With the first week of COP26 coming to an end, here are some of the most prominent updates, agreements, pledges and statements made in the Climate Summit this week:
International agreement to stop deforestation by 2030
World leaders agreed to stop and reverse global deforestation over the next decade to protect areas such as the Congo basin, home to the world’s second largest rainforest. Deforestation accounts for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, as land-clearing is predominantly done to make way for agricultural production. Due to the special nature of tropical rainforests, it is impossible for agricultural products to be harvested in the soil, incentivising companies and locals to engage in land-clearing practices (as we saw in the Brazilian fires a few years ago), to make way for the production of products such as palm-oil. This leads to the destruction of biodiversity in the area, as rich biodiversity is replaced by homogenous plantations of palm oil or soya. Further, chemical fertilisers are heavily used in such lands, leading to soil degradation. Deforestation also leads to two severely negative consequences for our planet: the trees that absorb our CO2 emissions and act as the lungs of our plants, are also the same trees that, once they die, they emit all the CO2 that they absorbed in their lifecycle back to the atmosphere.
India’s 2070 net-zero commitment
India’s Narenda Modi pledged that India will reach net zero emissions by 2070. This is India’s first statement with regards to net-zero goals. This is a controversial pledge, with many questioning why India did not stick with the 2050 date - however, it must be kept in mind that India is a developing country with more than 1.3 billion people, and the world’s third largest emitter of CO2.
India’s prime minister also made significant short-term commitments: promising that 50% of India’s power will be generated by renewables by 2030, and reducing its projected CO2 emissions by 1 billion tonnes between now and 2030. The 2070 commitment falls in line with scientists‘ modelling for the most feasible scenario for India to achieve net-zero (Council on Energy, Environment and Water thinktank). India is already facing the harsh consequences of the climate-crisis with millions being exposed to severe heat, water insecurity and extreme weather events. India also does not have the technology available to integrate solar panels into its energy grid on a larger scale despite it being one of the cheapest producers of solar energy globally.
Global Methane Pledges
Methane is another greenhouse gas that traps more than 80 times the heat as the same amount of CO2 does. However, methane emissions degrade quickly. Methane emissions come from the use of natural gas and the production of beef (cow farts). The pledge was proposed by the US and the EU Targeting to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030 (in comparison to the 2020 levels). This would take off about 0.2 degrees off global warming by 2050. According to the IPCC, methane accounts for 1/4 of all the heat trapped in the atmosphere. However, China, Russia - one of the countries that is more reliant on natural gas and oil exports - and India: three countries generating a third of methane emissions have not followed the US and the EU.
Agreement to end overseas coal investments
More than 40 countries committed to end their dependency on coal - the ’dirtiest’ source of energy, however, the US and China (two of the most coal-dependent countries) did not sign. The agreement sees the phasing out of coal investments in new power generation domestically and internationally. Coal accounts for around 37% of the world’s electricity production despite the efforts to phase it out.
GFANZ funding net-zero transition
A coalition of banks, investors and insurers collectively controlling £130 trillion in assets stated that they will commit to reaching net-zero emissions across its portfolio by 2050. The coalition pledged to make climate change a central focus of major financial decisions for the decades to come. Mark Carney - the former head of the Bank of England said:
“We now have the essential plumbing in place to move climate change from the fringes to the forefront of finance so that every financial decision takes climate change into account,”
This is controversial given the heavy funding that goes into fossil expansion, with many environmental activists calling this out as greenwashing.
Financing the net-zero transition has been a focal point in the fight against climate change, with few countries actually keeping their 2010 pledge to provide $100 billion each year in climate aid by 2020 to help poorer countries transition to clean energy.
On this note, a new $10.5 billion in funds aimed at accelerating green energy projects in poor countries by philanthropic foundations
Ending overseas fossil fuel projects by 2022
20 countries pledged to end finance for overseas fossil fuel projects. Countries such as the UK, Denmark and Costa Rica were included in the countries agreeing to end overseas fossil fuel projects And diverting their funds to low-carbon efforts Such as clean energy. However, the countries involved can continue to develop fossil fuel resources nationally, meaning that this agreement would not stop the Cambo project in the UK.
Most of these agreements and pledges are subject to integration in the signatories’ domestic systems. Some must be taken with a grain of salt, given the massive amounts of greenwashing that private and public entities engage in. With most world leaders leaving COP26: most notably Boris Johnson leaving Glasgow with a plane (best alternative: taking the train), we see the most prominent criticism with regards to this summit being this: how can such entities - entities representing, maintaining and being supported by this system - call for an end to the status quo when they embody the system that has cause this climate crisis in the first place?