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What is happening at COP26

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AMERICA AND the European Union announced a (long advertised) global methane pledge which aims to cut emissions by 30% by 2030, against 2020 levels. John Kerry, America’s climate envoy, said that more than 100 countries have now signed up, though the agreement is non-binding. (Notably, China—the world’s largest emitter of methane—was not among them, nor were Russia and India.) Both America and Canada said that they would introduce new regulations to cut the amount of methane emitted by their oil and gas industries. Other sources of methane include agriculture, particularly of cattle and rice, with more than 300m tonnes currently emitted each year as a result of human activities. In recent years reducing methane levels—alongside the more oft-discussed carbon dioxide—has been recognised as an increasingly important goal. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse agent: in 20 years a tonne of methane will cause 86 times more warming than the equivalent amount of CO2. (Though it sticks around in the atmosphere for far less long.) Cutting methane will allow a rapid lowering of temperature rise, something that will be needed to off-set the temperature-boosting effects of lowering the level of cooling sulphates in the air as the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

More than 100 world leaders pledged to end deforestation by 2030 on November 2nd. Tree-laden countries signing up included Brazil, Canada and Russia. Some 85% of the world’s forests will be covered by the agreement. In return countries will receive $19bn-worth of funding (from both public and private sources). Deforestation is thought to account for around a quarter of greenhouse-gas emissions. The announcement was broadly celebrated, though several observers were wary, warning that similar pledges in the past failed to slow deforestation at all. The New York Declaration on Forests in 2014 saw many of the same countries pledge to reduce tropical deforestation by 50% by 2020: yet, by 2019, a review of the initiative found that the 2020 goal was probably impossible. Approximately 12.2m hectares of tropical forest were lost last year, a 12% increase from 2019, according to the University of Maryland. Forests play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: during the 2000s tropical forests are estimated to have absorbed carbon equivalent to around a quarter of the carbon-dioxide emissions generated by human activity.

Late, but better than never

On November 1st Narendra Modi (pictured), the prime minister, laid out India’s new climate pledges to COP26. After a long, philosophical preamble, Mr Modi suddenly shifted quite abruptly to a commitment-filled conclusion. He pledged that India would reach net-zero emissions by 2070; that by 2030 half the country’s electricity would be renewable (with low-emission capacity raised to 500GW, from 450GW); and that it would cut its carbon-dioxide emissions by 1bn tonnes by the same date. A commitment to reach net zero in 50 years puts India one decade behind China (which is aiming for 2060) and two behind the 2050 target committed to by many western countries and often spoken of by Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general. The IPCC—the UN body that collates scientific opinion on climate change—states that global emissions must reach net zero by around 2050 for it to remain even remotely possible for warming to be contained to no more than 1.5°C. But Indian officials believe it unfair to expect the country, which is heavily dependent on coal, to meet the 2050 goal given that its economy is still developing. Even the 2070 target will require vast amounts of investment: Mr Modi closed his speech with a demand for developed countries to provide $1trn to developing countries “as soon as possible”.

Bad beginnings

The UN climate summit got off to an inauspicious start on October 31st. The first tranche of 30,000 delegates gathered in the vast conference centre in Glasgow for COP26’s opening plenaries. At about the same time, some 2,500km to the south-east, leaders from the G20 club of mostly rich countries—which are collectively responsible for around 80% of current greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide—were wrapping up their own meeting in Rome. That summit was meant to galvanise international political leadership ahead of COP26. It failed to do so. But G20 leaders promised to end overseas financing for coal projects, though it has already largely been curtailed after China, South Korea and Japan, which provide 95% of such funding, pledged to stop. They also promised to slash leaks of methane and recognised the “key relevance” of getting global net emissions to zero by mid-century but skirted round making 2050 the actual target for doing so. Last, they also promised to strengthen national plans to cut emissions “where necessary”.

This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.