By Hugo Séguin, Senior Advisor, COPTICOM, and Fellow of the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales de l’Université de Montréal
The Glasgow Climate Change Conference is the largest to be held since the Paris conference in 2015. As climate change worsens, all nations must step up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the damage.
Rich in commitments of all kinds, COP26 will accelerate an already well-underway transition to decarbonization. The question remains whether this transition will happen quickly enough to avoid disaster.
The issue at COP26: Limiting the temperature rise to 1.5°C
According to the best scientific knowledge, the global temperature has warmed by 1.1°C since 1850, and the human responsibility for this warming is “unequivocal.” At this level, heat waves, droughts, forest fires and tropical cyclones are already increasing. As it stands, temperatures could rise by 2.7°C this century, which would be catastrophic.
The Paris Agreement specifically aims to contain this rise to 1.5°C by rapidly reducing GHG emissions. The Agreement requires each member State to make a commitment to reduce emissions and deploy the means to achieve it. It also stipulates that everyone must increase their commitment every five years. The Glasgow conference marks this first five-year period.
A fireworks display of climate commitments in Glasgow
Last week, more than 120 countries tabled their 2030 reduction commitments. The vast majority of industrialized countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, with China and India targeting between 2060 and 2070. If implemented quickly, these commitments would substantially reduce warming, perhaps even to below 2°C. But we have a long way to go.
In terms of financing, industrialized countries have finally managed to raise, a year or two behind schedule, the sum of $100 billion a year promised to the most vulnerable countries in the form of public, private and mixed funds. Most industrialized countries have doubled their contributions, with Quebec contributing $10 million to the Adaptation Fund.
Accelerating the energy transition
The rapid transformation of the energy sector is one of the keys to addressing climate change. Based on several scenarios, this transformation must involve an increasingly rapid electrification of all vehicles, better control of energy consumption and almost total reliance on renewable energy by 2050 (see Table below).
There are many commitments that stimulate action in this direction, including severe restrictions on the production of fossil fuels.
- The Global Methane Pledge, which some 100 countries have already signed on to, aims for a minimum 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030, with Canada committing to a -75% reduction by 2030. This Pledge has the potential to severely curb warming given that methane is one of the most powerful but short-lived GHGs.
- As a result, G20 countries have committed to stop financing new coal-fired power projects abroad. Many other countries have committed to eventually abandoning the use of coal-fired power plants, including Poland, Indonesia, Ukraine and Vietnam, which are big consumers.
- Other commitments target other forms of fossil fuels. For example, the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, Canada and several others have made a commitment to no longer fund any offshore gas, coal or oil projects that wouldn’t be carbon neutral as of the end of 2022.
- Under the leadership of Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, hundreds of financial institutions, holding some $130,000 billion in assets under management (including the Caisse de dépôts et placements du Québec) have made commitments to achieve carbon neutrality and rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of their portfolios.
- And, as a sign of the times, strong pledges are being made to restructure the entire sector, such as the one by Quebec to ban oil and gas exploration and development and the one by Canada to cap and reduce oil and gas emissions to achieve carbon neutrality.
But the game isn’t won. China, India and Russia, among others, although active on other fronts, haven’t (yet?) adhered to several pledges on the use of fossil fuels. The Conference hasn’t yet managed to close the gap to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C. And there is a long way to go between commitments and their implementation in the field.
The Glasgow fireworks nonetheless remind us that we’re engaged in a rapid energy transition to a brand new energy system. The real question is whether this transition will happen quickly enough to avoid disaster.