the final text.
Just minutes before the summit reached its conclusion, China and India insisted on weakening a coal clause to “phase down” rather than “phase out.”
“The (agreement) out of Glasgow shows the oily imprints of fossil fuel influence,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity nonprofit organization. “In a major blow to the credibility of these talks, the final language throws a lifeline to climate-killing fossil fuels through carbon capture technologies and continued subsidies to oil, gas and coal. We need more than weak gestures towards ‘low-emission’ energy. To have any hope of preserving a livable planet, we need to ignite a zero-emission revolution now. We’re waiting for world leaders, especially President Biden, to break this destructive pattern and finally put people over fossil fuels.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said the deal did not go far enough and the world must “go into emergency mode.”
According to Climate Action Tracker, which monitors climate policy action, the vast majority of countries around the world do not have climate measures in place that will meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. Scientists say the target can only be met if global emissions are reduced by about 45% by 2030 – relative to the 2010 emissions level – and cut to zero by 2050. The pledges and targets announced in Glasgow require countries, through domestic legislation, to self-police their goals.
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A number of separate new pledges were made by governments over the two weeks in Glasgow including measures to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, promises to halt deforestation and announcements by some countries – though not the U.S. or China – to shift away from domestic coal production. Dozens of financial corporations agreed to back renewable energy schemes and halt investments in fossil fuels.
Perhaps most notable of all, there was a surprise declaration from the U.S. and China, the world’s two top greenhouse-gas polluters, who agreed despite their many other recent stark policy differences from economics to human rights to work together to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate impacts.
The joint statement was ultimately light on detail but Kerry said the deal is “a step in the right direction, a mark of progress and a solid foundation for continued cooperation in climate between our two countries.”
China faced criticism for not sending its leader, Xi Jinping, to the COP26 summit in Scotland. In his closing news conference following a two-day stop at the summit, Biden said Xi’s decision to skip the conference was “a big mistake.”
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Climate Action Tracker calculates the planet is on track to warm 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, a temperature that would lead to ever-increasing dangerous climate-related events such as floods, heatwaves, rising sea levels, drought and animal species extinction. Human activities have caused around 1.1 degrees Celsius of global warming to date.
Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels will protect the planet from the most serious climate change impacts, scientists say, such as catastrophic wildfires and island nations being completely submerged.
Marcene Mitchell of the World Wildlife Fund environmental organization said U.S. climate negotiators in Scotland “returned the U.S. to its traditional role of global climate leader, but it’s clear that we have a lot of lost time to make up for. The work done in Glasgow has been important but does not meet the moment. We are returning to the invigorated and with a clear vision of the hard work ahead.”
- Two hundred countries were asked to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2030, and to zero by 2050. If that happens, there is a chance the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal can be met. As it stands, current pledges are not enough to reach that target, according to Climate Action Tracker, which monitors government action on climate. Current pledges would see warming of above 2 degrees Celsius.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the climate summit, but Beijing and Washington surprised participants by agreeing to work together on combatting climate change despite the countries’ host of policy and national security differences.
- The inclusion of language addressing the need to ultimately end the use of coal and other fossil fuels was not as robust some participants had hoped, but it still marks the first time such references were made in a U.N. climate summit. China and India requested changes to the text, substituting “phase down” for “phase out.”