United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres made yesterday’s climate summit all about keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
That’s a new goal for the United Nations. Only four years ago, 195 countries agreed to hold warming to well below 2 C under the Paris Agreement, with 1.5 C tacked on as an aspirational target at the insistence of small island states.
That changed when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed in a landmark report last year that exceeding the 1.5 C threshold would result in widespread damage and suffering.
“I haven’t heard any country questioning or saying anything against the idea of 1.5 C objective,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who heads international climate work for the World Wildlife Fund and served as president of a U.N. climate summit in 2014. “It has not been challenged, fortunately.”
But getting there will be hard.
“It will require fundamental transformations in all aspects of society—how we grow food, use land, fuel our transport and power our economies,” Guterres said in his opening statement yesterday at U.N. headquarters.
To have a better-than-even chance of holding to the 1.5 C threshold, the world must cut emissions 45% over the next 11 years, the IPCC said. That would require rapid expansion of clean energy, maximizing carbon sinks, policies that sideline fossil fuels and an abrupt end to investment in high-carbon infrastructure.
So yesterday’s official goal included the end of new coal-fired power by next year, an embrace of carbon pricing and the abandonment of fossil fuels.
“It is time to shift taxes from salaries to carbon, and to tax pollution, not people,” Guterres said yesterday.
How to do it is the question.
“The international organizations are not all lined up around that kind of aggression,” said Rachel Kyte, the secretary-general’s special envoy for sustainable energy. “He’s really, really gone for it.”
Guterres also reminded participants that the “ticket to entry” for time at the podium was “concrete action”—preferably in the form of commitments to strengthen their pledges to the Paris Agreement by next year and to turn in blueprints to become carbon neutral by midcentury.
A set of countries have responded. The Chilean presidency of the U.N. climate talks that begin in Santiago in December announced yesterday morning that 59 countries had signaled that they would turn in stronger Paris commitments next year, while 11 are undergoing internal processes that are likely to get them there. Sixty-six countries have either committed to provide plans next year for stopping net emissions by 2050 or are taking steps toward it.
Carbon neutrality is also key to maintaining the 1.5 C threshold. With the addition yesterday of Italy and Japan, all Group of Seven developed nations except for the United States have made that pledge.
Generally, the same set of countries have promised new Paris pledges and deep decarbonization strategies. Environmentalists say that if next year’s crop of Paris pledges set those countries on a trajectory to become climate neutral by midcentury, it will put the 2050 commitments on firmer ground.
“In order to reach decarbonization globally by 2050, the road to that has to go through 2030,” said David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative.
But it also means the divide is deepening between countries that have embraced 1.5 C as a guiding principle and those that have not. Both lists are long on low-income countries, vulnerable island states and European nations. They’re short on major emerging nations—India, Brazil and China are not on either list. And, of course, neither is the United States.
In the end. only about one-third of the U.N.’s members qualified to speak yesterday by meeting Guterres’ standard for “concrete action.”
President Trump made a brief, unexpected appearance but was never on the schedule. Australia and Japan are widely believed to have applied for time to speak but were denied because of their role in funding coal. Protesters flew a blimp of Japanese President Shinzo Abe in a bucket of coal outside U.N. headquarters to drive their point home.
But China and India did make the list, despite statements that Kyte called “very generic and disappointing.”
While those two countries didn’t pledge to move the world’s needle closer to the 1.5 C goal, Kyte and Laurence Tubiana, a former French official and an architect of the Paris Agreement, noted that they showed greater ambition on some of the summit’s other tracks. India took an active role in joint announcements on low-carbon manufacturing, while China led a workstream devoted to protecting and expanding natural carbon sinks.
While India all but ruled out updating its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement this week before 2023, observers hope China might yet announce plans next year to peak emissions earlier than the 2030 deadline it promised in Paris.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting a European Union-China summit in November 2020, a month before a key round of U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. That might be a natural opportunity for European leaders to engage China on a new NDC.
“Europe must be in the vanguard, and especially as the U.S., unfortunately, is no longer here, there has to be a very close link with China, India and Europe,” said Laurent Fabius, a former French foreign minister, who served as president of the Paris summit.
Fabius said the 1.5 C goal is now the proper objective of the Paris Agreement.
“We have to stick with it because the consequences if we don’t achieve our objectives are very, very bad.”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news atwww.eenews.net.