The COP26 is our last chance to limit the planet’s temperature in 2100 to a 2°C or even a 1.5°C rise.
The COP26, which opened on 31st October in Glasgow, has been long-awaited and will be decisive. It is taking place under the shadow of the Covid epidemic, which has caused postponement of the summit for a year and is a tragic illustration of global risks in the 21st century. It is is the last chance to limit the planet’s temperature in 2100 to a 2°C rise – or, ideally a 1.5°C rise – compared to the pre-industrial era. This was the target established by the Paris agreement in 2015.
Decarbonization of the economy is a formidable challenge, but it is anything but unrealistic.
First and foremost, it is based on innovation. Progress made in batteries, storage and energy distribution, carbon capture, and energy efficiency in transportation and construction encourage optimism. There will have to be a considerable financial effort, but nothing beyond the realm of possibility.
Ecological transition means that global investment will have to increase from 24% to 27% of GNP and households will have to bear, through carbon pricing, a loss amounting to 3.7% of GNP, i.e. the equivalent of the loss felt by households in developed countries during the 1974 oil crisis.
The only thing missing is the essential – the political courage to do it, and the working out of a strategy that will mobilize all the economic and social forces and overcome geopolitical tensions.
This is where the COP26 comes in, and the result of the summit will cover five major issues.
Firstly, national commitment to 2030. The 2015 Paris agreement had established that each country would draw up a national action plan. To this day, 140 out of 191 signatories have done this, which accounts for a little over half of emissions.
But their ambitions are seven times lower than the level required in order to meet the targets of the Paris agreement. Furthermore, decarbonization commitments made recently by the principal polluters, although positive in principle, ignore the crucial date of 2030. Instead, their target dates re 2050 or 2060, which deprives them of any credibility. The same goes for US promises to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and for Chinese, Saudi Arabian and Russian promises to come in line by 2060.
Secondly, the different action plans and concrete measures. There is a wide gap between nations’ commitments and their decisions. Only ten or so G20 nations are currently in a position to achieve their aim of combatting global warming. EU countries are in the forefront. On the other hand, China – the leading world polluter responsible for 28% of emissions – has put out highly negative signals by authorizing the reopening of 153 coal mines and the production of 220 million extra tons of coal per year in order to cope with the shortage of electricity caused by recovery. It has also considerably delayed the protection of forests and oceans.
Thirdly, solidarity with southern countries. A lot of southern countries are badly affected by global warming although they contribute very little, even nothing at all, towards it. It is therefore legitimate for the developed countries to finance their transition. However, the promise of a transfer of $100 billion a year to the poorest countries will only begin in 2023.
Fourthly, energizing the market. Ecological transition requires an investment of about $7 billion between now and 2030. This financing is more than governments can support, particularly since they lost the opportunity to do so in recovery plans and only attributed 17% to 19% of the funds to the fight against global warming.
Lastly, the relaunch of international cooperation. The fight against global warming can only be effective if it is on a global scale. And yet, the COP26 is taking place against the background of a new Cold War between the USA and China. It will provide a crucial verdict on whether China truly wishes to take part in the fight against global warming, on the ability of the giants of the 21st century to put their conflicts behind them so as to take care of global dangers, and on the EU’s ability to drive and crystallize compromise in one of the few areas in which it has recognized legitimacy.
The COP26 is to the 2020s what the London Economic Conference of 1933 was to the 1930s: the last chance to push forward a cooperative strategy between the great powers in order to avoid a global catastrophe.
In London, the rigidity of the Banque de France in its defense of the gold standard and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unilateralism ruined the last chance to block deflation and precipitated the collapse of two-thirds of world trade and payments. Let us hope that our 21st century leaders will be able to avoid having history repeat itself in Glasgow.
(Column published in Le Figaro, 1st November 2021)