“Uniting the world to tackle climate change” is written in bold letters on the website of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. From November 1 to 12, world leaders and esteemed climate activists will come together to accelerate action towards the goals of the climate agreement. And accelerating is something they really should do, looking at the shocking state of global climate affairs at the moment. However, there is hope.
The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement with a swift presidential signature, US climate envoy John Kerry meets face to face with Frans Timmermans and a European Climate Law underway make the fight for the famous 1.5 degrees in global warming seem not so desperate an attempt anymore.
At least on paper. Digging deeper though, the “Fight for 1 point 5” is first and foremost a haggle over numbers, including all mathematical tricks: The European Parliament remains firm on emission-reduction of 60 per cent until 2030, and the EU Council, as well as the Commission, have made the discussion even more complex, presenting a target of 55 per cent net reduction. So what’s the deal with the tiny word “net”?
After German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Svenja Schulze, German Federal Minister for the Environment and Nature Conservation praised the “important milestone” of having agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, one would have loved to believe that the European Union just made a leap towards a climate law that will actually deliver on 1.5 degrees – and not 3 degrees, which we are currently looking at. Truth is, it’s not: First, listening to the voices from science, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent won’t do the trick to push global warming well below 2 degrees, as was agreed under the Paris Agreement. Second, the little word “net” reduction makes a big difference. It’s a loophole, which includes carbon removals from agriculture, land use and forestry in the calculation – all extremely valuable carbon sinks.
What the calculation doesn’t account for are forest fires, storms and the increased land use and soil sealing, which reduce the effect of these carbon sinks. Therefore, a net reduction of 55 per cent equals a de facto reduction of between 50.5 and 52.8 per cent. And with that, the targets of the Paris Agreement would clearly be out of reach.
By now, we should be beyond accounting tricks like these. We are in the decade of action, not the decade of mathematical gimmickry. A decade, which will decide over the fate of humanity and the COP26 conference is crucial to global efforts to combat the climate emergency. It must be a moment of true multilateral commitment, as climate change is still the greatest threat to our planet. It will require governments around the world to find the courage for true action to fight for 1 point 5, and not legislative backdoors and accounting tricks, wrapped in nice words. But with the United States joining the race to zero, and a European Union full of climate ambitions, a true transatlantic climate bond and true climate action are not impossible.
In a new study published by the Greens / EFA group, the consultancy Cambridge Econometrics calculates the creation of more than one million new jobs when pushing emission cutbacks to 60 per cent by 2030. Mainly in the renewable energy and e-mobility sectors. Moreover, low electricity rates, more energy efficiency and a tax on CO2 should be a financial benefit to all households, especially to the ones in lower-income sections. Moreover, by boosting the renewable sector, the EU will decrease its energy-dependency in third countries, saving up to €20 billion by 2030.
In short, the instruments and opportunities to deliver on 1.5 are ample and further bargaining over numbers is simply unnecessary. Joint global action, as well as EU action, should have the target of the Paris Agreement at heart and not the wish list of the fossil fuel industry, nor should any backwards-looking technologies be supported: We won’t do our environment or humanity any favor in switching from coal to nuclear energy. That should, even as a transition technology, be off the table. It’s time for real climate action but unlike our opportunities, time is not ample: We already stand at 1.2 degrees of global warming and it’s a race to zero. Not a leisure walk. Having to “accelerate action” towards the goals of the Paris agreement is – frankly speaking – an understatement.
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