COP26 Climate Conference – Success or Failure?


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COP26 Climate Conference – Success or Failure?

John Englander
By John Englander and 11/30/21

Some 25,000 people worked for the last two weeks in Glasgow Scotland on the annual climate “Conference of the Parties” better known as COP26. Unfortunately, the outcome bring us closer to an irreversible, disastrous tipping point. To be fair, getting the 196 nations to sign the word-by-word findings was no small feat. Imagine getting the

Cutting through the complex agenda and politics, 3 fundamental issues were on the table:

  1. What is the target temperature to limit the warming to avoid catastrophe?
  2. To reach such a restrained global warming target, how will the 196 nations individually commit to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, or even better, to reach zero net emissions.
  3. Given the burden on “developing nations” who did little to cause the problem, how will the large developed nations set up equitable funding mechanisms so that the poor nations can make their critical adjustments both in terms of energy production as well as changes in advance of warming effects, with sea level rise (SLR) being one of the most pressing.

First, to look at the positive, these items are good outcomes of COP26:

  • Unanimous recognition that the burning of fossil fuels, specifically coal, was at the heart of the problem of global warming, which is now usually referred to as the more politically correct, climate change, though many prefer climate crisis or emergency.
  • Agreement that the previous goal of two degrees Celsius warming over pre-industrial was too high, with full acceptance that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is more in line with the latest science and the devastation.
  • Recognition that the present decade is truly critical to limit the warming so that the planet is habitable for life as we know it.
  • Despite the bad state of US – China relations at present, the two leading contributors to the problem agreed on the urgency to deal with the emergency.
  • The next generation – the tens of thousands of young people, epitomized by Greta Thunberg – was present, strong, and unrestrained in their characterization of what is at stake and their complete frustration with the process to ensure a livable planet. We have not heard the last of them – and for that I am grateful.

Now for the ugly perspective on COP outcomes and the reality of pending climate crisis:

  • Over the last two centuries with the explosion of “greenhouse gas emissions” particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) the planet is 1.2 degrees C warmer (2.2º F). One need only look at the headlines about record breaking wildfires, droughts, deluge rainfall, and melting polar ice caps to see the damage that is happening, just as predicted a half century ago.
  • The goal of the COP26 conference is to find a way to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees from “pre-industrial levels”, another 0.3 degrees C over present, or roughly a half a degree Fahrenheit. This would be 25% more warming than we now have. The effects would multiply, likely in an amplified manner. Even the advocates for such a goal recognize that we do not yet have the technology to power the world economy and to comply with this goal. Even if we reduce energy consumption by 20% per person, population is projected to grow by roughly 20% by mid century, meaning no net improvement.
  • Even the proposed policies put forth by the 196 nations do not meet the goal. In fact, estimates are that all the projected policies and efficiencies on the table in Glasgow would cap the warming to 2.4 degrees C, double what has already occurred. Given the current effects of wildfires, high heat, crop failure, deluge rain and flooding, and melting polar ice caps at the present warming, imagine what will happen in the coming decades with twice the temperature increase.

To put this simply from my perspective:

We are really headed for an epic disaster not only environmentally, but also economically, and in terms of equity for those least able to cope with a crisis that they did not cause. “We” (the world) must agree to “put a price on carbon” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even more aggressively than proposed in this latest agreement. Yet, even if we find a hoped-for, fantastical magic technologic success, we are not soon going to reverse the effects of the excess heat already stored in the sea. As readers of my book know, every second of the day, “24/7” we are adding the equivalent of five atomic bombs of energy to the oceans. That heat is causing the changing weather patterns, the effects in the sea and on land, and melting the glaciers and ice sheets at the poles, which is just starting to cause noticeable sea level rise.  Moving to higher ground will be inevitable as sea level heads towards far higher, to levels never before seen by human civilization.