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Glasgow COP26: an uphill stage

While setting out very important principles, the climate conference in Scotland appears to be non-binding on timetables and targets. The targets become more ambitious, while the timetables become looser. The general feeling is that we will have to wait until next year's COP27 in Egypt to find out how to meet the 1.5 °C limit

by Matteo Monni
November 2021 | Back

The United Nations Climate Conference (COP26), held this year in Glasgow, ended on 13 November after two weeks of arduous negotiations. For all those who had hoped to see a substantial change of pace in combating global warming by moving away from fossil fuels, the outcome of the negotiations looks decidedly meagre compared to the enormous expectations.

The feeling of disappointment is widespread and, despite the US Secretary of State's statement that "the perfect negotiation is one that displeases everyone", it is hard to appeal to the saying "misery loves company".

Indeed, given that the common evil afflicts the entire planet, there is little cause for rejoicing at the bitterness of a half-empty chalice.

In a nutshell, we continue to procrastinate on all fronts, as if this attitude could crystallise the crisis, which is instead becoming inexorably worse. 

However, if you really want to see some positive elements in the wake of all this hard work, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and for each of them there is no shortage of reservations.

First of all, a large number of nations participated, represented by the heads of state and delegations of 194 countries. There was a growing trend of international political involvement, although the absence of some of the main greenhouse gas emitting countries such as China, Russia, Brazil and Turkey did not go unnoticed.

Another point worthy of note is the maintenance of the
1.5 °C target, which, according to the IPCC “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C”, is the temperature increase limit (compared to the pre-industrial period) that must not be exceeded in order to avoid the disastrous consequences of the climate crisis.

This can be achieved by cutting fossil CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030.

It should be noted that given that the current estimated increase in temperature is 1.1 oC, Europe has already drawn up the Fit to 55 Plan to cut emissions by 55% by the end of this decade and - according to the Green Deal - to neutralise them completely by 2050.

The third important element is the clear position against coal taken in Scotland, where - for the first time in UN climate conferences - it is explicitly mentioned as the most harmful fuel of all. Unfortunately, however, the commitment to "intensify efforts to reduce", and no longer "to eliminate", coal without carbon capture systems (which are very expensive and only applicable to a fraction of power plants) was passed at the last moment.

In addition, "inefficient" subsidies to fossil fuels will be cancelled, a measure that seems sibylline as there is no clear indication of what exactly it means nor who is to decipher the mystery. India's change of course from "phasing out" to "phasing down", while causing the disappointment of most delegates, satisfies many other countries including China, South Africa, Australia, and our neighbours Poland and Serbia. All are heavily dependent on coal for power generation (60-80%) and therefore need time and investment to reduce their use.

In this perspective, it will obviously be necessary to plan a broad and integrated use of different renewable sources that will allow the exit from fossil fuels. India, for example, intends to increase its current 150 GW of solar and wind power to 500 GW within the next decade, which could increase significantly - in India as elsewhere - if the economic support strategies granted by rich countries to all developing countries were to be implemented.

Unfortunately, here too we are still on the starting blocks. In fact, there is no news of the total 100 billion dollars a year that should have been used to mitigate the effects of climate change in the most disadvantaged areas (in terms of poverty and damage). It seems, even in this case, that the commitments will be postponed to 2023, but with the promise of a doubling of the budget (2025), while the funds not spent to date could risk going up in smoke.

Finally, the decision to halt deforestation by 2030 is also very significant. This measure, which is certainly very complex to implement, could also be integrated with the decision - taken at the G20 and reported in paragraph 19 of the final declaration - to plant at least 1,000 billion trees worldwide by 2030.

This, in addition to capturing atmospheric CO2, would strengthen the green economy sector by enhancing ecosystem services in the areas concerned. According to scientists' estimates, since the advent of "modern" agriculture - but particularly since 1700 - we have halved the number of trees from 6.000 billion to around 3.000 billion. Reforesting is therefore very important, but let's not forget that, in the last 40 years in Italy, forests have expanded by about 5 million hectares, and their neglect causes serious problems of hydrogeological instability, fires, phytopathologies and depopulation of vast areas!

For the management of wooded areas, technological innovation and modern agricultural and forestry mechanisation can provide a very valuable contribution, facilitating the cutting, transport and conditioning of biomass, reducing the cost of operations and the impact on ecosystems. For this reason, one of the strategic points contained in the Position Paper of the FREE (Renewable Sources and Energy Efficiency) Coordination “The contribution of energy from biomass to the ecological transition process” (produced by all the most important associations in the sector thanks to the coordination of ITABIA) states that in the future it is necessary to: "Promote, through the strengthening and innovation of mechanisation, the greatest possible mobilisation of the biomasses available in the area to guarantee a more conspicuous use".

In conclusion, while at the end of COP21 in 2015 in Paris it seemed that humanity was marching united in its exit from the fossil fuel era, after Glasgow it seems to be proceeding in random order.

The climate pact that has just been signed contains a manoeuvre to encourage countries to submit new voluntary national contributions (NDCs) on emission cuts at the next COP27, to be held in Egypt in 2022. Indeed, as point 25 of the text shows, the sum of all the NDCs that have just been submitted will not produce any emission reductions in 2030, and in fact suggests an increase of 13.7%.

Obviously, the last summit cannot be considered a success, as all hopes are pinned on the next one, but the strong appeal of the young people present, both in Glasgow and in many other cities around the world, where they marched together to defend the Earth and their right to a future, is certainly encouraging.




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