Sustainability is comprised of three elements – economic, environment and social. The economic element is often given precedence over the environment and social elements and this was clear from the negotiations and outcome of COP26 in Glasgow. The richer/larger developed countries of the world could not make any meaningful commitment to the poorer/smaller developing countries of the world. Citizens in the developing countries desire a life-style similar to developed countries, but this cannot be achieved without increasing carbon emissions unless the developed world fund mechanisms to achieve this.
Current global warming is 1.1°C which is primarily due to the activities and associated emissions from developed countries. With the current international carbon reduction polices, it is calculated the world will be 2.7°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The polices agreed in the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ if implemented are anticipated to reduce this to 2.4°C. If global temperatures rise by more than 1.5°C scientists say the Earth is likely to experience severe climate change. The fossil fuel coal is responsible for about 40% of annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, making it central in efforts to keep within the 1.5°C target. To meet this goal, agreed in Paris in 2015, global emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and to nearly zero (in net terms) by mid-century, although it should be noted that whilst Paris found agreement around this reduction, formalised in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), this didn’t amount to specific commitments of actions from nations (apart from recording their NDCs with the United Nations).
The first Conference of Parties (COP1) was held in Berlin in 1995 and recognized that the richer countries of the world need to take measures to limit carbon emissions and increase in global temperatures. Twenty-six years on the global carbon emissions have increased and are not set to reduce over the coming decade. The ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ recognised that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient and urges developed countries to at least double their collective provision of climate finance to nations from 2019 levels by 2025:
- Re-visiting emissions-cutting plans next year to try to keep 1.5°C target reachable
- The first ever inclusion of a commitment to limit coal use
- Increased financial help for developing countries
Under the Glasgow Climate Pact, nations are mandated to formulate and publish updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement for 2030, by the time COP27 begins in Egypt next year.
However, this is, unfortunately still rhetoric with no significant unified action to reduce (increasing) carbon emissions, mainly from fossil fuels. At Glasgow delegate nations were however asked to reduce methane emissions this decade and more than 100 nations are committed to cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Methane (CH4) derived from human activities is a gas primarily from farm animals, leaks from the oil and gas industry and decomposition of biodegradable waste (for example in landfills). It is 28 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, but only lasts 10 years in the atmosphere against 100 years for CO2. It is a pragmatic area to target in one regard as it has (excuse the pun) a bigger bang for buck in climate terms and for example investment in preventing leakage of gas from the gas network has both economic and environmental benefits. Whilst this was a positive outcome from COP 26, there were some notable absentees from the commitment (India, Russia, China, Australia).
In COP3 in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was agreed which came into force in 2005 committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. This led to developed countries funding methane emission reductions in undeveloped countries. Consequently the first international protocol for methane reduction was introduced by the UNFCCC 24 years ago.
For a successful COP there needs to be international mechanisms for fossil fuels to be reduced and replaced by renewable fuels, and for the developed countries to fund developing countries and pay for works to prevent loss and damage. However, two of major carbon emission countries (China and Russia) did not attend COP26; the major fossil fuel using countries (China and India) would not agree to phase its’ use out (‘phase down’ was agreed): and the developed countries (US and EU) managed to remove key mechanisms on loss and damage which would see richer nations support developing nations.
Despite some high hopes and some useful individual initiatives (e.g. on deforestation and methane) there remains a sense from COP26 is that one of the positives is that climate change remains recognised as important and that countries are still talking. In that respect the comments by President Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” reflects the overiding mood. It was a lot of discussion without the major emitters showing any leadership on the issue and lacking the financial commitment from developed countries.
Industry can lead where Governments do not, but for example, removing subsidy on fossil fuels is only within central Government remit.
So what can be do personally? We as individuals can keep the pressure up, both on Government and Industry through personal action, for example we can alter our life-styles to reduce the direct (Scope 1), indirect (Scope 2) and third party (Scope 3) emissions. On the latter, changing our pensions to ethical / low carbon investments and changing our energy suppliers to renewable sources are two very simple and highly effective ways of making sustained reductions in carbon emissions. Half an hour invested in changing both would yield a better outcome from today forward and provide a significant individual step to help fund changes that collective Governments are so reticent to commit to.
Frith Resource Management are a social value employer that specialise in resource and waste management in the UK and internationally. See www.frithrm.com or call 01746 552423.