The immediacy of the climate emergency is intensifying everyday, as we see fires and natural disasters become ordinary fixtures in the news.
The recent IPCC report confirmed what we already know; time is running out to salvage the planet. It’s a good thing we’ve got a global climate conference coming up for world leaders to plan the drastic changes that need to be made. This morning, however, the Guardian reported that some key officials have already admitted COP26 won’t hit the aims of the Paris Agreement.
Figures from the UK and UN have warned that the talks will not result in promises of emissions cuts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, the target set by the Paris Agreement.
A senior UN figure reportedly said:
We are not going to get to a 45% reduction, but there must be some level of contributions on the table to show the downward trend of emissions.
This isn’t the only less-than-aspirational view on the potential of Cop26. On the official Cop26 website, the first goal of the conference is:
Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
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The phrase ‘within reach’ is a lot more vague and non-committal than the Paris Agreement’s original pledge to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.
The Paris agreement
Climate analysts have been warning for a while that current global policies will not be enough to achieve the 1.5 degree target. Climate Analytics and the New Climate Institute say current policies as of May 2021 have a 78% likelihood of putting the planet on track for warming greater than two degrees.
Last year, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the Guardian:
We have lost a lot of time. Five years after the agreement in Paris was adopted with huge expectations and commitment by world leaders, we have not done enough.
So, let’s take a look at what more than 1.5 degrees warming means for the planet and people.
1.5 degrees means that severe heatwaves will hit about 14% of the world’s population “at least once every five years”. At two degrees, that increases to 37% of the world’s population. The difference could see about 420 million more people regularly exposed to extreme heatwaves.
This doesn’t end at heatwaves – hitting two degrees of warming also means that millions more will be exposed to drought, water stress, and extreme flooding. There will also be a massive jump in the impact on biodiversity.
Evidently, there are pretty severe consequences of not hitting the 1.5 target.
The current reality
And let’s not forget – many parts of the world are already experiencing the catastrophic effects of climate change with an onslaught of deadly extreme weather events.
Acres burned during the Pacific North West’s fire season this year, and heatwaves killed hundreds. Violent flooding killed people and wrecked homes in Germany.
We know these extreme weather events already hit the poorest countries the hardest – an effect that will only increase if they grow globally in occurrence. Under the missed goals of the Paris Agreement, the UN’s warnings of a coming “climate apartheid” between rich and poor seem ever more true.
A deadly disappointment
With all those impacts considered, the admission that the COP26 talks won’t bring about the change needed is, frankly, terrifying.
If not at a global climate summit, then when? The fact that officials have already admitted 1.5 won’t be achieved before the conference officially starts on 31 October in Glasgow spells a pretty bleak future.
At a climate dialogue in May, prime minister Boris Johnson told the audience:
This will be the decade in which we either rise up and tackle climate change together or else we sink together into the mire. And this year at COP26 will be the moment the world chooses which of these two fates awaits us.
These are big words given the Climate Change Committee said just a month later that Johnson’s policies would not hit his ‘historic’ targets.
At the moment, it seems like we’ll be sinking. And it won’t be together – it will start with the poorest parts of the world already battling the impacts of climate change.
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