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COP-26 Results: High Hopes for Low Temperatures

Negotiators marking the closing of the United Nations climate summit, COP26, which opened in Glasgow, Scotland, on 31 October. The conference sought new global commitments to tackle climate change. UN News/Laura Quiñones

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The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021 with delegations from almost 200 countries participating. The strategic goal of the Summit was to sum up the results achieved during six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Combating deforestation, phasing down of coal and increasing financial support for developing countries are among the successes of COP-26 however it revealed certain disagreements.

Conference of strategic importance

At the opening ceremony of COP-26, Chairman Alok Sharma stated that the decisions made in Glasgow should be more vigorous than those of Paris. In Scotland’s largest city, the parties to the UNFCCC, after several unsuccessful attempts made in previous years, were again trying to hammer out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. In addition, the participants were discussing plans for adaptation to the consequences of climate change that can no longer be prevented. The agenda was really demanding.

Ambitious agenda but unfavorable background

There were four issues on the COP-26 agenda. Countries should: 1) submit programs on carbon emissions reduction to net zero by the middle of this century; 2) propose programs to restore affected ecosystems; 3) mobilize finance to achieve all the climate goals; 4) agree on a procedure for reporting on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

However, a breakthrough was unlikely even before the Summit began. The G-20 meeting that had taken place the day before cast serious doubt on a multilateral climate agreement between the world ’s largest economies. The meeting in Rome resulted in the 20 states failing to reach an agreement on reducing the deadline for achieving zero emissions and abandoning coal-fired power. Although the G-20 states upheld the goal of limiting the temperature rise, some countries avoided making firm commitments on how to keep its growth beyond the threshold of to 1.5°C.

Forest conservation: a step forward

Over 100 world leaders agreed on a declaration on stopping deforestation. The key point of the document was the joint work on stopping and reversing “the loss of forests and land degradation by 2030”. The states plan to increase investments in agriculture, in the conservation and restoration of forests, as well as in support of indigenous communities who are struggling due to deforestation.

This is one of the most significant achievements of COP-26 as among the signatories to the agreement was Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whom environmentalists recently accused in the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity over the deforestation of the Amazon region.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video address to the forum on the protection of forests expressed confidence that the Glasgow Declaration “will undoubtedly serve the goals of the Paris Agreement on reducing carbon dioxide emissions”. He added that Russia, in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, relies, among other tools, on the unique resource of its trees, since about 20% of all forests of the world are located in Russia.

Abandoning coal: modest progress

Another meaningful issue on the COP-26 agenda was the abandonment of coal, and certain results were achieved as well. Firstly, major international banks pledged to stop financing coal-fired power plants by the end of 2021. Secondly, 40 countries made a commitment to gradually abandon coal-fired energy – developed countries by 2030, developing by 2040.

At the same time, the Financial Times characterizes the wording of the declaration as vague as it does not set the exact deadline. The document states that the countries should abandon coal by a certain date or as soon as possible after its expiration. In addition, the main users of coal energy – China, India, the US, Australia, Russia have not signed the declaration.

Alexey Kokorin, head of the WWF Russia Climate and Energy Program called the declaration a “conditional agreement”. The countries-signatories allocate certain financial resources to developing states so that they can abandon coal. If Russia had signed the agreement, it would have become a voluntary donor, not a recipient of climate finance.

At the same time, Jamie Peters from the environmental organization Friends of the Earth maintained that the key meaning of this “unimpressive agreement” was that everyone was allowed to continue using coal for many years to come.

Reducing emissions: methane on the agenda for the first time

Back in April 2021 during the virtual Climate Summit Russian President Vladimir Putin designated the reduction of methane as one of the main directions in combating global warming. During COP-26 the leaders held an event dedicated to the methane emissions reductions for the first time in many years. The US and the EU put forward a joint initiative on reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030 which was supported by 105 countries.

China, Russia and India, three out of top five states in methane emissions, did not join the agreement. However, the initiative was supported by Brazil, the country which Climate Watch Data includes in the list of leading methane emitters.

The rationale for Russia not to join the initiative of the Western powers may be economy. In the countries that willingly sign up to the agreement, the share of the oil-and-gas sector is significantly lower than in Russia. According to Igor Makarov, head of the HSE Climate Change Economics Research and Training Laboratory, in Russia methane emissions are linked to both natural gas production and transportation. So, it is challenging for the country to take on such commitments right now.

According to Alexey Kokorin, there is no point in joining this initiative either ideologically (there is no China and India in it) or technically (it is necessary to deal with mine methane, leaks in gas and oil fields, which is more expensive than energy efficiency, energy conservation and forest fire control).

Russia’s position was also shared by some countries from the Anglo-Saxon world. For instance, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out against a concrete deadline for phasing out coal and pointed out that accelerating the reduction of methane emissions by 2030 will result in high costs for farmers engaged in dairy farming and animal husbandry.

Carbon neutrality: commitments without breakthroughs

Among the main topics at COP-26 was carbon neutrality. Even though many leaders spoke of it the goals set vary both in deadlines and in feasibility. Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced that the PRC would strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Prime Minister of India promised to reduce emissions to zero by 2070, setting a zero target for the country for the first time. Environmentalists called the Indian president’s goals “ambitious”, but the Nature magazine noted that it was probably only about CO2, with other greenhouse gases being out of the plan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing the summit virtually, maintained that carbon neutrality in Russia should be achieved by 2060. The international representative of Greenpeace characterized the goal as not ambitious enough.

Meaning of the final Glasgow Agreement

The stumbling block during the negotiations on the COP-26 final statement was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It envisages specific mechanisms for international the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the states had to prolong the summit till November 13. Additionally, this very article prevented consensus on the text of COP-25 held in December 2019 in Madrid, which resulted in a failure. COPs are far from punctuality. Out of 26 summits, only seven ended on time (on Friday) 14 ended on Saturday and five were held till Sunday.

The final agreement, published late in the evening on November 13, disappointed many parties. The wording of certain points was softened. For instance, instead of “phasing out” coal and other fossil fuels, the participants made an eleventh-hour decision to use “phasing down”. India, the third largest emitter, insisted on this change. Meanwhile, Special Representative of the President of Russia on climate Ruslan Edelgeriev stated that Russia welcomed the result. Nevertheless, the COP-26 final document has certain breakthroughs:

  1. It calls on the countries to strengthen national commitments and by 2022 renew Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve zero emissions and curb global warming within 1,5°C.
  2. The first measure will be combined with an annual political roundtable to consider global progress report and a top-level summit in 2023.
  3. The document contains a pledge to increase financial assistance to poor and developing countries to combat climate change.

The participants of COP-26 touched upon the issue of the global green transition based on four principles: energy efficiency, decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization. Many important statements have been made during COP-26. The countries have promised to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, significantly reduce the extraction and use of fossil fuels, completely stop the processes of deforestation, allocate considerable funds for the green transition. However, COP-26 also has its disappointments: ambitions of many countries remained weak, mistrust between developed and developing countries increased, and the real reduction of emissions was partially replaced by compensations.

Although the declaration was signed by almost 200 delegations, every point of it sparks disagreement. The Glasgow Agreement will not replace the Paris Agreement. It acts as a rulebook on the implementation of the 2015 Paris commitments. It defines more concrete actions in financing measures to combat climate change, mitigating its consequences and adapting to the ongoing climate changes.

What awaits us in the future?

Climate Action Tracker has published a report that shows that the risks of rising temperatures in the world are even higher. Even with the current goals of emissions reduction, by 2100 the temperature in the world could rise by 2.4 degrees. It means that the strategies announced at COP-26 would not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Today, the world can only effect the green transition by a gradual replacement of technologies. It is obvious that electricity has been and will remain the main energy source for humanity. But the question is: how to accumulate it more efficiently and more environmentally friendly in the new realities? Hydrogen is recognized as a viable option. At the same time, the issues of green transition and carbon emissions reduction are over politicized and often do not take into account regional peculiarities of the countries. For now, the easiest step to make is to continue focusing on energy conservation and energy efficiency.

Afterwards, it is necessary to reconsider the attitude to the types of energy generation and modernize them according to the environmental agenda. It is important to use technologies that meet economic needs and cause minimal harm to the environment. It means that Russia should rely on three main areas during the energy transition: nuclear power, hydrogen, and natural gas generation.

From our partner RIAC

Post-Graduate Researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia

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Green Planet

Staring an Ecological and Humanitarian Disaster in the Face

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Image source: UN Photo

Authors: Meena Miriam Yust and Arshad M. Khan  

The Red Sea is a rich marine haven, diverse and home to hundreds of species of fish and coral colonies.  At its southern mouth, it also harbors an almost half-century old static oil tanker.  

If one were to recount the history of Safer, this fuel storage and off-loading (FSO) vessel, most would find it impossible to believe.  Thirty years ago, it was grounded about five miles off the west coast of Yemen; it is still there!  To make matters worse, it is also loaded with almost all of its original cargo.  This amounts to 1.1 million barrels of oil or four times what was on the Exxon Valdez, which caused the worst environmental disaster in US history.  

Maintenance of the ship stopped in 2015 when the Yemen civil war began, presumably because the operation was based in Yemen.  Built 45 years ago, the rusting vessel is now in danger of breaking up.  

In April 2022, the UN unveiled a plan which had been largely funded by the summer to follow.  It had also secured the backing of the official Yemeni government and the de facto controlling authorities.  

The plan calls for installing a replacement for the FSO Safer within an 18-month period and then an emergency operation over four months to transfer the oil to a safe temporary vessel and void the immediate threat.  But the plan has gone nowhere.

As reported by Inter Press Service (IPS), Paul Horsman of Greenpeace International is convinced of the seriousness of the problem and states, “We are staring a major disaster in the face.”  He holds the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) fully responsible, accusing it of jeopardizing an agreement that took years to negotiate.  

A breakup of the vessel would be a monumental disaster for it would destroy the livelihood of Yemeni fishermen and put at peril the ecology of the Red Sea.  

The Red Sea’s varied ecological environment is home to several hundred species of fish and a striking 600-year-old coral colony.  The sea serves as habitat for many endangered species including the hawksbill sea turtle and the halavi guitarfish.  Several species of sharks and dolphins live in these waters, and the sea has the third largest population of dugong in the world.  A large marine mammal, the dugong is cousin to the manatee and listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as a species vulnerable to extinction.  If endangered, scientists believe recovery would be hampered by its slow reproduction rate.  

“If the Safer leaks, or worse explodes, it is the UNDP that will carry the blame,” says Horsman adding, “The technology and expertise are available … they [UNDP] should just get out of the way. …”

But the UNDP has its own internal bureaucracy.  According to Russell Geekie who is a UN Senior Communications Advisor on site, the UNDP is required to work with other UN agencies and partners.  Complicating the issue is the political crisis in Yemen.

Also another major challenge now is the limited availability of suitable storage vessels to off-load the oil, mostly due to the war in Ukraine which has substantially increased their price.

In September 2022, $77 million was pledged at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, although another $38 million for a double-hulled storage vessel to hold the oil is still lacking.  As an update, donors have now deposited $73.4 million and pledged another $10 million.

So the blame game continues and the numbers in millions of dollars plod through the UNDP bureaucracy.  Small potatoes, when one realizes the cost of an oil-spill clean-up there, should it happen, is estimated at $20 billion.  This excludes the humanitarian catastrophe it would cause in an already war-torn Yemen as well as the parts of Somalia that depend on the fisheries in the area.

Human folly, tragedy and irony go hand-in-hand as all of the above is transpiring during Achim Steiner’s tenure as head of UNDP.  A Brazilian of German descent, he has also served as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  

President Biden professes to be an environmentalist, although he has supported oil on occasion for energy security.  Surely he could do something to avert a terrible disaster.  But then the Red Sea is far away and the Yemenis and Somalis don’t vote in the US elections.  

Authors’ Note: This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.

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Warm Winters and Global Warming: Does the COP work?

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We have passed 2022 with many environmental problems and the impact of a changing climate, natural disasters that cannot be avoided, wars that are still happening, and social habituation with the COVID-19 outbreak. However, more than the things that have been mentioned, humans who are in this anthropocene period need to be more cautious in responding to their environment. The loss of many animals and the increase in seawater temperature are indications that the real threats from the environment are no longer in “alert” or “alert” status but are already at the “danger” level. Some scientists are predicting a worst-case scenario of the earth in the next few years.

In early 2023, the news was shocked by the fact that the Saudi Arabian desert had become green due to the incessant rains in recent months. Saudi Arabia, a desert country, has become a green land, something that has never existed in history, violating its natural laws. It’s different in Arabia and Europe, which go through the winter and experience a temperature rise so that the ice is no longer present in some parts of Europe this year. Although there are numerous traditions and sports practiced by the community that can only be practiced in winter, for example, ski sports,

In 2022, the warmest weather record was broken into different parts of the world, including England, where it was recorded above 40 degrees Celsius. The cause of this increase in temperature is triggered by many factors, of course; for example, severe forest fires that hit parts of Europe and Australia are related to hot weather. During this time, the weather in Pakistan and India is very warm because the temperature reaches 51 degrees Celsius.

In a range of studies, scientists have concluded that the increase in temperature is probably due to climate change. Rising temperatures are expected to negatively impact humans and nature, including frequent droughts and diseases caused by warm weather.

The British Meteorological Office predicts that the Earth’s temperature will rise in 2023, making it one of the warmest years in the world.

Temperatures are forecast to rise for the 10th consecutive year, when global temperatures have risen at least one degree Celsius above average.

The world is about 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter compared to the period before the Industrial Revolution in 1750–1900, when humans started using large amounts of fossil fuels and released emission gases into the atmosphere.

Temperatures on Earth in 2023 are expected to be 1.08 to 1.32 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial or pre-industrial average.

COP and its myths

Meanwhile, countries around the world are committed to reducing emissions to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Many countries around the world have come to an agreement on that commitment since 2015. Similarly, the real actions that have been achieved However, the reality is that global temperatures also become warmer each year without being able to avoid it. The existence of the COP, which aims to slow the rate of increase in the earth’s temperature, actually needs to be questioned again, starting from the formation of the COP itself, the procedures for implementing decisions, and the time-consuming implementation.

Among the things that make the COP less reliable in efforts to control the earth’s temperature, there are:

Firstly, the fact that the COP, which is under the umbrella of the UN, is not a suitable place for efforts to reduce carbon emission commitments because, basically, the UN was originally designed to bring about peace between people, while climate change must be designed for humans to face an environment that cannot be negotiated like humans.

Secondly, the UN has a voluntary system. There is no obligation to follow and obey the rules that are in place. Not all countries in the world have participated in the 2015 COP Paris Agreement. Countries of the world can leave the UN at any time if they are deemed inappropriate and are no longer sought after. There is no ultimate coercive law; it’s all voluntary.

The third, the COP was designed inappropriately based on the needs of nature and the environment, because the environment cannot speak like humans do, but the agendas and communiqués in the COP are prepared based on the needs and interests of the countries in the COP, where the votes are the most and are considered most profitable; that’s how the agenda and the rules of the COP were made. This is clear from previous COPs 26 and 27.

At COP26, the phrase “stop” the use of fossil fuels was modified to “periodically decrease” the use of fossil fuels. With regard to COP27, the discussion focused on financing and the financing system established by developed countries for developing countries. The grants that were issued during the Paris agreement were considered to have not been on target; there was a lot of suspicion in the flow of grants, not to mention that developed countries like America were considered to not be keeping their promises to spend climate change funds as promised at the beginning of the agreement. China, which produces the second-largest gas emissions after America, is considered not entitled to climate compensation funds, but as the second-largest economy, it should contribute funds.

Indirectly, every year, the COP even looks like a myth because they say that if you do this, it’s going to produce this. All the agendas which have been agreed are but temporary human consolations. It’s not that the COP under the umbrella of the United Nations is not functioning properly; all plans and aspirations are actually logical and can be implemented; it’s just who and how these commitments are carried out that makes everything feel like a myth.

An insight into the climate disaster in the future

The IPCC released its most recent report in August 2021 by analyzing 14,000 studies, 234 experts from 65 countries concluded that the earth’s temperature will rise 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times of 1800–1850 in 2040.

The temperature increase is faster than forecast for 2050. According to this 4,000-page report over seven years, rising global temperatures cannot be avoided even if each country achieves net-zero or net-zero emissions by 2050.

The meaning of this research is that certain countries will run out of water, some lands will sink, diseases from ancient viruses will return to life and attack humans more than COVID-19, there will be no ice in winter, and predictions of extinction or the genetic transformation of humans will occur.

A bright light in the dark

Human instinct will always seek to prevent catastrophes, hunger and fear. Even though the rate of change on the earth is getting worse day by day, several new breakthroughs have still been successfully created by humans to meet their needs in order to survive. Examples such as air conditioners are created by people to cope with warm summers. Cell farms that can cut livestock production costs, carbon bankers for energy, and even plans to occupy the moon and discover new habitable planets All efforts outside of climate agreements and negotiations will always be a way of life for the good hopes of human life in the future, especially for today’s young generation, which will inherit the earth in the future. However, it is important to understand that regardless of the quality of existing discoveries, they will not be the same as the clean air that still exists today. Similarly, whatever the quality of the house in the future, it will not necessarily be as comfortable as the land we live on today.

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Green Planet

Seals, Satellites and Dung Beetles -What Links Them?

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Imagine hunting for a fish dinner in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the night without flashlight, compass, or iPhone . . . and then to find a way back to land.  This is what seals must accomplish on a regular basis to survive.  These pinnipeds, so often seen posing with a ball balanced perfectly on a whiskered nose or bowing gracefully for a circus display, have skills that cannot be seen on the stage.  In fact, they give our close relatives the chimpanzees something to envy.  

One sign of intelligence is an ability to recognize and respond to human gestures.  Chimpanzees have difficulty doing this.  Dogs are one of a few species capable of doing so.  It turns out seals, too, can recognize human gestures and, surprisingly, perform even better than dogs at these tasks, as has been demonstrated through research.  The grey seal outshone almost all the other animal contestants.  

A dog resting comfortably by the fireplace after a nice meal is a familiar sight for many of us, and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to picture a seal doing the same on a bit of rock or sand after a dinner of fish.  The intelligence of the two creatures is comparable, and to some degree, the look of their furry heads, pointy noses, and soulful eyes.  Perhaps it’s time to extend a little of the love we feel for our pets to their oceanic counterparts far out in the sea.  There is a good reason.  

Seals face many threats in the wild — loss of habitat, loss of food, pollution, numerous climate change impacts.  But there may be a new one.  Seals hunt for food at night and must find their way back to shore.  Studies have demonstrated that harbor seals can navigate using a lodestar and learned star courses. What would happen if this vital star map was disrupted?

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are brightly visible in the night sky, and could interfere with star navigation.  SpaceX, the largest producer of LEO satellites to date, has launched over 3,000 Starlink satellites with plans to launch as many as 42,000.  And while SpaceX is the the largest producer of LEO satellites, it is not the only one. 

Astronomers have raised concerns that low Earth orbit satellites are visible and inhibit scientific research.  The International Association of Astronomers has set up a Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference as a response.  The astronomer Meredith Rawls has described the plans of launching thousands more satellites in the coming years as “an unsustainable trajectory”.  

In addition to creating streaks in photos and hampering astronomical observations, satellites will also handicap creatures like seals, migratory birds, and even the humble dung beetle, all who use stars for navigation

Among birds, Indigo buntings prefer to travel at night during migration. Scientists studying the buntings found that the birds rely on star patterns to determine north.  European robins and yellow underwing moths also use the stars in travel.  

If the Milky Way map is disrupted by a projected 65,000 satellites as is expected in a few years, they will light up the sky.  They will not only affect astronomy research, but may also affect the survival of many creatures large and small.  There are likely many more species that rely on stars beyond the ones discussed in this article – scientists have only scratched the surface of star navigation research. 

Global Internet is a necessary purpose, but if it costs species their lives, then perhaps we could have global internet that is just a tad slower — with satellites not quite so low in orbit. 

There is another aspect of LEO satellites that is a cause for concern.  It is one that threatens not only the survival of other species but also our own.  Starlink satellites burn up in the atmosphere leaving a residue (aluminum oxide) that reflects sunlight and could deplete the ozone layer.  Furthermore, the full effects of aluminum in the atmosphere are unknown and could be severe.  SpaceX might argue that meteoroid material comes in every day – but it is made up mostly of oxygen, magnesium, and silicon.  Satellites, by contrast, are made primarily of aluminum.  Aluminum can burn to reflective aluminum oxide, which may alter the climate to worsen warming of the planet.  Scientists are also concerned that aluminum oxide could create a hole in the ozone layer.  

As recently as February 2022, about 40 Starlink Satellites burned up in the atmosphere.  And burning up is the ultimate fate for all of them — all 42,000 plus.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is at present examining whether satellite licensing should require environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but it may take considerable time, from months to years, for a decision to be reached, and the decision may not end up affecting satellites already approved and in space.  Since 1986, the FCC has enjoyed a categorical exclusion from NEPA.  One can only hope for a prompt determination that can have a preventive effect.

An uncontrolled aluminum experiment capable of creating holes in the ozone layer and exacerbating global warming is highly risky because we may not have a second chance. 

We used to think lead paint was a great idea.  Years later, we discovered health risks and began removing it.  The trouble is, if we find out a few years from now that aluminum is destroying the atmosphere, we cannot dispense with it as easily as the lead paint. 

The seals are enduring the consequences of human activity in more than one way.  Is it too much to ask that we give them a chance?  

Author’s note: This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.

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