COP26

The Conference of the Parties(COP)-26 started on October 31, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland and will continue till November 12. The main objective of this conference is to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050 so that the earth’s temperature does not exceed 1.5 degree Celsius above the Pre-Industrial Revolution Period temperature by the end of this century to save humanity from natural disasters.

The conference started with very emotional speeches. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said that the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 was a commendable decision to curb global warming. Sadly, even after six years, those decisions have not been implemented by most of the countries in the world, which has made them very hollow in recent times. Even now, if we do not take action in this regard, we will be responsible for our own bleak future as we will be more prone to natural disasters due to rising temperature. Boris Johnson also said that if we still fail to take action, it would be fatal to life on earth, everyone must contribute to the success of this conference to save future generations. If the Glasgow Conference fails, the whole thing fails. After apologizing for being out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, the US President Joe Biden has said that we should not delay any longer as even a day’s delay could cost us dearly.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “we are digging our own graves without cutting greenhouse gas emissions”. Understanding the plight of the island nations, the Prime Minister of Barbados said that developed countries should not allow greed and selfishness to wreak havoc on the world. He also asked how man has become so selfish and hard-hearted that he is not even listening to the groans of human beings.

Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations climate office, told world leaders that they now have two options: to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly and help communities and countries survive what is becoming a hotter, harsher world or we accept that humanity faces a bleak future on this planet. The Glasgow Conference in 2021 begins with clear and emotional statements. This is not the first conference to address global warming. Such conferences began in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the Rio Conference, the developed countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 at the 1990 levels, and decided not to impose any restrictions on developing countries’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The second such conference was held in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, in which specific targets were set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for developed countries , and the rest of the world could reduce these gases at will. No specific goals were set for them. In both these conferences, although the developed countries agreed to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, none of the developed countries did so.

Even after this, the series of conferences continued. The Kyoto Protocol was replaced by the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) at the Conference of the Parties-13 in Bali in 2007 because developed countries were disturbed by China’s increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Developed countries wanted all the countries in the world to reduce their greenhouse gases and argued that no climate agreement could succeed if China and India did not cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The next such conference was held in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. This conference also did not reach any conclusion. A 2014 IPCC report raised concerns about climate change due to rising temperature. According to the report, an increase in the average global temperature will increase the number of natural disasters and the severity of the catastrophe from which no country in the world can escape. Following the worrying and alarming revelations of this report, all the countries of the world took immediate action in 2015, and had prepared a blueprint under the Paris Climate Agreement for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The Paris  Climate Agreement called on each country to submit a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations in the light of its economic development, but in the last six years no country in the world except Europe did take this agreement seriously. As a result, the average global temperature rose by 1.1 degree Celsius in 2020 compared to  the Pre-Industrial Revolution Period.

According to a United Nations report, the rise in temperature has led to a four to five-fold increase in the number of natural disasters and a seven-fold increase in economic losses since the 1970s. According to a 2021 report by the World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations, there have been 11,000 natural disasters in the last 50 years. According to a report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Belgium, the world had an average of 711 natural disasters each year in the 1970s, but that number rose to 3,536 between 2000 and 2009. In  the 1970s, weather disasters cost 175 million dollars a year globally, rising to 138 billion dollars in  the 2010s. According to a United Nations report, 90 per cent of the deaths from natural disasters since 1970 have occurred in developing countries.

The COP-26 in Glasgow reveals the goals of the world’s new greenhouse gas emissions commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming.  The United States has already sent its upgraded  plans to the United Nations to increase greenhouse gas emissions reduction and generate energy from renewable sources under the Paris Climate Agreement. China has only increased its commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement to start planning for coal-fired power generation projects after 2026 and to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2060.

It is also important to highlight some of the positive facts of the Glasgow Conference so far. India, which is currently the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has not yet set a goal of zero carbon emission. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi has outlined five targets for controlling global warming. According to the first target, India will achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2070. Secondly, India will generate 500 gigawatts of energy from renewable sources instead of 450 gigawatts by 2030. Thirdly, India will meet 50 per cent of its energy needs from renewable energy by 2030. Fourthly, from now (2021) to 2030, India will reduce its carbon emissions by one billion tonnes and the fifthly goal is to reduce its total carbon emissions by 45 per cent. India’s plan to reduce carbon emissions is highly commendable. If India achieves these goals, it will be a major achievement of the Glasgow Conference. In addition to these five goals, the Prime Minister of India has urged developed countries to make one trillion dollar climate finance “available at the earliest”, reminding them of climate justice and past hollow promises on climate technology and finance.

The second positive agreement of the Glasgow Conference is to reduce methane gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, which has been signed by 90 countries, including the United States, and European countries. The heating capacity of methane gas is 80-86 times higher than that of carbon dioxide over a period of 20 years. If methane gas emissions are  cut by 30 per cent by 2030, it could check the rise in temperature by 0.2 degree Celsius by 2050. This is not a formal agreement. It depends on the signatory countries whether they cut methane gas emissions in their country or not.

At the same conference, 100 countries also signed an agreement to stop deforestation  but this agreement is also like the agreement on methane gas emissions reduction. Such agreements are often made at climate-related conferences, but they do not last long. The conference also outlines a programme to strengthen the infrastructure of the island nations so that they can protect themselves from natural disasters. At the same time, under the One Sun, One World and One Grid Action Plan, a programme has been drawn up to create a common energy grid at the international level. In Glasgow, a group of banks and insurance companies have also pledged to spend 130 trillion dollars for green transition. The United Kingdom committed 100  million pounds for making climate finance more accessible to developing countries and helping to increase the volume of  green bonds to finance climate-friendly projects. Canada has also announced 10 million dollars for the project. The funds will be distributed across the global network through the National Adaptation Plan. So far, all of these programmes relate to the positive aspects of the Glasgow Conference.

There are also some negative facts about the Glasgow Conference. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, did not attend the conference. The  Chinese envoy has said that  China had already sent plans to reduce its carbon emissions and was in favour of limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius. The presidents of the Russian Federation, and Brazil also did not attend the conference. China, the Russian Federation, and India, which emit large quantities of methane gas, have not signed an agreement to reduce methane gas emissions.  According to an IPCC report on climate change, all the countries in the world should reduce their methane gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius.

Even after the United States, which is currently the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, announced a 50-52 per cent reduction in current greenhouse gas emissions to  2005 levels by 2030, the country’s level of per capita carbon emissions would still make up 220 per cent of the global average in 2030. Although Biden has announced a commitment to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector by 2035 and zero carbon emissions by 2050, which is a good move, the conference comes at a time when division in his own Democratic Party is forcing him to scale back ambitious climate efforts.

In 2009, developed countries pledged 100 billion dollar a year in aid to the world’s  islands and developing countries. Sadly, these countries have never been able to provide 100 billion dollars in aid. That amount was only 78 billion dollars in 2017 and  80 billion dollars in 2018, which is far from the promise. It is important to note here that 80 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing rapid rise in temperature have been released into the atmosphere by the G20 countries (developed countries) which now hit the islands and developing countries.

Now all the countries in the world, especially those that are emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or those that have emitted in the past, need to make good plans for greenhouse gas emissions reduction and implement them seriously without delay. We have no time for false and unfulfilled promises, emotional and false speeches. All countries must make urgent efforts to save the planet and human life and to improve the quality of environment, and each country must play its part in solving common problems. Developed countries, therefore, need to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the same proportion as they have released greenhouses into environment and to save the island and developing countries from natural disasters. Helping as needed, of course, may be more than the agreement reached at the 2009 Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. By doing this, we will be able to save the earth, animals, and humanity.

Dr. Gurinder Kaur is Former  Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala.


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