Mind the gap – COP26 won’t limit global heating to 1.5˚C, warns Figueres  

Energy & Climate Change

From Karen Thomas in Glasgow

THE COP26 climate summit will not end with world governments on course to limit global heating to within limits that scientists say is safe, the architect of the Paris Agreement has warned.

This month’s summit in Glasgow will not end with signatories on course to restrict heating to a maximum of 1.5˚C, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres warned last night.

The climate pledges that governments have brought to COP26 – nationally determined contributions in diplomat-speak – put the world on course to heat by 2.7˚C. The NDCs that governments registered after the Paris Agreement set the trajectory at +3.7˚C.

That’s progress, but nowhere near enough.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow. It’s painful to acknowledge,” Figueres said. “But having directed six COP summits, my sense is that this one will land in that grey area between consolidating progress since Paris, but not yet going fast enough to deliver the 1.5˚C that scientists tell us we need.”

Figueres was delivering the annual TB Macaulay lecture at University of Strathclyde’sTechnology and Innovation Centre, sharing the platform with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and youth climate activists Chile’s Julieta Martinez and Lola Segers and Anuna de Wever from Belgium.

Scientific consensus has changed in the six years since the Paris Agreement was signed, Figueres says. Then, governments aimed to limit heating to 1.5˚C, but felt +2˚C was realistic.

Now scientists have determined that global heating of 2˚C would have devastating impacts, particularly on coastal and island nations of the global south. “That target is now completely unacceptable – morally, economically and for our environment,” Figueres said.

Finance breakthrough

Figueres hopes to end this year’s conference persuading governments to agree annual progress reviews, replacing the five-yearly report-backs that the Paris Agreement established. Other “Glasgow breakthroughs” from COP26 include yesterday’s global methane deal to cut these emissions by 30 per cent 2030, the agreement to halt deforestation by 2030 and progress on decarbonising steel and cement production through scaling up green hydrogen.

Today (Wednesday) COP26 discusses finance. Onlookers expect the headline to be a US$130 trillion announcement, committing the international finance sector – banks, investors and asset owners – to divest from polluting industries and activities.

The drive is led by Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), launched in April to lead a transition by 2050 to net-zero portfolios. Diplomats want to hold the finance sector to a 1.5˚C target. GFANZ represents around 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets.

Still, it’s clearly not all good news.

“If COP26 cannot deliver that critical 1.5˚C target are we doomed?” Figueres asked. “Not yet. If by 2030, we can halve emissions, we may still be able to squeeze under the door.”

To deliver, she concluded, we need a step-change in our relationships with the natural world. And we need “to accelerate positive disruption”: more than 140 governments have committed to net-zero targets, including ten of the largest coal producers.

More newsy stories from COP26, @KT_environment

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