- The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (cop26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is being held at a time when the impacts of global warming are more palpable than ever—both for the poor and the rich.
- Scientists mince no words while attributing extreme weather events to past greenhouse gas emissions and say this decade is our last chance to stay under 1.5oC, beyond which extreme weather will take hold.
- Down To Earth and the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, have prepared a list of agenda items that must be brought to the table at COP26 to ensure that the world turns a corner on climate crisis at this summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
AGENDA 1: CARBON NET ZERO
- Net zero is not part of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, adopted in 2015. It emerged as a concept in IPCC’s 2018 special report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” (sr1.5), which said global emissions need to be 45 per cent lower than the 2010 levels in 2030 to keep the temperature rise to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level.
- The world must also become a net zero carbon emitter by 2050, the report said. To stay under 2°C, it has to be net zero between 2070 and 2085.
- This means carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be negated by an equivalent amount of CO2 absorbed or removed by various means.
- To keep emissions “net-net”, countries can either plant trees and restore ecosystems in their territories for sequestering CO2, or increase the carbon offset programme of the world so that trees planted in the homes and habitats of poor countries are accounted in the carbon balance sheet of the rich paying countries.
- The other option is to artificially sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and bury it permanently in the ground using carbon removal technologies.
- Of the 192 countries who have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 65 have announced national net-zero targets.
BUT HOW TO GET THERE?
- Most countries do not yet have clear plans on how to achieve net zero by 2050, or in the case of China, by 2060.
- Land and the oceans absorb carbon and thus play a key role in the carbon cycle. However, even in the best-case scenario, major components of the land-based sinks, such as forests and soil, cannot sequester all the carbon we currently emit.
- IPCC estimates that through afforestation and reduced deforestation, forests can sequester between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 a year; and through sustainable land management policies, soil can sequester between 0.4 and 8.6 GtCO2 a year.
- Preserving natural intact forests and promoting responsible use of forests and agro-ecology in partnership with communities has countless co-benefits. But this cannot act as a substitute for emissions reductions.
- The best-known carbon removal technologies are: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).
- CCS captures waste CO2 from large sources such as factories or fossil fuel power plants and stores it underground. IPCC’s report sees a limited role for it because electricity production needs to be largely shifted to renewable sources by 2050. Despite its existence since the 1970s, CCS is yet to scale up to levels adequate to meet IPCC’s goals.
- Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) technology, as the name suggests, sucks CO2 directly from the air. Among the various carbon removal technologies, DACS is the only one that can remove carbon at climate-significant scales. However, it consumes large amounts of electricity, making the technology expensive—US $94-232 per tonne of CO2.
- Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which captures CO2 from biomass-based power plants, has been granted a bigger role in IPCC’s report.
- It says BECCS needs to sequester up to 8 GtCO2e each year by 2050, but currently all active BECCS projects sequester a total of 0.0015 GtCO2e per year. Economic viability of the technology is also highly uncertain—the cost is estimated at $15-400 per tonne CO2.
AGENDA 2: COAL
- Among fossil fuels, coal has the highest contribution to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Of the 36.44 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emitted from the burning of fossil fuels in 2019, almost 40 per cent came from coal-fired power plants and industry.
- Coal production also releases methane (CH4), a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2; it accounts for 35 per cent of CH4 emitted by all fossil fuel-related sources.
- According to the AR6 report, fossil CO2 emissions have slowed down in the past decade. CO2 emissions from coal use grew at 4.8 per cent per year in the 2000s but slowed to 0.4 per cent per year in the 2010s.
- IPCC’s 2018 special report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” states that to limit temperature rise to below the threshold level, coal use for power generation needs to peak by 2020.
- Its use should then reduce steeply in all 5°C-consistent pathways and its share in the electricity mix should reduce to close to 0 per cent by 2050 (with 66 per cent reduction by 2030).
- The countries occupying the majority of the world’s remaining coal pipeline are China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh— predominantly Asian countries.
- China alone contributed 50 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions from coal in 2019, and runs over half of the world’s operating fleet, which is still growing.
- Other major consumers of coal are Japan, South Africa, Russia and South Korea. None of them have a target date to phase out coal. Within the EU-27, Germany has the largest coal fleet—its phase-out target is 2038, with added effort to advance the date to 2030.
- Despite the progress, coal still accounts for 34 per cent of the world’s power production in 2020. The 2021 Production Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that production plans and projections by governments would lead to around 240 per cent more use of coal in 2030 than the levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
AGENDA 3: CHINA
- Till the early 2000s, the US, EU, UK, Russia, Australia, Canada and Japan dominated global emissions. But this has changed significantly from the time China joined the World Trade Organization and became the factory of the world. By 2005, China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions surpassed the US and the country is currently the world’s largest emitter.
- In terms of per capita emissions, China emitted 10.5 tonnes in 2019—five times that of India’s meagre 1.9 tonnes of per capita CO2 emission. This is also because China is the world’s manufacturing hub, producing industrial and consumer goods used by most other countries. So, if the carbon accounting was done based on the consumption of goods then China’s share in emissions would go down.
- In September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that China will “aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”.
- More than 70 per cent of all coal plants built are reliant on Chinese funding, according to news outlet Quartz. China, mainly through its Belt and Road Initiative, has committed over US $50 billion in state finance to build 26.8 gigawatts (GW) of overseas coal facilities across 152 countries since 2013. These coal-based power plants were being built in energy-starved regions of the world.
- But China’s own domestic coal consumption is equally gargantuan. The country still runs over half of the world’s operating coal fleet, which is growing. China’s total installed coal capacity is estimated at 1,050 GW in 2020, half of the global total.
- Other than coal, China has made massive investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles, and surpasses all other countries in production capacity.
- This means, China will also be in the forefront to supply the world with clean energy technology, and in this way benefit from the climate mitigation efforts of the world.
- China dominates every step of the global solar supply chain. For solar photovoltaic cells, Chinese companies have the lion’s share of global manufacturing—it ranks first in the production of wafers, cells and modules globally.
- In the lithium-ion battery supply chain, China controls 80 per cent of the world’s raw material refining, 77 percent of the world’s cell capacity and 60 per cent of the world’s component manufacturing.
- To accelerate its efforts, it has announced massive tree planting initiatives— 6 million hectares of new forest a year. But decarbonising its energy and industrial sectors must remain its top priority.
- As the new global superpower and polluter, China’s emissions will have a significant impact on the world’s ability to achieve its climate goals. If its current emissions continue, it could eat into one-third of the remaining carbon budget in this decade itself.
- Clearly, this decade must belong to China and its drastic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And this must be in the spotlight at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meet at Glasgow, Scotland.
AGENDA 4: MARKET MECHANISMS
- The Paris Agreement includes “market mechanism” as the tool to make this happen and at cop26, this component of the Paris Rulebook (Article 6)—on how to work the markets—needs to be finalised.
- The Kyoto Protocol, the first accord under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that came into force 2005, had established Clean Development Mechanism (cdm) for this carbon purchase.
- The Paris Agreement includes provision for two types of market instruments— Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMO) under Article 6.2 and Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) under Article 6.4.
- Under ITMO, the aim is to establish bilateral or mini-multilateral markets—similar to the EU Emissions Trading System. It is also about securing overall mitigation in global emissions.
- Under SDM, the aim was to create a new international carbon market for the trade of emissions cuts, created by the public or private sector anywhere in the world, shaped by the previous CDM.
- The developing world needs finances for building a low-carbon economic pathway and in this the market, the use of carbon credits can play a role.
- But this time, unlike Kyoto Protocol, all countries are expected to take emission reduction targets and so, it is not in their interest to “sell off’ their lowest cost options.
- Sadly, the discussions are mirroring the past. CDM was plagued by the problem of excessive control, multi-layered and costly verification, and convoluted rules.
- It did not work for transformation, but for transactions that were mutually beneficial to corporations in the North and the South.
- It would be disastrous if COP26 was to construct another CDM-type market mechanism. This is not what is needed today, or tomorrow.
AGENDA 5: CLIMATE FINANCE
- It is clear that the world cannot combat the climate crisis without the transfer of funds from developed countries. These are countries whose stock of emissions in the atmosphere has already forced temperatures to rise also in developing countries.
- The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when established in 1992 had recognised finance and technology transfer as two critical pillars for transformation—the idea is if funds are provided, developing and emerging economies whose emission footprint is still small can grow, but differently.
- Then, of course, there is the need for funds for adaptation and to pay for loss and damage in these countries. Finance is thus a key element of the climate change conundrum.
- Over the years, much has been said about the need to secure this fund transfer. Several institutions and funds have also been created. But the flow of real money is still illusionary and inadequate.
Institutions and Fund
- In 1994, Washington-based Global Environment Facility (GEF) was given the charge to manage financial transfers under UNFCCC.
- In 2001, the Adaptation Fund was set up under the Kyoto Protocol to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries.
- At the 2010 UN climate change conference (COP16), the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established.
- At cop15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to a goal of jointly mobilising US $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.
- The Paris Agreement reiterated the goal set by the Copenhagen Accord that $100 billion must be transferred annually through 2025 by developed nations, after which it would be revised upwards from a floor of $100 billion.
- Funds that were loans were counted as climate finance; even commercial agreements were bundled into finance. So, there is no real accounting or verification of what has actually been transferred and no clarity on whether the fund is related to climate change or commercial activities.
- Citing Oxfam researchers, Nature reported in its investigation, that “Japan, for instance, treats the full value of some aid projects as ‘climate relevant’ even when they don’t exclusively target climate action.”
- Oxfam also found that only a fifth (20.5 per cent) of climate financing went to Least Developed Countries (LDCS) and just three per cent to Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
- UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found that of the developed nations, only Germany, Norway and Sweden are paying their fair share of the $100 billion a year using public climate finance.
- Most other developed countries have no adequate plan in the pipeline to ensure that they would be able to fulfil their commitments.
- In September 2021, at the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden announced that his government would double its climate finance contribution to $11.4 billion a year by 2024—double of the April 2021 pledge he had made of $5.7 billion.
- The climate convention’s Standing Committee on Finance in October 2021 has said that developing countries need an upwards of $5.8 trillion by 2030, to finance less than half of the climate actions listed in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
- UNEP estimates that annual adaptation costs in developing countries will reach $140 to 300 billion per year by 2030, which is perhaps an underestimate given the frequency and intensity of extreme weather-related disasters that are hitting these countries.
AGENDA 6: ADAPTION GOAL
- It is now clearer than ever that the world will have to adapt to the changing climate. It is not enough to only talk about mitigation, because extreme weather events are happening with such rapidity and with such force that countries and people have to find ways of coping and managing the fallout of the calamities.
- Article 7 of the Paris Agreement establishes a Global Goal on Adaptation of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change”.
- The core components of the goal are interconnected and overlapping. Their progress will be assessed every five years under the Paris Agreement’s Article 14, Global Stocktake.
- Under the Global Goal on Adaptation, countries have to develop National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), which would identify activities that need support. These are then recorded in a public registry by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
- The Adaptation Gap Report 2020, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) earlier this year, states that the adaptation finance gap is not closing—not by a long shot.
- The annual adaptation costs in developing countries alone are currently estimated to be in the range of US $70 billion and will reach $280-500 billion by 2030.
- The Adaptation Fund, which was set up 2001, to fund projects in developing countries was financed with a share of the proceeds from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), established under the Kyoto Protocol.
- With CDM now dormant and defunct, the fund, though little, continues to be in operation under the Paris Agreement. It’s a game of shells.
- The issue of adaptation—the goal to make the world less vulnerable and more resilient—needs urgency and finance. This is the real agenda for the 2021 UN climate change conference (COP26).
AGENDA 7: LOSS AND DAMAGE
- Nearly 20 years after the Alliance of Small Island States demanded a mechanism within the global climate deal to compensate countries affected by sea level rise due to climate change, loss and damage has emerged as the “third pillar” of climate action after adaptation and mitigation.
- The UN climate change conference (COP26) should make loss and damage a permanent agenda for discussion and commit scaled-up resources to the victims as “compensation”.
- Article 8 of the Paris Agreement “recognises the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events”. It also says that countries should “enhance understanding, action and support to address loss and damage”.
- But a fatal flaw creeps in when it goes on to say that “Parties agree that Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”.
- In other words, the huge losses and damages being inflicted on the poor because of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere—emitted by a handful of countries—cannot be the basis of seeking claims.
- The discussions go back to 2010, when during COP16, a “loss and damage work programme” was started. This led to the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) in 2013 during COP19.
- In 2015, under the Paris Agreement, WIM was tasked with specific roles under Article 8. The key roles of WIM include enhancing action and support through finance for loss and damage, building the right technology regime to gauge climate change’s impacts and also capacity-building of members.
- The “enhanced action and support” is the WIM’s fifth strategic role as mentioned in its five- year rolling work plan. But as the working of the body shows, there is no progress at all in this role.
- It’s time the agenda of loss and damage was prioritised. Countries and communities need more than networks, information and knowledge. They need resources—human and financial—to cope with extreme weather events. Words will no longer be enough, not even close.
AGENDA 8: NATURE-BASED SOLUTION
- Now that the world has jumped on the net-zero bandwagon, broadly seen as the way to keep emitting but to ensure that CO2 can be sequestered or removed from the atmosphere, nature-based solutions have made a big splash in climate discussions.
- In climate change negotiations, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and its addition on conservation of forest stocks (REDD+) was originally the framework to implement nature-based solutions. At the 2013 UN climate change conference (COP19), the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ was adopted.
- At the 2013 UN climate change conference (COP19), the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ was adopted. In 2015, Paris Agreement recognised this and included it in Article 5; parties reiterated their commitment to implement REDD+.
- The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that if the world is to meet its climate change goals, it needs to close a US $4.1 trillion financing gap in nature by 2050.
- In May 2021, the World Economic Forum published in collaboration with McKinsey and Company a report, “Nature and Net Zero”.
- According to this, nature-based solutions provide a “potential of [removing] close to 7 GtCO2 per year, sufficient to deliver around one-third of the 2050 target [to cut emissions by 50 per cent over 2010 levels]” and this cost is lower than technological solutions.
- The report then says nature-based solutions will also generate a flow of funds to countries of the Global South as this is where the potential for reforestation really lies. But this means getting the market architecture right so that it will support tradable credits to buy and sell nature for climate mitigation.
Forests not just a sink
- The problem is not the idea of using forests as carbon sinks but the fact that what is being seen as a low-cost solution is in the lands of the poor and in forests of the developing world. They are the habitats of poor communities.
- So the choice of trees and their management has to be driven from the objective of securing livelihoods and not primarily for fixing emissions.
- It is now estimated that Amazon rainforests are emitting more carbon than they are absorbing— the key cause is large-scale deforestation to clear land for the production of beef and other commodities.
- It is estimated that one-third of the world’s tropical deforestation is driven by international trade in food commodities.
- All this again points to the problem of lack of measurement, accounting tools and, most importantly, the question of the ownership of lands in which forests are being grown and carbon credits are being generated.
- So, even as nature-based solutions are critical for climate change mitigation, the world has not ensured that this win-win solution really works for people and forests. This should be the agenda for COP26, which at present seems to be missing the wood for the trees.