Is the Glasgow climate change conference the world’s “last best chance” to avoid ecological calamity?

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chhaya

In less than a week from now begins a summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in what is billed as the world’s “last best chance” to prevent climate change from causing an irreversible ecological and social calamity.

It is not every day that the world’s fate depends on a single number, namely 1.5 degrees Celsius, a number by which the world must not allow the average global temperature to rise above preindustrial levels to prevent a catastrophic climatic upheaval. That may seem like a very small number but considering it is just a few tenths of a degree hotter than today’s world, humanity has a very difficult task ahead. Crossing the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius would take the world into the midst of the most grievous consequences of global warming.

The overarching objective the Glasgow summit between October 31 and November 12, called the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) because it is the 26th in a series, is to make sure that the entire humanity agrees to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius or below. One reason why the host country, Britain, feels that it will keep “1.5 alive” is because the biggest emitters of the greenhouse gases that warm up the climate have agreed to achieve their national net-zero targets by 2050.

The year 2050 may seem far but considering that in order to achieve the net-zero target by then the world must halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. With barely nine years to go and vast areas of the world still battling endemic poverty the pace of indiscriminate carbon-based industrialization is unlikely to halt anytime soon. It is very much a touch-and-go-bust scenario for the world. As it is the world has been witnessing an ever-intensifying cycle of floods, droughts, famines and fires in the past few years and things could get only worse.

In 2015, the world committed to restricting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius as part of the Paris Agreement. As part of that, the world had decided the first deadline for national pledges to be 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic upended those pledges which were postponed to this year. As 2021 comes to an end, the Glasgow summit is a key meeting to see where the world is headed. If the COP26 fails to make a significant headway towards keeping 1.5 alive, then it may be, as United Nations Secretary General António Guterres calls it, “code red for humanity.”

The optimism at COP26 comes from the fact that since Paris 131 countries have pledged to achieve net-zero goals. Accounting for over 70 percent of current global emissions, those pledges have the potential to achieve the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. What is important to bear in mind since the Paris accord there has been a dramatic advance in technology, particularly the advent of electric cars and the halving of prices of solar power and battery. Those are important landmarks on the path to 1.5, according to experts.

However as warned by the August 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) there is already enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the prospects of floods, droughts, fires and famines will remain serious causing largescale ecological and societal calamities across the world. The fact that climate change has expectedly proved to be an equal opportunity destroyer, as evident in massive floods in Europe, parts of Africa in Nigeria and Uganda, as well as in South Asia, including India. Add to those the devastating wildfires in Greece, the United States (California) and Siberia and unprecedented heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest apart from widespread droughts and famines in many parts of the world and the apocalyptic visions of code red are already on display.

From the specific standpoint of America, it is highly encouraging that the country is back in global efforts to combat climate change after President Donald Trump so cynically and cavalierly withdrew from the Paris accord. For President Joe Biden climate is the core piece of both his domestic and global policies.

The Glasgow summit is yet again an opportunity for the world to defer to the alarming numbers presented by scientific bodies such as the IPCC and treat the climate crisis as a collective existential threat to the planet.

A significant study published in Nature Climate Change, says, “National net zero emission targets could, if fully implemented, reduce best estimates of projected global average temperature increase to 2.0–2.4 °C by 2100, bringing the Paris Agreement temperature goal within reach. A total of 131 countries are discussing, have announced or have adopted net zero targets, covering 72% of global emissions. These targets could substantially lower projected warming as compared to currently implemented policies (2.9–3.2 °C) or pledges submitted to the Paris Agreement (2.4–2.9 °C). Analyses of current promises and actions by countries to limit climate change have concluded that they are by far insufficient to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2 °C, while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C.”

“Our analysis shows that there is considerable momentum in target setting towards net zero GHG emissions which could bring the temperature limit of the Paris Agreement within reach. These good intentions must now propagate into short-term action immediately to put countries on a path towards meeting their net zero emission ambitions and to keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach. Existing policies and targets driving short-term action are currently not at all consistent with the announced net zero targets,” it says.

The run-up to the Glasgow summit looks promising but the path is clearly marked with too many bumps, the biggest one being a vast majority of the world trying to lift billions of people out of degrading poverty even while balancing their economic development with the challenges posed by the climate crisis.



[Photo courtesy: Twitter]