“We have kept 1.5°C (global warming limit by the end of the century) alive. But its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.” – COP26 President Alok Sharma
Therein lies the ultimate question as leaders of the world breakoff from the conclusion of COP26. Political will seems absent, particularly among the biggest carbon dioxide-emitting nations, to take rapid action?
But let’s start with the positive. A mere two years ago, only 30 percent of the world was committed to net zero greenhouse gas emission targets and at the conclusion of COP26 it now stands at around 90 percent with 154 parties having submitted new CO2 national targets for reduction, representing 80 percent of global emissions.
There was much discussion around moving away from the use of coal – the most polluting fossil fuel – and a majority of countries committing to phasing out unabated coal power and ending international coal financing. And there were commitments made to protect natural habitats, with 90 percent of the world’s forests covered by a pledge from 130 countries to end deforestation by 2030.
Finally, the end to gas-guzzling vehicles appears to be on the near horizon with a pledge made by most of the world to move en masse to zero emissions vehicles by 2040 and by 2035 in leading markets. Here’s the bad news. Based on current policies and actions, the world is heading for a 2.7°C rise in global warming by the end of the century – a level that UN chief Antonio Guterres calls a “catastrophic pathway.” If all the announced net zero commitments or targets that were discussed during COP26 are implemented, it would bring the temperature estimate down to 1.8°C by 2100, with peak warming of 1.9°C.
“But this is only if these targets are fully implemented, and it’s a big IF. Our analysis, covering 40 countries, shows only 6 percent of global emissions are covered by targets with an ‘acceptable’ net zero rating for target comprehensiveness,” according to Climate Action Tracker. They added that, “no single country that we analyze has sufficient short-term policies in place to put itself on track to its net zero target.”
During the first week of COP26, OECD nations pledged to phase out the use of coal in the power sector by 2030, and globally by 2040. However, the commitment was reworded to “phase down,” a change that critics say severely weakens the pledge. There remain many nations including India, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia who still heavily rely on coal and continue to have plans centered around coal as a major contributor to electricity generation in 2030.
Below are major announcements and pledges made during Week 2 of COP26.
Zero-Emission Vehicle Transition
Global leaders pledged to work towards ensuring that by 2040 or earlier and no later than 2035 in leading markets all new cars and vans sold will be zero emission vehicles. It was further pledged that public services in all governments and at all levels should take the lead by working towards converting car and van fleets to zero emission vehicles by 2035.
A group of 30 countries agreed to work together in making zero emission vehicles accessible, affordable, and sustainable in all regions by 2030 or sooner. Road transport accounts for more than 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and rising faster than any other sector. Among the group’s efforts, beginning in 2022, will be to:
- Engage with developing countries and collaborate on overcoming region- specific barriers towards an accelerated transition to zero emission vehicles
- Create a taskforce of government officials, multilateral development banks, international organizations and other stakeholders to support the deployment of zero-emission vehicles and relevant infrastructure in developing countries
Measures will be explored for creating vehicle battery health standards and while a transition to zero-emission vehicles is expected to create new jobs, new skills in the transport and energy sectors will be required. Existing workforces may need reskilling and training. The group pledged to support efforts for necessary transition of industrial bases through stakeholder meetings, dialogues with trade unions and those employed in the automotive industry.
In 2022 the group will also identify areas for coordinated action on innovation to ensure Electric Vehicle (EV) battery supply chains are sustainable and ethical as the transition accelerates. Collaboration to make it possible will include data sharing, due diligence frameworks, policies to instill circular economy principles and the development of ecosystems for battery end-of-life.
More investment is needed to deploy zero emission vehicle charging infrastructures throughout the world. To that end, a taskforce of automotive manufacturers; energy network providers and charge point operators will take action to drive greater deployment and determine how to ensure electricity grids can support the increased demands of charging electric vehicles. The task force will also work to explore how increased uptake of electric vehicles can support balancing grids with the greater levels of green power.
A group called the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition will focus on efforts to advance actions to reduce aviation CO2 emissions and will promote:
- Development of sustainable aviation fuels that reduce emissions
- Innovation and development of new low- and zero-carbon aircraft technologies that can reduce aviation CO2 emissions
- Plans detailing ambitious and concrete national action to reduce aviation emissions
The group will convene periodically to review progress made on the above commitments.
Four New Mission Initiatives
Four initiatives were added to three existing Mission Initiatives – agreements collectively intended to accelerate public and private clean energy innovation “to address climate change, make clean energy affordable to consumers, and create green jobs and commercial opportunities.” These new Mission Initiatives include:
- The Urban Transitions Mission that targets 2030 as the deadline to deliver at least 50 large-scale, integrated demonstration projects in urban environments around the world. The aim is to develop and test innovative solutions for net zero carbon urban systems. Findings will be shared with cities around the world and will include shared investment roadmaps that show how modern life in large urban areas can be greener by integrating clean-energy solutions in all aspects, including housing, transport, energy and materials access, production and consumption, and industry.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Removal Mission with a goal of advancing research and development of technologies to remove C02 and achieve a net global reduction of 100 million metric tons of CO2 per year by 2030.
- Net Zero Industries Mission and Biorefineries Mission will collectively examine ways to reduce the high energy demands of heavy industries – namely steel, cement, and chemicals – that require extremely high temperatures and use massive amounts of energy. These three sectors are responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and require high investment costs for process equipment that have a lifetime of more than 20 years.