Is Greta right? Has COP26 failed?

It has been a week of announcements. A week of ambitions. And a week of ambiguities. And according to activist Greta Thunberg, COP26 is nothing other than “blah, blah, blah” and has failed. Is that really the case?

It’s rather imperialistic to argue that the countries that are trying to build their per capita wealth and standards of living should now pay for the sins of the most developed countries. The developed countries are responsible for most of the increases in atmospheric carbon. They are richer and have the ability to pay.

But the reliance of countries like India and China on coal for electricity and the lack of commitment from Russia risks swamping small countries. Quite literally.

There have been achievements on forest clearance, on a mixed bag of net zero targets and on financing. But even if countries keep to their pledges, it still doesn’t stack up to keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

One of the first headlines from the week was a commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Even Brazil, one of the main offenders, signed up. That will be a great achievement if it is delivered. Countries also made a commitment to phase out using coal for electricity generation. That’s a hard ask for countries like Poland, Canada and other countries.

More than 70 countries now have long-term targets on net-zero carbon emissions. But some, like India, will not achieve carbon neutrality until 2070. Its per capita emissions are low, estimated to be 3.2 tonnes of CO2 by 2030, compared to 16.4 tonnes in Australia. But while Australia is predicted to have 29.8 million people by 2030, India is forecast to grow to 1.5bn people. China is expected have just as many people by 2030 and has set a target for net zero by 2060. As economist Dieter Helm commented:

Whatever the gains in terms of the reduction in poverty, the great economic expansion of China has come at enormous national and global costs to the environment.

Without big reductions in China, the world cannot win the climate battle.

The USA is aiming for net zero by 2050, as is the UK. Boris Johnson wants Russia to bring its target forward. It might do so. At least three of Scotland’s islands will become carbon neutral by 2040.

We are faced with a patchwork of pledges and targets across the world. More pledges than we had before but not as many and not as stretching as we need.

Global carbon emissions are set to rise by 13.7% by 2030 according to the latest UN analysis. We need a 50% cut by then keep global temperature rise to 1.5C and avoid the catastrophic impacts from climate change. Pledges made before and at COP26 could limit temperature increases to 1.8°C according to the International Energy Agency and 1.9°C according to Climate Resource. Providing that political leaders deliver the pledges we could meet the Paris Agreement’s ambitions to limit global warming to below 2°C, but not to 1.5°C.

That half a degree difference is vital. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley told COP26 that a two degree rise in temperature would be a death sentence for island nations from rising sea levels and more extreme weather. And already, extreme weather events are increasing. Glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising and pose a threat to the UK, let alone to smaller islands.

Money is needed. The Green Climate Fund was established after a promise made by richer nations at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 to provide US$100 billion (£74 billion) a  year in climate finance to help developing countries to decarbonise their economies. The fund has never delivered $100bn but at COP26 we were assured by Kerry and by von de Leyen that the target will be achieved next year. Kerry warned that governments couldn’t supply enough money to tackle climate change and private finance would be needed.

Cue the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a coalition of the biggest investors, banks and insurers that control $130 trillion in assets, which said it was committing to use that capital to hit net zero emissions targets in investments by 2050. But there is still work to do to getting commitments and targets for some members of the alliance.

And wherever there are targets, wherever there is money involved there is creative accounting. We can expect reclassification of foreign aid as climate change money. We will witness carbon trading and offsetting going into overdrive. Some commitments will not be delivered. Others will be fudged.

Our priority must be to limit global warning. We will also need extensive mitigation measures. Not just flood prevention measures and protection from excessive heat. We may need to relocate entire populations from low lying islands.

Was Greta right to say COP26 has failed?

She is only half right. There has been welcome progress in the first week. It is not all blah, blah, blah. But the progress is not enough. Nowhere near enough.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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28 Comments

  • Neil James Sandison 7th Nov '21 - 11:46am

    At the moment we have the words but words need to be changed into real actions pressure needs to be kept up on those who have promised but failed in the past and those who are very slowly changing their ways but never signed up to the climate emergency due to narrow political reasons and overly dependent economies based on fossil fuels . We cannot afford to let any government off the hook .

  • Kyle Harrison 7th Nov '21 - 12:23pm

    I do not want to live in Greta’s vision of a perfect world, I’m fairly sure of that. I believe we need to decouple economic prosperity from fossil fuels and excessive environmental damage. But I do not believe severely limiting human freedom or creating more poverty is the way to do that. People like Greta put the environment above all else. I do not. Polling evidence shows most Brits seem to agree with my sort of position. Prioritising other things above environment. The truth is, we’re really relying on China and India now. What the West can do (slightly excepting the USA) is increasingly limited. This is a mindset shift Westerners find hard to cope with as for centuries our countries ran the world. But now the world’s future is in the hands of Eastern powers. We can apply political pressure, we can set a good example maybe we can even restrict trade from countries that are big emitters (of course that could come with pretty major political or economic costs). The Great Depression was partly caused by increased protectionism.

    The best thing we can hope for is technological innovation. The sooner we get cheap renewable energy the better. Make it cheaper than coal or gas and there’s no economic reason for developing countries to burn the stuff. As a nation, we should be encouraging as much technological innovation as possible in our own country.

  • Brad Barrows 7th Nov '21 - 1:10pm

    @Kyle Harrison
    I share your views about not wanting to live in Greta’s idea of an ideal world. Some of the more extreme climate activists appear to wish to return society to pre-industrial times except that we all have very few children, if any, and don’t eat meat. My view is that we should make changes that can be made without making people poorer.

  • Christopher Moore 7th Nov '21 - 1:12pm

    Kyle, you honestly don’t need to worry. There’s no way we are getting anywhere near Greta’s “perfect world” given the inadequacy of measures and pledges up till now.

    You may prioritise “other things” above environment. But there will be a heavy cost for that dominant attitude: serious knock-on effects on those “other things”. The environment is a sine qua non of what we hold dear.

  • Laurence Cox 7th Nov '21 - 1:35pm

    Talking of COP26 failing or succeeding is simplistic and does not represent reality. Kenan Malik’s article in today’s Observer shows why we need to take a more nuanced view:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/07/bleak-pessimism-about-the-planets-future-is-as-lethal-as-blithe-optimism

    There are carbon sinks that we know little about; for example see The Guardian’s articles this week on ‘blue carbon’. It now seems that restoring salt marshes and seagrass meadows may be much more effective than reforestation.

    Andy rightly mentions the need for private finance; campaigns like ‘Make my money matter’ emphasise the effect of greening one’s pension (twenty-one times more effective than going vegetarian, giving up flying and switching to a green energy provider). While those with a private pension can do this directly; those in company pension schemes can lobby their pension providers to offer green investment funds.

  • nigel hunter 7th Nov '21 - 1:55pm

    Increasing climate problems will not only cause low lying islands to disappear but the relocation of the population and the food to feed them.As we loose land and higher temperatures food supplies could become precarious to feed a hungry world.Some countries ,ie Afghanistan is having food problems.Madagscar has suffered drought for a number of years and desert countries are becoming even hotter.How do we cope with an ever increasing population on less ground to produce the food we will need?

  • >I do not want to live in Greta’s vision of a perfect world
    Well we only need to look at Brexit to ee the disconnect between “perfect worlds” and the real world. However, Greta is right to remind us that whilst we can congratulate ourselves on achieving some agreement, we still need to go further and faster. I’ve not seen anything yet that indicates a 2050 UK population of circa 5m ie. 17th century Britain, isn’t a distinct possibility.

  • Jenny Barnes 7th Nov '21 - 4:04pm

    It all depends on what you think it was designed to do.
    If it’s meant to let most people think our leaders are doing something about climate change and there’s no need to worry or demonstrate or anything, then it’s a success.
    If it’s meant to keep our planet livable for humans over the next 100 years, then I’d expect to see the CO2 parts per million drop next year and carry on dropping to 2050. Let’s see what the CO2 ppm is next year. Do I think that’ll happen? Nope.

  • Kyle Harrison 7th Nov ’21 – 12:23pm:
    The sooner we get cheap renewable energy the better.

    In the UK, the only large scale renewables are solar and wind. Both are intermittent and wind highly unreliable. While pumped storage, batteries, and demand management may be able to compensate for intraday intermittency they can not provide the balance for long periods of low wind as has occurred in the UK over recent months. Such renewables require a reliable dispatchable source of electricity to be viable – which, in the UK, means gas-fired plants. This is why former oil majors now call themselves energy companies and have moved into renewables – the two are complementary – the more dependent we become on renewables, the more dependent we are on burning natural gas.

    ‘Low wind & outages see UK electricity prices surge’ [September 2021]:
    https://timera-energy.com/low-wind-outages-see-uk-electricity-prices-surge/

    Average max UK wind generation through September has been 60% lower than the same time last year, contributing to UK wholesale electricity prices printing in the thousands of pounds per MWh for multiple delivery periods across September.

    The underfunding of oil and gas exploration has now caused an energy crisis with the price of gas increasingly being set by Russian supply and Chinese demand. By making gas more expensive than coal this is likely to cause more coal to be burnt for longer, as more clueful observers predicted…

    ‘How Climate Activists Caused the Global Energy Crisis’ [October 2021]:
    https://michaelshellenberger.substack.com/p/how-climate-activists-caused-the

    The result of successful climate activism is, paradoxically, rising coal use and carbon emissions. That’s because because electricity produced from natural gas produces about half of the emissions of coal.

    Some of us warned that climate activist efforts against natural gas would backfire. Eight years ago I defended fracking for making natural gas cheaper than coal. Reducing natural gas exploration would make gas more expensive, I argued, and delay the transition away from coal. […]

    The proof is in the data. Fossil fuels’s share of global energy production remain unchanged at 84 percent since 1980. To the extent emissions in Europe and the US declined, it was largely due to the transition from coal to natural gas.

  • John Marriott 7th Nov '21 - 6:21pm

    @Jeff
    As President Reagan famously said; “There you go again”. I gather from your repeating of what you wrote a while ago that you may be one of those who subscribe to the view that global warming has little to do with human activity. On the other hand, you tend to keep your personal views to yourself. You might like the idea of things getting warmer, as John Redwood MP seemed to imply a few years ago.

    You dismissed tidal and wave energy in your previous contribution as too expensive. So were wind turbines and solar panels when they were first proposed. I still reckon that we ignore such generation at our peril. The other big potential lies in hydrogen to whose potential many are now waking up. On the other hand, if you think all is OK with oil, coal and natural gas, you are probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

  • William Francis 7th Nov '21 - 6:45pm

    In what way can local government play a part in this?

    After all, the party has some considerable influence in that area.

  • James Fowler 7th Nov '21 - 7:26pm

    Well said Kyle Harrison.

  • I shall not comment on Greta. She has been exploited enough.
    The UN has used climate change as a vehicle for driving wealth redistribution. COP26 was supposed to achieve agreement from the West to transfer $100billion per year to developing countries. I have not heard whether agreement has been reached but this is the measure of success or failure for COP.

    As the UN must surely be aware, since it controls the agencies WMO, IPCC and WCRP, human activity does not control the level of CO2 in the atmosphere so the Net Zero exercise is both pointless and dangerous. Most of the CO2 on the planet is in the oceans and the distribution is controlled by the oceans, not the activities of mankind.
    Net Zero is a fantasy objective with fantasy assumptions. The reality will be soaring energy costs, (already happening) destruction of industry, jobs and the economy, fuel poverty, blackouts and damage that will take generations to repair. Germany is about two years ahead of the UK on this journey and is already opening coal fired power stations as she attempts to rescue her failing industry and economy. It still performs better than ours, but is plummeting quickly.

  • Jenny Barnes 7th Nov '21 - 8:15pm

    Half a dozen 3GW nuclear power stations, long haul HVDC cables from solar power in N Africa

  • @ kyle Harrison – I agree with you as well.
    The Western view of climate change is dominated by the results of UK and US climate models. The UK ones led to 14 years of hot summer forecasts that never happened, droughts that turned out to be washouts and a general loss of credibility. Remember the Barbeque Summer? They don’t publish the forecasts anymore but we know from the scientific papers that the current models (CMIP6) run even hotter as do all the US ones.

    There is a Russian model. It simulates reality pretty well and I would bet that it does not have an obsession that CO2 drives warming. The West retains this obsession even though the evidence proves the models wrong each and every year. I would guess that the Chinese do not share the obsession either and have a more realistic understanding of the climate. I don’t think the Chinese would be opening a new coal fired power station every month if they believed the fantasies put out by the IPCC.

    Just for the record: I believe that the greenhouse effect is real. It is a diminishing effect compared with the distant past and is no cause for concern or action and is certainly not an emergency.

  • nigel hunter 7th Nov ’21 – 1:55pm:
    How do we cope with an ever increasing population on less ground to produce the food we will need?

    We could boost agricultural yields by raising atmospheric CO2 to the levels at which plants evolved to grow best at…

    ‘Managing Carbon Dioxide in Your Grow Space’:
    https://fifthseasongardening.com/regulating-carbon-dioxide

    …there are benefits to raising the CO2 level higher than the global average, up to 1500 ppm. With CO2 maintained at this level, yields can be increased by as much as 30%!

    ‘Bigger, better and tastier tomatoes with CO2’:
    https://linde-stories.com/better-greenhouses-tomatoes-with-co2/

    Moreover, carbon dioxide fertilisation also produces earlier harvests and improves the ability of plants to resist disease and pests.

  • Steve Deller 8th Nov '21 - 8:37am

    Completely correct because not one politician, pundit, or activist has yet demaned action on population growth. Global population has risen from 1.6bn in 1900 to 5.3bn in 1990 and now 7.9bn. Population is growing faster than emissions per person are being cut. Without setting a sustainable population target climate targets will never be met. A one child policy, reversing the tax and benefit system so it penalises rather than rewards parenting, scrapping fertility clinics and rolling back “family friendly” work practices have yet to be mentioned. Strange given they can be implemented tomorrow, reduce government expenditure, don’t rely on technology that doesn’t exist and don’t need a multi-billion pound “green industry” to implement. And that tells you all you need to know.

  • John Marriott 8th Nov '21 - 9:12am

    @Jeff
    So your answer to how we produce more food is to raise “atmospheric CO2”, whatever that is. I thought we were trying to lower CO2 levels! Wow, that’s a new angle. Perhaps we should be advocating more family planning instead.

    I am intrigued by some of the links you are offering us, so I’ve done a bit of delving. Most of the recent ones emanate from across the pond. Mr Schellenberger would appear to be a controversial figure, while the Fifth Season Gardening Company, based mainly in North Carolina, would seem to be a fairly unusual concern, one of its specialities appearing to be the sale of ‘fairy gardens’ as well as things like home brewing equipment. Perhaps if you indulge in enough of the latter, it’s not surprising that you might believe in fairies! It’s a bit rich if you intend us to take lessons from what is currently one of the world’s largest polluters, although I suppose it depends on how you define ‘pollution’.

    I suppose that, if you try hard enough, you can always find a site somewhere that supports any theory you may have. So, how about your having another look at tidal and wave power? I’m sure that you will find somewhere that supports MY contention that we dismiss such technology at our peril.

  • Jeff is quite right. Carbon dioxide is plant food. Photosynthesis converts CO2 to simple sugars and these are the building blocks of more complex carbohydrates. The current atmospheric concentration is about 415 ppm. If it dropped to 150-200 ppm then plant life would cease to exist, followed by most of animal life including us.

    Plant and vegetable growers use CO2 in their greenhouses up to several thousand ppm in order to boost production. Satellite studies of the earth show considerable greening of the earth attributed to higher CO2 and crops everywhere show record yields which increase every year, helping to feed the ever increasing global population.

    Some people regard CO2 as an unwanted pollutant that must be demonised, Removing it from the atmosphere would guarantee the end of our existence.

  • Climate change deniers seem to have noticed this column. Obviously, CO2 is needed for plant growth. If there was not enough of it, plants would die. However, too much CO2 causes global heating. Decay or burning of recently grown plant material releases the CO2 needed for new plant growth. Modern burning of fossil fuels has rapidly released CO2 accumulated underground over hundreds of millions of years, causing global heating. Does Peter ignore this because he does not know, or for some other reason?

  • Peter 8th Nov ’21 – 10:17am……

    For heaven’s sake no-one is suggesting, using your words, ” Removing it from the atmosphere”…It is the amount that matters..
    Pre-industrial levels were around 270ppm now they are around 420ppm and still rising rapidly..These level won’t ‘guarantee the end of our existence’ but their effect will be to make parts of the planet uninhabitable due to increased sea level, climate change, etc. We have seen the strife in deveoped countries due to political/economic migration; imagine the problems, including all-out war, when whole populations seek ‘somewhere else’..

    Salt is actually an important nutrient for the human body which requires it to balance fluids in the blood, to maintain healthy blood pressure and it is essential for nerve and muscle function…However, too much salt causes health problems and if taken in excess can cause Hypernatremia..Not a pleasant condition..

    As far as modern humanity is concerned ‘MotherNature’, on a global scale. is much the same..

  • John Marriott 8th Nov '21 - 12:56pm

    @Peter
    I remember once reading a food advert from a 1950s’ magazine extolling the virtue of calories and encouraging people to eat more of them to give themselves more energy. I doubt whether we would be given the same advice today, unless we were Olympic athletes!

    For what it’s worth I don’t buy the cod science that tells us that global warming is just part of nature’s rich pattern. Just let it take its course, the climate change deniers say, because, as Leslie Phillips’ character in a 1950s film famously remarked; “what could be coarser than Mother Nature!” The $64,000 question is whether human activity has played a part. If so, then we really do need to do something about it as soon as possible. I think I’d rather side with ‘expats’ over this.

    PS ‘Jeff’s’ been very silent again.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Nov '21 - 1:19pm

    Is John Marriot, and especially, is expats the only person or persons here, mainstream and measured, and yes, Liberal Democrat in tone or tendency?!

    It seems on the one hand, this party and all dealing with its pr are wholly in step with much of the Greta Thunberg stance. i am not. She takes things too far, as do the Greens. Its all fear oriented and negativity in emphasis, rather than the moderate and positive needed.

    On the other hand, they are correct that much, far more indeed, needs to be done. Here above we seem to have the alt right in full throttle.

    I favour more emphasis on pandemics, and their link to meat eating, awful use of animals and over use of land, and the mingling of humans with wild animals we are not meant to mingle amongst at all, and in unsanitary ways!

    The Green “lobby” have only barely touched on this. Greta Thunberg has alluded to it but not enough. The emergency of viruses is a clear and present danger that dwarfs that of climate change, though both very different, the climate situation is one far more readily being dealt with, so Greta thunberg is incorrect, it is not mere words.

    On the pandemic, we have had virtually no international effort. There is much, however inadequate, effort, on the climate issue.

    Most of the population of much of the planet, has no vaccine, and has a regular death toll from this current virus. Nor are any practices in place to deal with prevention, in our obsession with travel and mixing.

    And thus the two issues connect. And therefore we need to connect solutions.

    High energy prices are something we ought to deal with, by subsidies for those with little space, but huge bills they cannot afford. Instead we leave it wholly to markets or taxes. Neither justify why a poor person in a one bedroom flat should pay huge bills, though doing little to damage the planet compared to the wealthy who damage it and can afford to pay!

    A move to a more radical liberal, social democratic stance, but aware of the extremes and avoiding them, is needed.

  • @expats, unfortunately, all too many people concerned about green issues do make rather sweeping demands without comprehending the consequences. Another example is “Leave fossil fuels in the ground.” which presumably includes oil and all its refined fractions which go to make plastics, synthetic fibres, dyes, pharmaceuticals, solvents, gases and a myriad of essential products for our needs today.

    Oil companies are then demonised, banks too, unless they remove investment and then before long we have shortages, soaring prices and the people who caused the problems are completely oblivious to their role in it.

  • George Thomas 8th Nov '21 - 8:53pm

    If the UK can become richer by investing in green technology then China will follow suit, will invest more than the UK can and with it’s greater population will surge ahead.

    If the UK promotes climate change policies but half-arses its investment and has politicians complaining it’s costing us money then China will drag it’s feet and the Earth will become a horrible place to live.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Nov '21 - 9:51pm

    @George Thomas
    “and the Earth will become a horrible place to live”

    Isn’t it already a horrible place for some people? e.g. those people in foreign lands whose homes are disappearing under rising waters?

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Nov '21 - 10:03am

    All those fancy hydrocarbons can, in principle, be made from hydrogen and captured CO2. Probably easier to start with wood or another crop. For example Bio-ethanol – in a fuel tank near you, now.

  • David Garlick 9th Nov '21 - 10:13am

    Clearly it has failed to do what is needed. (That was never more true of a US president than B O.) All talk and subservience to the polluting companies and countries is true Blah, Blah, Blah and continues unabated.
    What progress there has been is welcome but will not stop lowland communitites being swamped and tens , if not hundreds of thousands becoming refugees. No doubt the refugees will be welcomed by all the polluting, blah, blah, blahing nations around the world.

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