It has been many months since politicians and world leaders met in Glasgow to discuss the world’s future. Several important agreements were reached, and potential progress was made on a number of environmental issues. However, how far have we come over the last months in working towards those agreements and the goals put in place? As we head towards the next Conference of the Parties in a few months’ time, have we managed to implement any of the progress agreed upon last year?
In the months following COP26, many more unprecedented challenges have arisen. The invasion of Ukraine, continuing emergence from the global pandemic and substantial price rises have drawn a great deal of attention away from climate issues. The agreements made at COP26 were made in a very different landscape both politically and economically, and emerging from the pandemic is no longer the most serious threat to reducing carbon emissions.
While it is easy to focus on the negatives of slow progress when it is clear that fast action is needed, there is evidence to suggest that some small amounts of progress have been made. As we now look towards COP27 taking place in Egypt in November 2022, the Institute investigates the progress made over the last half a year, some of the successes and a few of the failures, as well as predictions for COP27.
Keeping discussions alive
Although COP26 is long past, and there are still many months until the next Conference of the Parties, a political space is still being created to discuss environmental issues and decarbonisation. Amidst the current unsettled political and economic backdrop, there is a significant risk that politicians and policymakers will turn their attention away from climate issues and the Glasgow Agreement. However, recently substantial efforts have been made to return attention to the subject.
In May 2022, three key events were held in Denmark and Sweden with the aim to renew the drive for countries to engage with, and deliver on, the agreements made at COP26. Following on from the Ministerial Meeting on Implementation, previous COP President, Alok Sharma, spoke at both the Ministerial on Climate Action (MOCA) and Stockholm +50.
A summary of the Ministerial Meeting on Implementation highlighted that all Ministers recognised the urgency of immediate action in line with the Paris Agreement, COP26 and other previous agreements. It was also highlighted that the challenging global context strengthened the need to accelerate practical action further.
Efforts to reach agreed targets
In the background, individuals and corporations continue to work towards implementing their decarbonization plans in line with the Glasgow Agreement and Net-Zero.
For example, The National Grid announced that they are on track to completely decarbonise buildings across the US by 2050. Over the next three decades they have achievable and tangible goals to reach ahead of the end 2050 goal.
In the UK, the National Grid also announced positive news for the East Coast Hydrogen feasibility report which promises to convert 4 million UK homes and 29,000 businesses to hydrogen instead of fossil fuels by 2032.
While this might be considered a small step forward, it shows action in accordance with achievable goals and the promise of further scope for expansion in the future.
Record rises in renewable energy
A recent article from the International Energy Agency shows that renewable energy growth will break another record in 2022 despite ongoing issues with rising costs and supply chain delays. Capacity is expected to increase from 295 gigawatts to 320 gigawatts in 2022. Solar PV will be the leader in this growth, accounting for 60% with wind and hydropower the next biggest contributors.
While the unprecedented events of early 2022 have pulled attention away from climate issues in part, there is also evidence to show that they have prompted an acceleration towards renewables in some cases. Increased volatility of oil and gas markets caused by the invasion of Ukraine, has in turn sped up the increased adoption of renewables in some countries, such as Germany. A country that previously relied very heavily on Russia for gas, coal and oil, Germany has now committed to accelerating its ‘Energiewende’ in order to eliminate their reliance on Russian supplies by the end of 2020, and their reliance on coal by 2030. By this date, they plan to source 80% of their energy from renewables.
Therefore we can see that measurable progress is being made and the environmental issues at hand have not been sidelined. Signs of slow but steady progress can be seen in a number of areas. However, there is also evidence of major failures that will impact our chances of achieving Net-Zero by the agreed dates.
New fossil fuel projects
There has been a great deal of frustration over a perceived lack of urgency regarding the plans for decarbonisation in the coming decades. With many commentators arguing that we need to turn away from fossil fuels immediately to maintain hope of keeping the target of 1.5 degrees within reach.
However, several countries who agreed to begin the process of moving away from fossil fuels, are in fact signing on to major future projects involving coal. In a recent investigation, the Guardian referred to these as ‘carbon bombs’ and highlighted the US, Canada, Australia and the Middle East as the countries with the most apparent plans to embrace new fossil fuel projects.
In the UK, fracking projects that were recently sidelined have now been revisited with major sites, that were due to be closed, provided with additional time to evaluate the benefits and risks of future fracking.
These projects continue to be extremely profitable, and the loss of gas supplies from Russia has created a sense of panic over securing alternatives. However, if countries continue to look to new sources of fossil fuels, we are unlikely to maintain the target of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees.
Another major element of the COP26 agreements was to secure the financial backing required to allow poorer nations to achieve decarbonisation at the same rate as richer countries. There is evidence to show that these financial obligations have not yet been met to the extent promised.
In addition, there has been a lack of transparency from the key players tasked with facilitating the financial aspects of the agreements. For example, The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero, has not made it clear what proportion of funds are currently being sent to the nations that require it most. However, it is generally believed that the amounts are falling below the levels previously agreed.
As this financial support was part of a longer-term agreement that had not been met as of 2021, it is concerning to see that progress is still very slow. However, securing this financial aid will take time, especially amidst growing economic uncertainty.
Predictions for COP27
The uncertainty of the ongoing invasion, rising costs and the threat of entering into a recession make it difficult to predict what will happen at the next conference of the parties, taking place in a few months’ time.
It is clear that the talks will have to focus somewhat on renewing discussions covered last year, as several countries have clearly backtracked somewhat on the agreements made. There will also need to be a specific focus on clear ways of implementing change, with achievable and measurable long and short-term goals, and also with the new economic and political landscape firmly in mind.
As we head towards November, the continuing evidence of global warming may serve to refresh the importance in the minds of politicians and policymakers. Record heatwaves as we head through summer may have the effect of renewing emphasis on the urgency of the issue we all face in time for renewed talks this November.
It is easy to feel disheartened by the seemingly slow progress made since COP26 took place last year, especially in the face of large countries choosing to embrace coal and gas, rather than turning away in favour of renewables. However, merely months have passed since the conference of the parties, and the world is facing yet more unprecedented crises. The months to come as we head towards COP27 will be crucial. Continued emphasis must be placed on the goals and agreements to ensure that they remain at the forefront of the political agenda. In turn, this will put us in a better position to agree upon impactful solutions at the next Conference of the Parties.
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