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LONDON: Simon Retallack, director for Latin America at the Carbon Trust, says despite not agreeing to reduce global warming to less than a catastrophic +2.4 Celsius, delegates at the COP26 summit at least decided the following:
• Most of the world is now covered by Net Zero commitments:

Over the last few months, Europe has been joined by the US and China, among many others, in committing to Net Zero. At the COP in Glasgow, to many observers’ surprise, the Net Zero club was joined by another major emitter – India (which simultaneously committed to generate 50 percent of all its electricity needs from renewables by 2030).

This is a big deal that few would have believed was possible until recently. The global coverage of Net Zero commitments is transformational – no longer are countries haggling over percentage point reductions in emissions – the destination is very clearly zero. Whether you’re working in government, in business or in finance worldwide – you know where we are all heading and it’s a very different world. It also makes a big difference to our ability to get closer to the Paris temperature goal: if countries meet their Net Zero promises (admittedly a big if), global warming would be reduced to around 1.8°C by 2100.

• A signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending:

The Glasgow Climate Pact commits governments to ‘accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’.

A lot of coverage has been given to the substitution of the term ‘phase-out’ by ‘phasedown’ at the insistence of India and China in the final hour of the negotiations. However, this should not distract from the significance of what happened in Glasgow. It marks the first time in nearly three decades of climate diplomacy that governments have committed to reducing coal use in the official agreement. It was also accompanied by other initiatives launched in Glasgow which signal the end of the coal era, such as the pledge by 23 countries – including Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland and South Korea (all heavy coal users) – to phase-out coal, and the commitment of 39 countries and multinational agencies to end new direct financial support for unabated fossil fuels by the end of 2022. Now more attention needs to turn to oil and gas – building on the momentum created by the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance launched in Glasgow to facilitate the managed phase-out of these fossil fuels.

• Powerful commitments were made to redirect finance:

Developed country governments have been criticized for missing their 2020 deadline for providing US$100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries (it will now happen from 2023).

But while this was a missed opportunity to build goodwill among developing countries, public funding was never going to be enough to decarbonise our economies – unlocking private investment was always more important and here we saw real progress in Glasgow. Banks and asset managers representing 40 percent of the world’s financial assets – more than 450 firms representing US$130 trillion of assets – signed up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero and have committed to reach Net Zero carbon by 2050, with 2030 goals.

While signatories still need to set out action plans and not all the capital under management by alliance members is allocatable, it still represents a huge pool of money that can be invested in decarbonisation. We also saw important announcements on mandatory disclosure and rules for new carbon markets, which could be another important source of finance for clean energy, as long as those businesses that participate in it ensure that they are credibly contributing to global emissions reductions.

• Crucial steps were taken to drive down emissions beyond the energy sector and carbon:

We can’t prevent dangerous climate change without protecting the world’s natural carbon sinks, notably the world’s carbon-absorbing forests, nor can we do so unless other greenhouse gases such as methane (25 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than CO2) are reduced too.

In Glasgow, 130 countries signed the Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use, committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. To many people’s surprise, the signatories included deforestation hotspots like Brazil and the Congo, and came with nearly US$20 billion to support work to protect, restore and sustainably manage forests from 12 countries between 2021-2025.

On methane, 109 countries representing nearly half the global methane emissions and 70 percent of global GDP signed a pledge to cut their methane emissions by 30 percent over 2020-30, using the best available inventory methodologies to quantify emissions. Although signatories still need to spell out their individual targets and policies to achieve this goal, it could represent a game-changer for a long-ignored greenhouse gas.

We need to keep [this] momentum going now to fix the problems that were left unresolved in Glasgow. In particular, pressure needs to be increased on governments that did not toughen their NDCs, using the ratchet agreed in the Glasgow Climate Pact (another surprising outcome of COP26), requiring governments to strengthen their 2030 targets to align with the Paris temperature goal by the end of 2022.

To do that, governments need to be bolder in linking progress on issues like trade and security to action on climate, campaign groups need to keep up the pressure on developing and developed countries that need to do more, and the media needs to keep the spotlight on climate change turned on.

Developed countries also need to do better on climate finance by the time they meet at COP27 in Egypt. They need to honour their commitments on US$100 billion and double the finance provided for adaptation, as requested in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

They must also take seriously the dialogue created at this COP to develop and operationalize a new ‘Loss and Damage’ mechanism to compensate developing countries for climate impacts, as well as take meaningful steps to help ensure a just and inclusive transition for those communities most affected by the transition away from fossil fuels. This is vital to build trust and facilitate further ambition from key emerging economies.

Lastly, we will all need to be more vigilant in exposing greenwashing and, above all, keep up the pressure on governments and corporates to turn their pledges and promises into action. The mantra needs to be ‘implement, implement, implement'. If we can do that, Glasgow will be remembered as a turning point in humanity’s journey to address climate change and not just a beautiful city on the Clyde.

Prior to joining the Carbon Trust advisory and standards-setting service in 2010, Retallack oversaw the Institute for Public Policy Research’s climate change team and led the Secretariat for the International Climate Change Taskforce, which provided evidence-based advice on addressing climate change at the international level for the UK’s G8 Presidency.

STANFORD, CA: John Ribeiro-Broomhead is a recent graduate of Stanford University’s Master’s programme in Atmosphere and Energy Sciences. He notes the recent COP26 climate focus on energy, transportation and the environment overlooked the one word that connects them all: plastic.

If plastic were a country it would already be the fifth largest emitter in the world. By 2050, the cumulative emissions from plastic production could reach over 56 gigatons – 10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget [required] to stay below 1.5C.

These emissions are generated at every step of plastic’s life cycle from fossil fuel extraction to production to end-of-life disposal in incinerators, where they are joined by other toxic emissions and hazardous byproducts.

Plastic’s presence in food packaging and personal products like face scrubs and feminine hygiene products put people at higher risk of cancers, miscarriages, and other ailments. As litter, plastic threatens marine ecosystems and the livelihoods that depend on them; clogs storm drains and causes flooding, and works its way into our soil and even food - exacerbating stress on many of the systems that the climate negotiations are trying to address.

Similarly, air pollution from waste incineration, a common disposal option for plastic, disproportionately impacts disadvantaged communities, including communities of colour that already bear the brunt of many climate impacts.

Despite popular messaging that stresses the importance of individual behaviour in reducing waste and plastic use, the drive for increased plastic production comes from large‐scale investments in new production infrastructure by petrochemical companies.

An abundance of cheap, fracked gas, along with the decarbonisation of the transportation and energy sectors, has made one thing clear to these companies: plastic equals profit. The oil and petrochemical sectors are betting their future on plastic – particularly cheap, hard-to-recycle, single-use plastic – and if they succeed, they will lock in the use of fossil-based plastics for decades to come.

Current efforts to address the flood of plastic, limited to managing waste after it’s already been produced, are equivalent to mopping up the water spilling out of an overflowing bathtub rather than turning off the tap.

Top plastic polluters like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé would like us to think that such an approach can work, investing in false solutions ranging from technologically challenged ‘chemical recycling’ operations to convoluted ‘plastic neutrality schemes’ where plastic waste is burned as fuel in cement kilns. There’s even been talk of plastic being part of international efforts to reach ‘net-zero emissions’.

But end-of-pipe approaches simply will not work. In the face of such an overwhelming glut of fossil fuel use, we need to tackle climate and plastic pollution at its source by replacing single-use products with accessible, reusable options for all.

It is clear that we cannot rely on plastic polluters to clean up their act without outside intervention. Decision-makers must step up to curb the twin fossil fuel and plastics industries, replacing the single-use plastic regime with a zero waste circular economy where single-use products are kept to a minimum.

However, a recent analysis of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - how each country will help the planet reach the 1.5 degree target to avoid climate collapse - shows that over a quarter of countries fail to recognize tackling waste as a key climate strategy.

Only 11 countries propose bans or restrictions on the use of plastic, and none propose to restrict the production of plastic. Not only does this omission undermine our ability to stabilize the climate, but it is a huge missed opportunity to create millions of good jobs, save money, and ignite a just transition for formal and informal workers around the world who currently handle plastic.

The path forward is lit by grassroots action, national-level product bans, innovative reusable alternatives in the business sector, and greater accountability in the global plastic waste trade. Strong policy action will be required to reinforce and expand these promising efforts, and COP26 decision-makers and at home need to step up on plastic to ensure a clean, healthy, and stable climate. It’s time to turn off the tap on plastic production.

According to the European Commission global trade in waste was 182 million tonnes valued at €80.5 billion in 2018. The top five EU export waste markets in 2020 were Turkey (13.7 million tonnes); India (2.7 million); UK (1.8 million); Switzerland (1.6 million); and Norway (1.5 million). In 2020, the export of plastic (including rubber) from the EU was 2.4 million tonnes. Since 2004, EU waste exports have risen 75 percent to reach 32.7 million tonnes annually.

GLASGOW/BERLIN/COLOGNE: Government inaction driven by coal and gas subsidies has resulted in a “massive credibility, action and commitment gap” as the world heads to at least 2.4˚C of warming.

According to the latest Climate Action Tracker (CAT) from the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics, government leaders continue to avoid making the necessary climate decisions:

• With all target pledges, including those made in Glasgow, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will still be around twice the 1.5°C limit.

• Stalled momentum from leaders and governments on their short-term targets has reduced the 2030 emissions gap by only 15-17 percent over the last year.

• With 2030 pledges alone - without longer-term targets – the global temperature increase will rise to 2.4°C by 2100.

• Based on what countries are actually doing, the projected rise will be 2.7˚C, nearly one degree above the net-zero announcements made by governments.

• Since the April 2021 Biden Leaders’ Summit, the CAT’s standard “pledges and targets” estimate of all Nationally Determined Commitments and binding long-term targets by countries has dropped by 0.3°C to 2.1°C, primarily due to the inclusion of the US and China’s net-zero targets.

• The projected warming from all net-zero announcements, if fully implemented, suggests the CAT’s “optimistic scenario” will be down to 1.8˚C by 2100 – compared to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C limit.

“It’s all very well for leaders to claim they have a net-zero target, but if they have no plans as to how to get there - and their 2030 targets are as low as so many of them are - then frankly these net-zero targets are just lip service to real climate action,” declared Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics.

“Glasgow has a serious credibility gap,” he continued.

While more than 140 governments have announced net-zero goals covering 90 percent of global emissions, a 40-country CAT analysis covering 85 percent of total emissions shows only a small number have actual plans in place covering just 6.0 percent.

“If the massive 2030 gap cannot be narrowed in Glasgow, governments must agree to come back next year, by COP27, with new and stronger targets,” said New Climate Institute professor Niklas Höhne.

“Today’s leaders need to be held to account for this massive 2030 gap. If we wait another five years and only discuss 2035 commitments, the 1.5°C limit may well be lost,” he added.

The two organisations say coal must be removed from the OECD power sector by 2030 and China, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam must eliminate their economic reliance on coal by 2040 - without switching to gas.

"We are seeing the rise of a gas industry pushing its product as an alternative, still supported by many governments. We cannot let fossil fuels be replaced with more fossil fuels," Hare noted.

The CAT collaboration, an independent scientific analysis that measures government climate action, says the announcements made in Glasgow to reduce methane and deforestation are unlikely to make any difference to rising emissions.

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