The story of yet another climate change summit is ‘big ambitions, bigger failures’

The story of yet another climate change summit is ‘big ambitions, bigger failures’

The story of yet another climate change summit is ‘big ambitions, bigger failures’
French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he speaks during the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 video conference meeting in Paris. (File/AFP)
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The leaders of more than 70 nations who participated in the Climate Ambition Summit — hosted on Dec. 12 by the UN, UK and France — were no doubt patting themselves on the back at end of their virtual meeting.

Once again, most countries expanded their climate-change ambitions and announced yet more exaggerated sets of numbers in terms of planned cuts in carbon emissions by 2035.

In the days leading up to the summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new target for the UK, vowing to cut carbon emissions by 68 percent by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. Weeks earlier, several other nations and blocs, including the EU, Japan and Canada, announced updated plans to cut carbon emissions at even faster rates than those set as part of the Paris Agreement during the Cop 21 meeting in December 2015.

On Oct. 7, the European Parliament voted in favor of pursuing a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, compared with the existing target of 40 percent. The EU Council has already opened discussions on the increased target and is expected to make a decision on the issue this month.

The EU aims to reach climate neutrality by 2050. According to the latest available data from the European Environment Agency, by 2019 it had reduced its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent compared with 1990 levels. This means it is set to surpass its 2020 emission-reduction target of 20 percent. In addition, it has in place a binding target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030.

On Oct. 21, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga outlined plans for his country to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Japan’s previous long-term climate strategy was to cut emissions by 80 percent from 2010 levels by 2050 and achieve carbon neutrality “at the earliest possible time in the latter half of this century.”

The biggest hurdle the country faces in achieving a significant reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions is its energy sector, as Japan is one of the biggest consumers of coal and oil for energy and transport. The government has already committed to the use of carbon capture and storage in coal-fired power generation by 2030.

During the summit last weekend, 45 countries presented enhanced 2030 climate-action plans. Of those, 24 promised to reduce emissions to net-zero and 20 announced stronger plans for adaptation and resilience.

One of the biggest disappointments of the summit was the performance of co-host France.

Ranvir S. Nayar

Three of the biggest emitters, China, the US and India, failed to announce clear target dates for achieving net-zero emissions, however.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised an incremental strengthening of China’s 2030 climate plan. He reaffirmed his commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and to peak China’s emissions “before 2030”. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the organization would work to bring forward through bilateral dialogue.

India also reaffirmed its commitment to reducing carbon intensity in its energy industry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated existing commitments to increase the amount of power provided by renewable sources to 175 gigawatts by 2022 and 450 gigawatts by 2030, and said the country was on track to exceed its targets. However, India has not even set a vague, distant deadline for achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

The US is in a transitional phase, with President Donald Trump heading for the White House exit, but it is expected that his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, will take strong action not only to bring his country back into the Paris Agreement, reversing Trump’s decision to abandon it, but also to play catch up on cutting carbon emissions.

One of the biggest disappointments of the summit was the performance of co-host France. While the UK announced it will stop financing overseas fossil-fuel projects early next year, French President Emmanuel Macron failed to follow suit. France will continue to finance oil projects in other countries for five years and gas for 15 years. One of the main things missing from the meeting was a discussion of finance. Developing countries need finance to access alternative technologies that can help them cut carbon emissions, and to mitigate the effects of climate change on the countries most vulnerable to it — notably the Pacific islands and small islands everywhere.

In 2012, developed nations pledged $100 billion a year to developing nations. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, however, the funding fell far short of that target until 2018, the latest year for which complete data is available.

It was expected that the purse strings would be loosened during the summit to compensate for this. However, the only contributions came from Germany, which promised €500 million ($610 million) in new funding for climate finance, and Italy, which pledged €30 million for the Adaptation Fund, which aims to help needy countries adapt to the effects of climate change.

The world is no safer from a climate catastrophe after this meeting than it was before. Unless the UN mandates obligatory targets with punitive measures, many more climate summits will come and go without achieving anything.

*Ranvir S. Nayar is the managing editor of Media India Group

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