Day: October 27, 2021

4 key issues to watch as world leaders prepare for the Glasgow climate summit

A mural near the site of COP26, the 26th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

by Rachel Kyte, (Tufts University)

Glasgow sits proudly on the banks of the river Clyde, once the heart of Scotland’s industrial glory and now a launchpad for its green energy transition. It’s a fitting host for the United Nations’ climate conference, COP26, where world leaders will be discussing how their countries will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

I’ve been involved in climate negotiations for several years as a former senior U.N. official and will be in Glasgow for the talks starting Oct. 31, 2021. As negotiations get underway, here’s what to watch for.

Ambition

At the Paris climate conference in 2015, countries agreed to work to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), aiming for 1.5 C (2.7 F). If COP21 in Paris was the agreement on a destination, COP26 is the review of itineraries and course adjustments.

The bad news is that countries aren’t on track. They were required this year to submit new action plans – known as national determined contributions, or NDCs. The U.N.’s latest tally of all the revised plans submitted in advance of the Glasgow summit puts the world on a trajectory to warm 2.7 C (4.86 F), well into dangerous levels of climate change, by the end of this century.

Chart showing emissions trajectories
The U.N. Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, released Oct. 26, 2021, shows the national pledges so far fall well short of the Paris Agreement goals. UNEP

All eyes are on the G-20, a group of leading world economies that together account for almost 80% of global emissions. Their annual summit takes place in Rome on Oct. 30-31, immediately before COP26 begins.

Some key G-20 countries have not submitted their updated plans yet, including India. Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Russia have filed plans that are not in line with the Paris Agreement.

Details of how China will achieve its climate goals are now emerging, and the world is poring over them to see how China will strengthen its 2030 emissions reduction target, which currently involves cutting emissions 65% per unit of gross domestic product, moving up the date when the country’s emissions growth will peak, and setting industrial production targets for other greenhouse gases, such as methane. [View chart of carbon emissions growth over the past 200 years]

A delicate dance between the United States and China, and deft diplomacy by France, was critical to reaching the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Six years later, a growing rivalry threatens to spiral down what had been a race to the top.

Meanwhile the world’s eyes are on the United States. Opposition from two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, appears likely to force the Biden administration to scrap a plan that would have incentivized utilities to switch to cleaner power sources faster. If their planetary brinksmanship guts that key part of President Joe Biden’s Plan A for how the U.S. will reach its 2030 emissions targets, the world will want to see details of Plans B, C or D in Glasgow.

Carbon markets

One leftover task from the Paris conference is to set rules for carbon markets, particularly how countries can trade carbon credits with each other, or between a country and a private company.

Regulated carbon markets exist from the European Union to China, and voluntary markets are spurring both optimism and concern. Rules are needed to ensure that carbon markets actually drive down emissions and provide revenue for developing countries to protect their resources. Get it right and carbon markets can speed the transition to net zero. Done badly, greenwashing will undermine confidence in pledges made by governments and companies alike.

Another task is determining how countries measure and report their emissions reductions and how transparent they are with one another. This too is fundamental to beating back greenwashing.

Also, expect to see pressure for countries to come back in a year or two with better plans for reducing emissions and reports of concrete progress.

Climate finance

Underpinning progress on all issues is the question of finance.

Developing countries need help to grow green and adapt to climate change, and they are frustrated that that help has been on a slow drip feed. In 2009 and again in 2015, wealthy countries agreed to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing nations by 2020, but they haven’t reached that goal yet.

With one week to go, the U.K. revealed a climate finance plan, brokered by Germany and Canada, that would establish a process for counting and agreeing on what counts in the $100 billion, but it will take until 2023 to reach that figure.

On the one hand it is progress, but it will feel begrudging to developing countries whose costs of adaptation now must be met as the global costs of climate impacts rise, including from heat waves, wildfires, floods and intensifying hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons. Just as with the global vaccine rollout, the developing world may wonder whether they are being slow-walked into a new economic divergence, where the rich will get richer and the poor poorer.

Beyond the costs of mitigation and adaptation is the question of loss and damage – the innocuous term for the harm experienced by countries that did little to contribute to climate change in the past and the responsibility of countries that brought on the climate emergency with their historic emissions. These difficult negotiations will move closer to center stage as the losses increase.

Public climate finance provided by countries can also play another role through its potential to leverage the trillions of dollars needed to invest in transitions to clean energy and greener growth. Expect big pledges from private sources of finance – pension funds, insurance companies, banks and philanthropies – with their own net zero plans, including ending finance and investments in fossil fuel projects, and financing critical efforts to speed progress.

It’s raining pledges

A cross section of the world will be in Glasgow for the conference, and they will be talking about pathways for reducing global carbon emissions to net zero and building greater resilience.

From emissions-free shipping to aviation, from ending coal financing to green steel and cement, from platforms to reduce methane, to nature-based solutions, the two-week conference and days leading up to it will see a steady stream of commitments and new groups of countries, nongovernmental organizations and businesses working together.

Keeping track and verifying achievements toward these pledges will be critical coming away from COP26. Without that, climate activist Greta Thunberg’s “blah blah blah” speech thrown at delegates to a pre-COP meeting in Milan a few weeks ago will continue to echo around the world.

This article was updated Oct. 26 with the release of the UNEP Emissions Gap report and trajectories chart.

Rachel Kyte, Dean of the Fletcher School, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the EPA pursues PFAS standards, industry and residents are at odds over state regulation

Read the full story from Wisconsin Public Radio.

Wisconsin residents affected by PFAS contamination say the Biden administration’s recently announced strategy to address harmful forever chemicals doesn’t go far enough and highlights the need for state standards. But industry officials argue state regulators should wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set federal drinking water regulations.

EPA proposes regulating ‘forever chemicals’ under hazardous waste law

Read the full story from Reuters. See also EPA eyes new rules for PFAS in waste from E&E News.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced it is preparing a rule that would list some so-called “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances that must be eliminated from industrial waste before it is discarded.

Under the plan, four compounds that are part of the wider family of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, could be added to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s (RCRA) list of “hazardous constituents” to “ensure they are subject to corrective action requirements.”

The chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) and GenX.

The State of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere Based on Global Observations through 2020

Download the document from the World Meteorological Organization.

The latest analysis of observations from the WMO GAW in situ observational network shows that globally averaged surface mole fractions(1) for CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) reached new highs in 2020, with CO2 at 413.2 ± 0.2 ppm(2), CH4 at 1889 ± 2 ppb(3) and N2O at 333.2 ± 0.1 ppb. These values constitute, respectively, 149%, 262% and 123% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels. The increase in CO2 from 2019 to 2020 was slightly lower than that observed from 2018 to 2019, but higher than the average annual growth rate over the last decade. This is despite the approximately 5.6% drop in fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2020 due to restrictions related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. For CH4, the increase from 2019 to 2020 was higher than that observed from 2018 to 2019 and also higher than the average annual growth rate over the last decade. For N2O, the increase from 2019 to 2020 was higher than that observed from 2018 to 2019 and also higher than the average annual growth rate over the past 10 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) [8] shows that from 1990 to 2020, radiative forcing by longlived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs) increased by 47%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase.

The G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote 2021

Download the document.

The actions that G20 governments take to tackle the climate crisis will be critical to the future of the planet. In the run-up to the G20 Summit in Rome, and ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the UN Development Programme and the University of Oxford are publishing the G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote, a large G20 survey of public opinion on climate change.

The G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote polled over 689,000 people across 18 of the G20 countries from October 2020 until June 2021. This includes over 302,000 young people under the age of 18. It leverages, an innovative survey methodology using mobile gaming networks.

In some countries, it is the first time that the voices of young people – who in many countries will be voting age in just a few years –are heard on climate change. This means the survey has significant value as a predictor of where public opinion is headed on climate policy. It also indicates where stronger efforts to educate the public may be required.

Air pollution in St. Louis helps fuel coronavirus spread, especially in communities of color

Read the full story from St. Louis Public Radio.

The coronavirus spreads faster in areas with poor air quality, according to new research from Washington University.

Researchers analyzed data on environmental, socioeconomic and health factors from a dozen U.S. cities, including St. Louis. They found that long-term exposure to microscopic air pollution and population density were both linked to faster coronavirus transmission — especially among communities of color.

Agricultural runoff contributes to global warming – New study helps us figure out how and what we can do about it

Read the full story from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas, with 300 times the warming ability of carbon dioxide. Due to fertilizer runoff from farm fields, an increasing load of nitrogen is washing into rivers and streams, where nitrogen-breathing microbes break some of the fertilizer down into N2O, which the river releases into the atmosphere as it tumbles toward the ocean. But, until now, scientists haven’t had a clear picture of how the process works, what fraction of the runoff winds up as N2O or what steps might be taken to mitigate N2O emissions.

The mutable boundaries of a worst-case climate world

Read the full story at Green Law.

In a worst-case climate world, climate change will redraw our maps, rewire our minds, and revolutionize our politics. For the sake of simplicity in this short blog, we can imagine key shifts along the axis of the physical, psychological, and the political.

Coca-Cola HBC commits to net zero emissions across entire value chain by 2040

Read the full story at Beverage Daily.

Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company will switch to 100% renewable electricity, increase rPET use and invest €250m ($289m) in emissions reduction initiatives as part of its pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2040.

High-schoolers tracked a wolf pack for years. The feds killed eight of the pups, conservationists say.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Students at Timberline High School in Boise, Idaho, have been studying a group of wolves — known as the Timberline wolf pack — in a nearby national forest since 2003. But sometime in the spring, biologists who track the pack noticed its den was empty, which was unusual, said wolf conservationist Suzanne Asha Stone.

After conservationists obtained a wolf “mortality list” from the state’s Department of Fish and Game, they realized pups in the Boise National Forest’s Timberline pack were killed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services branch, Stone told The Washington Post.

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