The global stage is set for what may be one of the most momentous gatherings in human history. Perhaps that’s too dramatic for what after all will be an event organized by a bloated bureaucracy, the United Nations and its cumbersome infrastructure, for the 26th conference of the parties (COP-26) that began nearly 30 years ago. Among the more than 100 heads of state who will participate are President Joe Biden, French Premier Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth. World leaders from 197 countries will be engulfed by an estimated 20,000 world citizens and reporters—including two representing Corrales Comment— and an abundance of celebrities including Greta Thunberg, Al Gore and Sir David Attenborough, to name but a few.
COP-26 will open at the Scottish Event Center in Glasgow on October 31 and get down to work nearly around the clock until November 12. Groundwork has been laid for months, especially by President Biden’s special diplomat John Kerry, the single most important driver for the 2015 Paris climate change accord. (See Corrales Comment’s “Dispatch No. 10 from Paris at http://www.corralescomment.com.)
COP diplomats, negotiators and scientists have not convened for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic; extraordinary precautions are being taken to avoid what could easily become a global COVID-19 super-spreader event in Glasgow. The fact that it is happening at all is stark testimony to a perceived emergency.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire warning this summer that declared a “code red for humanity” if governments cannot take bold action quickly to address the now-evident climate crisis.
(See Corrales Comment’s verbatim text of the report’s summary for policy makers starting in the August 21, 2021 issue.)
A cynical view of the decision to hold COP-26 despite health threats might suggest Kerry and other activists want to move ahead now to extract governments’ commitments, taking advantage of climate calamities that occurred over the past year. Wildfires, droughts, flooding and other disasters may not be as gripping two or three years from now, given natural variability.
Regardless whether climate-related disasters ebb or surge in the near future, what’s at stake in Glasgow will remain consistent. To avoid a 1.5 degree centigrade rise in global warming compared to pre-industrial levels, emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases must be net-zero by 2050.
What kinds of concrete actions can be taken to achieve that before irreversible damage befalls life on earth will be key in Glasgow.
Although the urgency is now more clearly perceived than during the 2015 COP-21 Paris Accord deliberations, the basic issues remain:
- What policies or disincentives can be imposed to halt build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
- What policies or incentives can be implemented to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuel use?
- What commitments can be extracted to slow or halt releases of other potent greenhouse gases, such as methane, to the atmosphere?
- How can leverage be used to achieve non-governmental constraints, such as policies of the World Bank and financial institutions around the world, to phase out fossil fuels and phase in renewables?
- How should victims of climate change and global warming be compensated for losses, especially if those nations and peoples are least responsible for those changes?
- What can be done now, and in the near future, to help nations and communities become more resilient in confronting those changes?
Those issues and policy choices were clearly established in the Paris Accord and international agreements leading up to it over the past 30 years.
To the dismay of many, the COP-21 agreement in 2015 did not include any mandatory reductions in carbon emissions by signatories to the accord. Nations only agreed to state their intentions to take steps to control activities that would increase the likelihood of climate disasters.
The primary product of the Paris Accord was agreement that each country would set down a marker for an “intended nationally determined contribution” to the international goal of holding down global warming.
The fact that governments were not to be held accountable for assuring that emissions decreased was considered a significant failure of COP-21. In reality, no agreement at all would have been achieved if negotiators, such as John Kerry, had insisted on a binding treaty.
Instead, after stating an intention, governments were to be encouraged over coming years to “increase their ambition,” presumably raising their “nationally determined contribution” to the global effort.
At COP-26, environmental groups and climate militants are sure to demand more teeth, with terms more closely resembling a treaty. That outcome is unlikely in Glasgow, although the process leading to that could begin.
Look for such a treaty at COP-28, 29 or 30 as the world’s national governments feel the heat. By then, the U.S. government will be approaching the 2030 deadline by which it has said it will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions to half what they were in 2005.
The Biden administration announced this spring that it has raised the U.S. “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) with the intention to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electrical generation by 2035.
At what was called a “leaders’ summit on climate” this past April, the administration submitted to the United Nations a new NDC which set updated goals, policies and actions covering all such emissions, including methane and hydrofluorocarbons as well as carbon dioxide.
In a statement issued for the new target, the administration said “The federal government will work with state, local, and tribal governments to support the rapid deployment of carbon pollution-free electricity-generating resources, transmission, and energy storage, and leverage the carbon pollution-free energy potential of power plants retrofitted with carbon capture and existing nuclear.”
The new submission recognized the transport sector as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States “due to its high dependency on fossil fuels, with more than 90 percent of energy use coming from petroleum.
“The NDC lists a number of policies, some of which sub-national governments have already employed to reduce emissions in the sector, including: tailpipe emissions and efficiency standards; incentives for zero-emission personal vehicles; funding for charging infrastructure to support multi-unit dwellings, public charging, and long-distance travel.”
To implement those policies, Biden issued Executive Order No. 14008 to:
- Pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices;
- Identify any fossil fuel subsidies provided by agencies, and then taking steps to ensure that federal funding is not directly subsidizing fossil fuels; and
- Seek to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from the budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 and thereafter.
But the president’s touted skills bringing Democrats and Republicans to compromise on important issues did not prevail last month when his own party’s progressives and moderates could not agree on passing the clean electricity program which was the centerpiece of his promised effort to get the United States to net zero emissions from electric power generation by 2035.
“I’m presenting a commitment to the world that we will, in fact, get to net zero emissions on electric power by 2025, and net zero emissions across the board by 2050 or before,” Biden said October 21 during a CNN special. “But we have to do so much between now and 2030 to demonstrate what we’re going to do to get there.”
Biden is expected to arrive at COP-26 on November 1, presumably accompanied by his chief climate advisor Gina McCarthy and global climate ambassador John Kerry. McCarthy was President Barack Obama’s head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while Kerry was Secretary of State in that administration and Democratic Party nominee for president in 2004.
As COP-26 plays out in Glasgow, New Mexico and its climate-related policies will attract attention at least on the periphery. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham will attend the conference in person, and is expected to serve on a panel laying out state governments’ actions to control global warming.
That’s seen as all the more important in the face of Congress’ failure to adopt the Biden climate plan.
“I know that we, as a state, as a nation, as a planet, must go further by pursuing bold, equitable and just climate solutions,” Governor Lujan Grisham said in a statement late last month. “I am looking forward to this significant opportunity for collaboration and action at the global level.”
New Mexico’s efforts to end electrical power generation from coal and shift to renewable energy sources will be highlighted, as will the ban on routine venting and flaring of natural gas. But so will New Mexico’s expediting increased exploitation of oil and natural gas resources.
Lujan Grisham signed the state’s 2019 Energy Transition Act that required Public Service Company of New Mexico and other public utilities to switch to renewables to generate electricity. Her participation in the world climate conference was coordinated with the White House during her October 22 visit to Washington representing the Democratic Governors Association which she chairs.
While the United States and most other nations increased their ambitions to confront climate change, 42 percent did not by the UN’s July 30 deadline for NDC submissions.
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the world body’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, cautioned that “collective efforts fall far short of what is required by science to limit a global temperature rise by the end of the century of two degrees Centigrade, let alone the desired objective of less than 1.5 degrees.”
Espinosa pointed out that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had analyzed current conditions and projections and concluded that “by the end of this decade emissions must have been reduced by at least 45 percent compared to 2010 levels.
“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway.”