Informed debate on energy and climate change.
Success or failure
After 13 days of talks, the gavel finally came down at the UN climate summit in Glasgow at 11:28pm on Saturday. For COP geeks, that makes it the sixth longest COP – just an hour short of Paris in 2015.
The most asked question about COP26 is: ‘was it a success or a failure?’. I don’t really believe there is a binary answer. It’s why I don’t like sporting analogies that are endlessly used for literally everything non-sporting: because it implies an overall win or overall loss. But it’s not like that.
We’re all losing from the climate crisis and the poorest people in parts of the world most vulnerable to climate impacts are losing far more, and more rapidly than most. We all face greater losses from the climate crisis in the years to come. And even if we keep temperature rises to 1.5°C, those losses are huge.
This process, then, is necessarily about minimising and managing losses, and acting to avert even worse impacts of climate change. On that measure, COP26 in Glasgow leaves us with progress and momentum – and hope that we can yet close the gap to keep warming to 1.5°C. But it also leaves us with anger and disappointment on the part of those already facing losses and damage from climate impacts that wealthy countries are still not doing as much as they need to be doing to cut emissions faster, and to support developing nations.
A picture of complexity
This COP always presented a complex picture. It was not about one deal or outcome, and it was never going to be the last word on getting to 1.5°C. The world came to Glasgow to deal with that complexity and leaves Glasgow with a number of pieces of the jigsaw in place, via the Glasgow Climate Pact.
Real economy signals
COP26 landed various ‘sector deals’ – on coal, deforestation, methane, vehicles, funding for overseas fossil fuels, and getting beyond oil and gas. Some of these shift the dial on emissions and help to keep 1.5° within reach. But they all send powerful signals to move markets, making fossil fuels less economic, and their clean alternatives more attractive to investors.
Added to this is the historic inclusion of language on getting out of coal, and the first reference to fossil fuel subsidies in a UN text since Kyoto in 1997. It started out committing to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies and ended up committing to phase down unabated coal power, and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. But even at that, it adds to signals that should help ensure the demise of coal.
Amongst challenging geopolitics, this process helped forge new alliances. In the push on loss and damage, and to focus more on adapting to climate impacts, the nations of the global south have come closer together to work collaboratively to demand support and finance for tackling the emergency they face.
Additionally, one of the tenser global relationships evolved in Glasgow – that between the US and China. As it turned out, their alliance did little to enhance ambition or drive the process in Glasgow forward faster. But it can hold hope that they will help drive momentum together this decade, if they both live up to their individual pledges. And it almost certainly, in a wider geopolitical sense, makes us all a little bit safer than we were before COP26!
The science tells us we are running out of time to keep temperature rises to 1.5°C, and a synthesis of nations’ pledges by Climate Action Tracker shows the world is on track for 2.4°C of warming. So COP26 concluded that it is time to move faster. Rather than waiting another five years to ramp up ambition, the Glasgow Climate Pact calls for nations without Paris-aligned emissions reduction targets to return with net-zero pledges and stronger targets before COP27 in Egypt next year. It also calls for all parties to return in 2023 with higher ambition.
On those ambition targets, it’s worth reminding ourselves that 90% of global GDP and a similar proportion of the world’s emissions are now covered by net-zero targets. Many still lack substance for getting on track this decade, but this a race that everyone is in and there’s no slowing or stopping now.
Supporting the most vulnerable
There are new commitments in the Glasgow Pact that help support the people and nations most vulnerable to climate impacts – enough that developing nations wanted to bank and use them, rather than blocking an overall deal in protest at the considerable amount that was still missing. Finally, a COP has agreed a process for agreeing a global goal on adaptation, as well as committing to doubling adaptation finance. Loss and damage featured in the deal more than it has at previous COPs, including arrangements to operationalise promises made to provide technical and practical advice and support to affected nations.
The biggest gap
But the big gap remains a commitment to establishing finance flows for paying for loss and damage. At COP26, Scotland became the first developed nation to pledge money for loss and damage – £2m. Another sub-state actor, Wallonia, pledged €1m. And philanthropy organisations mobilised to offer $3m to a loss and damage fund, once established. But big wealthy nations, many still lagging on fulfilment of their fair share to the promised $100bn a year in climate finance, refused to agree the necessary language proposed by the G77+China negotiating group of nations.
Instead, there is a process over the next year to develop the loss and damage workstream. Vulnerable nations have sworn to fight to ensure this includes a finance facility when it comes back to COP27. We can therefore expect to see either the founding of such a fund, or a considerable fight in Egypt next year over the issue.
Three areas of the ‘Paris rulebook’ had stubbornly evaded agreement before Glasgow; all are now in place. Five-year common timeframes for nations’ emissions pledges should drive greater ambition than the alternative proposed, which was ten-year spans. Transparency rules have been agreed which seek to prevent nations from cheating in their accounting for and reporting on emissions cuts. And article 6 establishes a market to enable companies and countries to trade carbon credits.
Article 6 has been heavily contested for several COPs. Some nations want to use old credits against new targets, and some believe emissions cuts should count both where they occur, and against the purchaser’s pledges. The deal at Glasgow has avoided the worst loopholes, but is not tight enough to prevent companies and countries who seek to game it. Most unfortunately, especially in the context of the loss and damage gap, the deal prevents any of the proceeds of carbon market trading flowing to poorer nations for adaptation.
196 parties to a negotiation will tend towards a messy and imperfect outcome. The COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact is certainly that. But overall, it sends some important signals – that the science is clear, the threat serious, and that this process exists to cut emissions and support the most vulnerable nations.
The world arrived in Glasgow with momentum from Paris, and leaves Glasgow having generated more urgency and momentum than was there before. Globally, public concern is at an all-time high, and people are ahead of politicians in the demands they are making for action to tackle the climate crisis. Of the leaders who have not moved, most of them govern democracies. So they go back now to face their people – their electorates – and answer for not doing what they want. Populations around the world fear climate change and expect leaders to act – not to talk, and then do nothing.
Trashing this COP process – this imperfect and messy process – is a very high-risk strategy. The UN climate process is what has got the world this far, and we have no immediate alternative. We can be sure that the fossil fuel companies and laggard countries reliant on fossil fuel exports would love nothing more than for it to be torn down.
Instead, there are genuine bright spots that generate hope and momentum beyond Glasgow to keep the Paris Agreement goals within reach. Now is the time to seize that hope, set the ambition for the UK’s presidency for the year ahead, and pick up the pace on climate action through to COP27.
If Australia plans to sell as much of its fossil fuels as possible, the least it can do is help us in Kiribati survive the rising seas.
By Akka Rimon
Our atoll nation is barely two metres above sea level, and the waters are coming for us.
Despite the progress and momentum of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, we are still not moving fast enough to avoid the worst of climate change.
It is heartening that more than 190 countries and organisations agreed to rapidly phase out coal power and end support for new coal power stations. More than 100 countries signed a pledge to cut methane emissions 30% by the end of the decade, and about the same number agreed to stop deforestation on an industrial scale in the same timeframe.
But even with these agreements, we in Kiribati face the death of our homeland. Co-author Anote Tong led our country as president for 15 years, alongside lead author Akka Rimon, who was foreign secretary between 2014 and 2016.
Author Anote Tong, when he was Kiribati president, at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2015. Mick Tsikas/AAP
The problem is speed. Our land is disappearing faster than global action can stem climate change. Delays and a lack of global leadership mean the existence of small island states like Kiribati is now in the balance.
That means we must urgently find ways to rehome our people. It is very difficult to leave our homes, but there is no choice. Time is not on our side. We must prepare for a difficult future.
What we need is a model where displaced people can migrate to host nations when their homes become uninhabitable. Countries like Australia need workers – and we will soon need homes.
This is, increasingly, a question of justice. Australia’s actions, in particular, raise questions over how sincere it is in honouring its recent commitments at COP26.
As the world’s largest exporter of fossil gas and the second largest exporter of coal, Australia’s reluctance to change is putting its neighbours in the Pacific at risk of literally disappearing. It is the only developed nation not committed to cut emissions at least in half by 2030.
In Glasgow, Fiji urged Australia to take real action by halving emissions by 2030. Did it work? No. Australia also refused to sign the agreements on ending coal’s reign, with prominent politicians undermining the COP26 agreement as soon as the conference was over.
We desperately hope the commitments Australia did make at COP26 are not just words on paper. But if they are, that makes our need for certainty even more urgent.
Let us speak plainly: If Australia really does plan to sell as much of its fossil fuel reserves as possible and drag its feet on climate action, the least it can do is help us survive the rising seas caused by the burning of its coal and gas.
To migrate with dignity
Eighteen years ago, the Kiribati government – then headed by Anote Tong – introduced a “migration with dignity” policy as a way for I-Kiribati people to adapt to climate change.
We gave our I-Kiribati workers international qualifications tailored for jobs in demand overseas. After this, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand set up a scheme to allow workers to migrate to New Zealand if they had an offer of a job. Each year prior to COVID, 75 people from Kiribati were able to migrate through the scheme.
New Zealand is the first and only country currently offering a permanent labour migration program from Kiribati. While welcome, we will need more places for I-Kiribati as climate change intensifies.
Like New Zealand, Australia has expanded its seasonal worker schemes for Pacific workers, and is now moving towards a longer stay, multi-visa arrangement under its Pacific Labour Scheme. We expect this scheme will evolve into a permanent migration scheme similar to New Zealand.
While we wait in hope for a true safe haven for our people, our diaspora is growing. I-Kiribati are moving now to Pacific countries higher above the water level such as Fiji, the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.
Are we scared? Of course. We are on the front line of this crisis, despite having done amongst the least to cause it. It is difficult to leave the only home we have known. But science does not lie. And we can see the water coming.
Labour migration will not solve climate change, but it offers hope to those of us who will be displaced first.
This is a vital question of climate justice. This upheaval is caused by high-emitting economic powerhouses like the US, China, and the European Union. But the vulnerable are paying the full cost. That is not fair.
As climate change worsens, other global leaders must consider how best to support adaptation through labour mobility. Far better to plan for this now than to let climate change rage unchecked and trigger ever-larger waves of refugees.
The question of climate justice
Consider this: in 2018, each person in Kiribati was responsible for 0.95 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. By contrast, each person in the United States was responsible for 17.7 tonnes. Despite this imbalance, the US has taken little responsibility for what is happening to Kiribati and other low-lying nations.
We are hopeful this may change, given US President Joe Biden recently pledged to make his nation a leader in climate finance by supporting nations worst hit by climate change and with the least resources to cope. It’s also encouraging that new laws have been proposed to allow people displaced by climate change to live in America.
We must work to slash emissions and devise solutions for the problems caused by the warming.
International law must recognise climate displaced populations and create ways we can be rehoused.
While other solutions such as climate-proofing infrastructure or even floating islands have been proposed for Kiribati, these cannot happen overnight and are very expensive. By contrast, labour mobility is fast and advantageous to the host country.
Kiribati’s current government is working to increase skills and employability in our workforce. We are doing our part to get ready for the great dislocation.
When I-Kiribati have to migrate, we want them to be able to do so as first class citizens with access to secure futures rather than as climate refugees.
We are doing all we can to stay afloat in the years of ever angrier climate change. But it will take the global village to save our small village and keep alive our culture, language, heritage, spirits, land, waters and above all, our people.
By DAVID NIELD
Here’s another reminder of the precarious position that the world’s climate and ecosystems are in: a new study estimates that global warming could push the Antarctic ice sheet past a tipping point in as little as 10 years.
In other words, the point of no return in terms of ice sheet loss is arriving earlier than previously thought, and we may well already be in the midst of it. That could have serious consequences when it comes to sea level rise globally, and the local habitats that animals in Antarctica rely on.
To get a better idea of what’s happening right now, the researchers went back into the past, looking at the continent’s history over the last 20,000 years – back to the last ice age – through ice cores extracted from the sea floor.
“Our study reveals that during times in the past when the ice sheet retreated, the periods of rapid mass loss ‘switched on’ very abruptly, within only a decade or two,” says paleoclimatologist Zoë Thomas, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
“Interestingly, after the ice sheet continued to retreat for several hundred years, it ‘switched off’ again, also only taking a couple of decades.”
As icebergs break off Antarctica, they float down a major channel known as Iceberg Alley. Debris released from these icebergs accumulates on the seafloor, giving researchers a record of history some 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) under the water.
By combining this natural logbook of iceberg drift with computer models of ice sheet behavior, the team was able to identify eight phases of ice sheet retreat across recent millennia. In each case, the ice sheet destabilization and subsequent restabilization happened within a decade or so.
The results published by the researchers augment modern satellite imagery, which only goes back around 40 years: they show increasing losses of ice from the interior of the Antarctic ice sheet, not just changes in ice shelves already freely floating on the water.
“We found that iceberg calving events on multi-year time scales were synchronous with discharge of grounded ice from the Antarctic ice sheet,” says glaciologist Nick Golledge, from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
The study showed the same sea rise pattern happening in each of the eight phases too, with global sea levels affected for several centuries and up to a millennium in some cases. Further statistical analysis identified the tipping points for these changes.
If the current shift in ice in Antarctica can be interpreted in the same way as the past events identified by the researchers, we might already be in the midst of a new tipping point – something we’ve seen in other parts of the world and the Arctic in recent years.
“If it just takes one decade to tip a system like this, that’s actually quite scary because if the Antarctic Ice Sheet behaves in future like it did in the past, we must be experiencing the tipping right now”, Thomas says.
Further evidence for these tipping points can be found in cores previously analyzed from the region, the researchers report, and the latest study also matches up with earlier models of ice sheet loss from the region.
“Our findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence suggesting the acceleration of Antarctic ice mass loss in recent decades may mark the beginning of a self-sustaining and irreversible period of ice sheet retreat and substantial global sea level rise,” says geophysicist Michael Weber, from the University of Bonn in Germany.
The research has been published in Nature Communications.
— Read on www.sciencealert.com/warming-events-could-destabilize-the-antarctic-ice-sheet-in-just-10-years
Energy firms and climate policymakers are urged to work with communities to ensure a ‘just transition’ away from coal, oil and gas.
By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From retraining coal miners in solar tech to job programmes focused on tree-planting, companies and governments must act fast to implement measures promoting a so-called just transition away from fossil fuels, labour rights experts said this week.
Failure to quickly pull finance out of fossil fuel industries or explain to workers how they can gain from a switch to green alternatives, would hurt the climate and could spark social unrest, they told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference (TC).
“Workers and their communities need to know what the plan is,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents some 200 million workers in 163 countries.
“They need to have hope that there will be jobs for themselves and their children, that they’ll be able to put food on the table,” Burrow added.
During this month’s COP26 climate talks, Burrow said she met a U.S. oil rig worker from an indigenous community in Louisiana who was worried about his family’s future after storms forced them from their home, as well as how his job might change.
Fossil fuel companies have the necessary resources to drive a timely green shift for such employees – and they should be talking to them about it now, said Burrow.
“It’s not happening – and that is what makes me very, very angry with (the companies),” she added. “If they were to transition much more rapidly, then they could actually make a huge difference in terms of stabilising the communities.”
Speakers on the TC’s “just transition” panel voiced disappointment over the outcome of the COP26 talks, noting that some governments had sought to defend fossil fuel firms or avoid fresh financial commitments to address climate change impacts.
A goal to phase out hundreds of billions of dollars in annual subsidies for fossil fuels was watered down in the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at the end of the U.N. conference.
Rich nations also rejected a call by vulnerable countries to set up a new funding facility to deal with worsening “loss and damage” from more extreme weather and rising seas.
Harjeet Singh, strategic advisor for global partnerships with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said poorer nations could not start investing in a greener economy if they continued to struggle to pay for flood or storm clean-ups.
“If people’s homes are being destroyed, can I talk about solar panels and just transition? No, I have to fix the immediate crisis,” Singh said.
The burden of climate-related costs should not be allowed to fall on the worst-affected countries and people, said Jill Tucker, head of labour rights at the Laudes Foundation, which works on climate change and social inequality.
Despite some donor-backed deals announced at COP26 to help wean developing nations such as South Africa and Indonesia off coal, the broader issue of who will pay for a global green transition remains unresolved, Tucker added.
Debt-laden developing countries will not be able to find the funds themselves, she said, calling for a transfer of wealth from richer nations.
At the same time, businesses should be held more accountable for environmental and human rights violations linked to their activities, Tucker added.
“If we don’t redistribute resources and … don’t pursue really aggressive new laws, there’s going to be worsening environmental disaster and… more social unrest,” she said.
Social safety nets are a key tool to help fragile communities facing upheaval from the fight against climate-heating emissions, said Michal Rutkowski, global director for social protection and jobs at the World Bank Group.
State support should focus not only on cash payouts to those in need but also on ways to tackle the challenge on various fronts, such as by using government-backed employment schemes to restore nature as the bank has been doing in Africa, he added.
“We believe that green public works is really an opportunity for the future,” he said, noting such programmes can also bolster food security, as well as providing better jobs and improving the local environment.
Only about a fifth of the world’s poorest people are covered by any kind of social safety net, he added, pointing to a wide gap.
Bringing society along in the broadest sense – from bosses to workers and their communities in all economic sectors, from construction to agriculture – will be essential for achieving a successful and fair green transition, the panelists said.
For Burrow, the best way to ensure widespread support among workers is to create good jobs in fields such as renewable energy that can also have a positive ripple effect for local supply chains.
“That is how you build and reassure communities there is a future,” she said.
Two young women rappelled off coal-handling machinery in protest of what they say is Australia’s climate inaction.
Since officials met in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this month to plot the planet’s path away from fossil fuels, Australia, the world’s second-biggest coal exporter, has showed little sign of changing course.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said the coal industry will be operating in the country for “decades to come.”
When he agreed last month to go carbon-neutral by 2050, the man who once brought a lump of coal into Parliament promised that his plan — which was short on details and long on speculative technology — would not crimp coal exports nor cost miners their jobs.
In the face of that apparent lack of urgency from government, protesters are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. A string of protests has disrupted the Port of Newcastle and surrounding railroads in the past two weeks, prompting police to establish a strike force to crack down on the high-profile stunts.
The protesters, from an activist group called Blockade Australia, plan to converge on Sydney, the commercial capital, in June next year, bringing the city to a halt.
“This is us responding to the climate crisis. This is humans trying to survive,” Doole said on Wednesday. “We are trying to induce the social tipping points, which will give us a chance at another generation,” she remarked on camera, pausing to laugh ironically, before adding: “What a wild thing to want.”
Despite the progress made at the COP26 climate summit, optimism about the agreement hangs on whether countries will actually deliver on the promises made in Glasgow. Coal production in China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, has surged to the highest levels in years as the country addresses power outages.
Matt Kean, the environment minister for New South Wales state, speaking on Sydney radio 2GB on Wednesday, said police need to “throw the book” at anti-coal activists, describing their dramatic stunts as “completely out of line.”
On Monday, another protester locked herself to a railway line leading to the port, preventing coal cars from entering. On Tuesday, two activists strapped themselves to another piece of coal-loading machinery. They hung in the air for several hours before being arrested.
Interfering with a railway or locomotive with the intention of causing a derailment can result in prison sentences up to 14 years, police said, while other possible charges carry jail terms of up to 25 years. A local police minister described the protests as “nothing short of economic vandalism.” (A spokeswoman for the Port of Newcastle said other operations at the port were continuing, beyond the rail lines and coal-loading facilities.)
Doole and Zianna Faud, 28, were arrested and taken to a local police station about 9 a.m. local time. The live-streamed video showed authorities approaching on a metal gangway above the protesters, who were suspended on ropes below, with a police officer appearing to read them their rights.
According to a spokeswoman for the activist group, Faud appeared before Newcastle magistrates court on Wednesday, where she faced charges of hindering the working of mining equipment, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, and entering enclosed lands. She pleaded guilty and was given community service and a roughly $1,090 fine, and ordered not to associate with her co-accused, Doole, for two years.
Doole and three other activists were refused bail and will be seen by the court tomorrow.
“We are running rings around the police and the push back shows that direct action is effective,” Faud said in a statement following her release.
In the video, Doole said she considered the dangers before the protest — imagining herself running across piles of coal with police helicopters in pursuit. Then, she thought back to the time, a couple of summers ago, when thousands of Australians fled from their homes as wildfires raged and skies turned blood red. She and her family hunkered down in their property as towns around them burned.
“Getting chased by a police helicopter, that’s not fun. … But you know what scares me more?” she said. “I just think back to that New Year’s Eve, when I thought I was going to die in a fire, caused by climate change. And that’s the barest glimpse of what’s going to happen.”
Climate activists close a central London bridge in support of nine campaigners jailed this week.
By Joseph Lee
Police have arrested 30 climate activists after a central London bridge was closed by a sit-down protest.
The Lambeth Bridge demonstration was held in support of nine Insulate Britain campaigners who were jailed this week for defying an injunction on road blockades.
Up to 250 people took part in the sit-in, shutting the bridge for hours.
Police made the arrests after imposing Public Order Act conditions on the protest.
The Metropolitan Police said the bridge was reopened at about 19:00 GMT, with the final protesters removed from Vauxhall Cross a few minutes later.
Earlier, uniformed officers stood on Lambeth Bridge while traffic was diverted, with police saying it was “for the safety of all”.
Meanwhile, demonstrators made speeches, sang songs, ate lunch and chanted slogans.
Campaigners told the crowd that the nine jailed Insulate Britain campaigners were “political prisoners” who will not be the last to be locked up for their convictions about climate change.
The nine protesters were given sentences of three to four months for breaching an injunction, aimed at preventing the blockades which have brought several roads to a standstill and sparked anger among motorists.
Activists on the bridge said they would not be deterred by the threat of prison.
Gabriella Ditton, 27, an animator from Norwich, told the PA news agency she has already been arrested six times with Insulate Britain.
“I expect to go to prison at some point for at least six months because I am not going to be apologetic about this,” she said.
She said “civil resistance” was necessary to create the political will to solve the climate crisis.
Zoe Cohen, 51, who travelled from Warrington, Cheshire, to protest, said “ordinary people should not have to do this and risk prison”.
She said the disruption caused by the protests was “microscopic” compared to the death and suffering caused by climate change.
— Read on www.bbc.com/news/uk-59361145
Reflecting back on the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or “COP26,”
— Read on www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx
Domino Theory – George Monbiot