November 2021 once again put climate change in the spotlight for Europe and the world. Close to 200 countries came together this month for the UN’s annual climate summit, COP26, and after much deliberation, adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact. Some key commitments had countries pledging to limit their emissions by 2030; forming the first-ever alliance targeting fossil fuel extraction; setting up a 220-member climate action coalition; and signing a declaration to halt and reverse land degradation and forest loss by 2030.
“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive,” said Alok Sharma, President of COP26, referring to the goal to contain global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “But its pulse is weak and will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.” So what does rapid action really mean in terms of resource use and next steps? Let’s have a look.
Sustainable energy over fossil fuels
Throughout COP26, experts stressed the need to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and invest this money into two avenues: improving energy efficiency and scaling up renewable energy. The good news? Over 25 countries have committed to block international financing of fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. This could shift more than €21 billion a year of public funds out of fossil fuels and into sustainable energy.
While the numbers may be assuring, this will no doubt require urgent and consistent action from public and private organizations. Some immediate priorities are greater Research and Development investment to support innovation, new business models to scale up renewable energy projects, and the creation of jobs for local communities who may be disadvantaged from this transition.
Finances and the $100 billion a year pledge
Money continues to be a key resource to address climate change, more so because finance goals set over a decade ago are yet to be met. In 2009, developed countries jointly pledged around €89 billion a year to help developing countries cut their emissions and adapt to climate change by 2020. While they fell short on this pledge, the Glasgow pact urges developed nations to fully deliver on this pledge through to 2025.
Nambi Appadurai, Director of Climate Resilience Practice, World Resources Institute India, explains, “Compared to the total investments required to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, the yet-to-be-fulfilled US$100 billion (€89 billion) pledge by developed countries, is minimal. This fund needs to be gradually raised with more than 50% diverted for adaptation action, preferably as grants. Mobilizing private financing is also imperative.”
A greener transport industry
Transport vehicles are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases today. Policymakers and industries need to strategize – urgently – for sustainable ways to address this problem. Convincing people to switch to public transportation is no longer enough. Transportation operations themselves must become greener.
There is progress to some degree on this front: the sale of electric vehicles (EVs) reached 20% in Europe in recent months, and the continent is headed for full electrification of new cars by 2035. But other areas of transportation are proving more difficult to address. In aviation for instance, electrification is currently only possible for short flights and smaller planes. While the US, UK and a few others are now trying to promote sustainable aviation fuels, much more research and action is needed to make this a global reality.
The push for low-carbon buildings
The World Green Building Council has stressed that buildings should be “elevated to a critical climate solution,” since they contribute to 40% of global carbon emissions. Many industry groups at COP26 suggested decarbonising steel and concrete production with new technologies. This also applies to the designing of the buildings themselves – that is, ensuring the use of low-carbon materials (such as timber) and consciously consuming less resources in general.
The UK, Germany, Canada, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have formed a joint initiative to develop low-carbon steel and concrete, to decarbonise construction. This step was well received, with experts commending the goal for net-zero steel and concrete in public projects by 2050.
Is the world equipped to meet these goals?
Not quite. When the Glasgow Climate Pact was announced, scientists and industry groups expressed concern over the lack of technology and resources to meet these ambitious targets. Many COP26 discussions ended up promoting technologies still in their nascent stage of development, or those that are not market ready or scalable. These included nuclear small modular reactors, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
The International Energy Agency claims that 38 technologies are ready for deployment, including solar photovoltaic, geothermal and wind power. However, not one of these has been deployed at the scale needed to achieve the 1.5℃ target. The International Energy Agency also states that while most reductions in CO2 emissions through 2030 will come from technologies already in the market today, almost half of the reductions needed by 2050 will come from technologies that are currently in their demonstration or prototype phase.
While it is natural to feel defeatist when it comes to climate change, we can remind ourselves of the proverb it takes a village to raise a child. In this case, the child is planet Earth, calling on people from every walk of life – to research, innovate, recycle, save, and implement – whatever possible to meet these goals as individuals and society.