Shortcuts / 04 November 2021

What’s going down at COP26

There’s been a lot of buildup to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. It’s currently underway and the world leaders part of it is now wrapped up. So at the nearly halfway mark, we’ll take you through Australia’s climate change policy, what other nations’ agendas are, and the 2 new pledges countries have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Well, here we are again.
Yep, it’s been 6 weeks since we did a Shortcut on what was on the climate change agenda leading into the COP26 conference, and Australia hadn’t settled its policy. 

And a lot has happened since then… 
You can say that again. The Morrison Government committed to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 – that’s something that it was under pressure to do from advocates here in Australia as well as those on the world stage.

And that required some political wrangling
There was a dramatic week ahead of the summit as the Nationals considered a proposal put to them by their senior Coalition partner, the Liberals. Eventually, they came to an agreement. 

What’s the deal with the deal?
There’s a fair bit that’s still unknown, but pundits say there could be some surprising wins for the Nationals in the next Budget. So watch this space… 

What do we know then?
There’s the new 2050 target, but Australia’s target for emissions reductions by 2030 remains unchanged – that’s 26 to 28% reduction on 2005 levels. Note: PM Scott Morrison says we are on track to deliver a reduction in the order of 30 to 35%. That just won’t be made into a formal commitment at the COP26 conference. 

All this talk of commitments… What makes a commitment formal?
Well in COP lingo, a formal commitment is one that is locked in as a Nationally Determined Contribution or an NDC. They are the promises nations make and agree to report back on and be held accountable for. The other things are just aspirations. 

So it’s official… Is that what the UN wanted to see?
The United Nations wants every country to step up, particularly in the short term, and says its priorities include putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions and a phasing out of coal. 

Are we doing that?
No – neither the Coalition nor the Labor Party is up for that. The Coalition’s plan for emissions reductions relies on emerging technologies. And we haven’t heard yet what Labor’s plan is – they say that will come before the next election. 

Alright, enough about Oz. What are the other countries getting up to at COP26?
Well, one of the early surprises came from India. Its PM Narendra Modi was a late confirmation to attend the conference – and a day before his presentation to the conference, the buzz was that he would maintain the line of not committing to net zero emissions by 2050. He didn’t do that, but he did commit to net zero by 2070. 

What was the reaction to that?
‘It’s better than nothing’ is the general tone but critics say India has failed to grasp the urgency of climate change. The same accusation has also been levelled at China and Russia – 2 other big carbon emitters, and no-shows at the summit. 

And China COPped an earful from US President Joe Biden…
Very punny… But yes, Biden said Xi has made a big mistake and China has “lost their ability to influence people around the world”. 

So what’s the US doing on climate change?
Well, nothing new. That’s because politicking in the US has meant that Congress hasn’t been able to pass the legislation behind Biden’s climate agenda. And it’s his own side, the Democrats, blocking his way. 

What is Biden’s climate plan? 
It includes the rapid replacement of the nation’s coal and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy, investment in what they call smart infrastructure for buildings, water, transportation, and providing funding to developing nations to help them prepare for the consequences of global warming. 

So it’s different from his predecessor…
Yep, former US President Donald Trump of course removed the US from the Paris Agreement. He said he didn’t want to take part in forums like the COP because he believed the US was being held to a standard that nations like China were able to shrug off with no consequences. 

Leaving the big guys, what’s happening with developing nations?
Good call because they are considered to be the most vulnerable to damage caused by climate change. They say tackling global warming is paramount to their survival. Specifically, they want richer nations to provide US$100 billion each year in finance to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. That’s something that’s being discussed in Glasgow.

Wowzas… So what’s Australia’s offer?
Our government has committed to increasing its international climate finance commitment to $2 billion over the next 5 years to support developing countries in our region.

There’s a lot to discuss, but have any promises been made so far at COP26?
Nations have presented their NDCs, and 2 agreements have been struck. 

The first?
It’s about stopping and reversing the effects of deforestation by 2030. It’s something that countries have said they would do before, but there is optimism that this time action will be taken because there is funding available for developing nations. 

I like trees.
They are cool – they help sustain life on Earth by providing oxygen and absorbing 30% of carbon dioxide emissions. 

But deforestation is a big problem…
Yep, in recent years, around 5 million hectares of forest have been cleared each year, which is an area almost the size of Tassie. And just for context, forests cover almost a third of the world’s landmass and more than half of that is found in just 5 countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the US and China. 

And isn’t Brazil the home of the Amazon?
It is, and large parts of the Amazon have been cleared for beef production in recent years. Note: Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is another notable no-show at CO26. His nation is in focus because the Amazon produces about 6% of the world’s oxygen and it absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Brazil isn’t taking all the heat though…
Sheesh… No, our neighbour Indonesia is another country that’s been called out for clearing forests for oil palm plantations. 

Got it. So Australia signed that deforestation pledge?
Yep. But the other agreement struck this week is one we haven’t signed – it’s about reducing methane emissions.

Go on…
The US and UN launched a global partnership to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels. While carbon dioxide usually steals the spotlight, methane is more powerful and experts say it’s responsible for a third of current global warming from human activities. 

Methane comes from cow farts, right?
Yep, animal agriculture – including cow and sheep farts – accounts for a good whack of the world’s methane production. And it’s connected to the deforestation issue with a lot of land being cleared to make way for beef and sheep farming. 

What else is contributing to methane production?
About 40% of methane comes from natural sources – places like wetlands – but there’s not a lot that can be done to limit that. And another big driver of methane is the production and transportation of natural gas. 

And Australia is big into farming livestock and natural gas…
Bingo. And that’s why Australia has held back on making this methane reduction pledge at the insistence of the Nationals.  

Are we an outlier in not signing up?
Almost 100 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge including Brazil – which is one of the world’s 5 biggest methane emitters. Australia, China, Russia and India are others in the top 5, and none of them have signed on the line. 

Big things happening at COP26 this week… Could there be more?
Well, there’s still a week to go with each day focusing on a different theme, beginning with finance, energy and then youth and public empowerment.

So there’s a lot to get through…
There sure is.  

Squiz recommends:

COP26 summit photo galleryThe Guardian

How Much Are Countries Pledging to Reduce Emissions?The New York Times

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