Will Glasgow Climate Promises Be Kept?

The Glasgow Climate Pact was adopted by nearly 200 countries just before midnight on November 13 at the 26th United Nations climate change conference (COP26).

The rallying cry of the activists and negotiators in Glasgow was “Keep 1.5°C Alive,” a slogan that distills the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change’s goal of limiting the global average temperature increase this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Barring that, the Paris Agreement aims at least keeping the increase below 2°C. The figure currently stands at approximately 1.1°C.

They declared a tentative win. Alok Sharma from the U.K., who presided over COP26’s presidency said that they can now claim with credibility that 1.5 degrees has been kept alive. Its pulse is very weak, and it can only survive if there are no changes and a swift response to our commitments. Others were less optimistic. Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International’s Executive Director for Communications and Media said in a statement that the organization was “meek”, weak and only half a way to achieving its 1.5C goals.

What does the agreement say about coal? Many climate activists have been vocal about the fact the U.N. finally listed the F-words, which are fossil fuels, in an official document. This is supposedly the first mention of these words since nearly thirty years of climate negotiations. What’s the point? However, the 1992 U.S. Senate ratified the UNFCCC, which mentions fossil fuels twice, greenhouse gases emissions fifteen times and carbon dioxide two times. While there are many other documents (e.g. the 2016 Paris Agreement), that don’t explicitly mention fossilfuels, climate change negotiators working over details weren’t aware that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels.

First drafts of the Glasgow Pact required signatories “accelerate phasing-out coal and subsidies to fossil fuels”. The final hours of the conference saw India and China insist on a watered-down version of the Glasgow Pact. The final version calls instead for an “accelerated effort towards the phasedown unabated coal-power and phaseout of inefficient fossil fuel subsidy subsidies.”

UndeterredThis means that emissions from coal-fired power plants aren’t captured or sequestered in any way, such as pumped underground, or absorb by new forest growth. PhasedownIt means that emission will be reduced but not eliminated. China and India have not yet announced plans to phase out coal. The down payment to social peace is what might be considered inefficient subsidies in one country.

“How can one expect developed countries to make promises about ending fossil fuel subsidies?” Developing countries have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication,” argued India’s environment minister, Bhupender Yadav, in Glasgow. Subsidies provide the much-needed social support and security to help achieve this goal. Yadav gave an example by pointing to the subsidised liquified petrol gas that is intended to assist low-income Indian families in replacing burning wood or cow manure as a source of heat and cooking.

Toxic fossil fuels are responsible for most of the projected 36.4 billion ton of carbon dioxide which will be released into the atmosphere by humans this year. The largest share of global carbon dioxide emissions was contributed by coal at 40%, oil at 32%, and natural gas, at 21 percent. COP26 began with much discussion about what was supposedly the “end of coal” in the near future. India and China didn’t understand the message. In fact, faced with power shortages earlier this year, China has ramped up coal production to the highest level since March 2015 and has approved expansion of more than 153 coal mines. India plans to increase its coal production by more than one billion tonnes, from the current 750 million tonnage to over a billion in 2024.

Instead of ending, world coal consumption will continue to rise slightly through 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s projections,  even while renewables will account for most of the increases in global electric generation over the next three decades.

At a press conference after COP26 on November 15, Zhao Lijian, a Chinese spokesperson said that not all people have access to electricity in many countries. The energy supply was inadequate. Before asking countries to quit using coal, we should consider their energy needs to guarantee energy security. The United States encourages developed countries to lead the way in ending coal use and provide plenty of funding, technical and capacity-building support for countries that are transitioning into renewable energy sources.

The annual Chinese per capita carbon dioxide emission was 10.1 tons in 2020. This is higher than the average for countries richer members of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. China’s per capita annual carbon dioxide emissions is actually higher than the ones for Germany (7.7 tonnes), Britain (4.6 tons) and France (4.6 ton). The averages of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australian carbon dioxide emissions are 13.7, 14,4 [link?]15,2 tonnes per capita and.

Zhao knows very well that the developed world has already taken “the lead” in ending coal use. The U.S. has seen its coal consumption drop by almost 60 percent from peak 2007. Coal consumption in the United Kingdom since 2006 is down almost 90 percent and the European Union’s consumption has fallen by about 66 percent over the past 30 years.

Zhao also encouraged rich countries to fund developing country’s energy transition to low-carbon sources of energy like wind and solar energy. In bald contrast, China until this year was financing the construction of as many as 240 coal-fired power generation projects around the world.

The current pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions, known in U.N. jargon as “nationally determined contributions,” are projected to result in a global average temperature increase of 2.4°C by 2100. This is obviously well above the Paris Agreement’s threshold of 2°C, much less 1.5°C.

The initial draft text of the Glasgow Pact also urged countries “to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions…as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.” This too was modified, largely in response to India and China’s demands to have the “requests Parties revisit and strengthen 2030 targets in national determined contributions…as necessary to align with Paris Agreement temperature goal by 2022.”

The pact’s first section aims at encouraging countries to increase and review their emission reduction commitments each year instead of once every five years, as required by the Paris Agreement. “Taking into account different national situations” does not make a country a climate free-of-jail card. A country may simply state that their “national circumstances” don’t permit it to update or increase its commitments.

The phrase “as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal” means making commitments that lead to “reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid- century.” Achieving net zero means that the amounts of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by their removal from the atmosphere. Nearly 140 countries had set different dates to reach net zero before and after COP26. The Biden administration, like most OECD countries has promised that net zero will be attained by the United States in 2050. Russia, China and Saudi Arabia all promised net zero emission by 2060, while India and Saudi Arabia will achieve it by 2070.

If you are skeptical about the legitimacy of climate pledges made by politicians now, which will almost certainly be their last act before they become law, then forgive me. In the 1992 UNFCCC negotiated at the 1992 Earth Summit signatories promised to “adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.” Particularly, wealthy countries were to reduce their anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2000.

U.S. greenhousegas emissions increased 15 percent instead of returning to the 1990 level in 2000. It is important to note that U.S. greenhouse gases emissions levels have risen 15 percent in the past three decades, compared with 1990. Similar to Japan and Canada, emissions increased in the 1990s, while they declined below 1990 levels for Europe.

2010 saw the human race emit 33.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and cement. The carbon dioxide emission for 2010 is expected to rise by 36.4 million tons. An increase of 45 percent in carbon dioxide emissions relative to 2010 would mean that mankind must reduce current emissions levels by 18 billion tons per annum. By 2030, the atmospheric emissions will be reduced to 18.1 billion tons.

Instead of declining steeply, U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2021 predictions are optimistic International Energy OutlookReport projects that global energy-related carbon dioxide emission will increase to 42 billion tonnes by 2050 due to the current climate policy. Nearly all this increase in emission will occur as developing countries continue to industrialize. These projections suggest that the global goal to eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2050 as set out in the Pact is not being met.

Conversely, this year’s International Energy Agency report (IEA) was published. By 2050, Net ZeroThe roadmap report argues how the world could reach net zero by 2050 by tripling investment in non-carbon emissions technologies to $4 trillion per year by 2030. The IEA roadmap states that all coal-fired power plants within developed countries will be shut down by 2030. A further 1,000 gigawatts would be added annually to the global wind and solar energy generation. In 2020, world added around a quarter of that amount of renewable energy capacity. The IEA scenario predicts that by 2030 60 percent global car sales will be electric, and all new buildings in this country are carbon-neutral.

What future looks more probable? The short-term future is uncertain, but it’s clear that poorer countries will still rely upon fossil fuels as a foundation for their economic development.

Wind and solar power generation’s steeply decreasing costs are now undercutting the fossil fuel industry. For example, the financial consultancy Lazard calculates that the unsubsidized levelized cost of energy from utility scale solar and wind is now lower than for any fossil fuel generation. The promise of grid-scale, cheap and long-term storage batteries that are inexpensive could make it easier to deliver electricity when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. Combining small modular nuclear reactors with molten sodium storage, these could be used to flexiblely dispatch electricity to the grid in times when renewables are low.

With respect to transport, some 30 countries at COP26  signed onto “the declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans.” They pledged that they would work to ensure zero emission cars and vans in new sales by 2040 (or earlier) or 2035 for the top markets. France, China and Germany were absentees from the signed list.

As electric vehicle prices drop, so have the sales. In the past decade, costs for batteries required to electrify cars have dropped by 90%. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s 2021 analysis estimates that electric cars will be priced at the same price as internal combustion engines within five years. BNEF outlines a scenario based on current market trends and forces and without any regulations. This project projects that electric vehicles will account for over 30% of all global vehicle sales by 2030 and approximately 40% of U.S. automobile sales by 2030.

The BNEF analysis also outlines a scenario in which countries do adopt policies and regulations that aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Such policies would include President Joe Biden’s August executive order targeting a 50 percent sales share of electric vehicles in the U.S. by 2030. Taking into account the zero emission vehicles declaration at COP26, BNEF calculates that by 2025 electric vehicles could roughly be 20 to 30 percent of car sales in the U.S., the European Union, and China. According to the BNEF net zero scenario, electric vehicles will account for nearly 60% of all global vehicle sales by 2030.

If policymakers adopted clean market policies, instead of top-down mandates like those at COP26, all of the current trends towards the adoption of low emissions technologies and energy sources would be dramatically accelerated. Instead of focusing on specific technologies or subsidies, clean tax cuts reward innovation and promote competition in the development and deployment of low emission energy resources and infrastructure.

The bottom line is: Given likely global carbon dioxide emissions trends from developing countries, 1.5°C is dead but 2.0°C is alive. Why? Probably because COP 26 promises will be kept largely by accelerating market and technological developments.