‘We are already in trouble,’ David Attenborough stated bluntly from the conference’s podium.
With COP26 about to rev the negotiating engine, today was a day of statements. One after another, prime ministers and heads of state from nearly 200 countries expressed their worries and, sometimes, their pledges, often echoing Sir David’s words – we are already in trouble.
The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, whose government is playing host to the UN Climate Change Conference, put on a stern look and used vivid, carefully-scripted words. ‘The clock is ticking to the furious rhythm of hundreds of billions of pistons and turbines and furnaces and engines with which we are pumping carbon into the air faster and faster, and quilting the earth in an invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2, raising the temperature of the planet with a speed and an abruptness that is entirely manmade.’ The Prince of Wales, who also spoke at the opening ceremony, was no less blunt: ‘Time has quite literally run out’ and ‘we have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing.’
What was most clear is that the key to world decarbonisation is money. ‘We in this room could deploy hundreds of billions, no question,’ said Johnson in an effort to galvanise his powerful audience. ‘But the market has hundreds of trillions.’
‘Tens of trillions,’ amended Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, former head of the European Central Bank, a few minutes later. 'But, now, we’ve got to use those resources. Now, we have to find an intelligent way to spend them and spend them quickly. We need all multilateral development banks, and especially the World Bank, to co-share with the private sector the risks that the private sector alone cannot bear.'
Justin Trudeau suggested that other countries follow Canada’s path and introduce carbon pricing. ‘I plead in favour of putting a price on CO2 emissions,’ German chancellor Angela Merkel agreed.
But of course, when we talk about money, the true gap between countries emerge. Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, pointed out that in the last 13 years Western central banks have printed $25 trillion of new money with quantitative easing, including $9 trillion to face Covid-19. ‘Why that could not be done again to battle climate change around the world?,’ she asked her colleagues, calling them ‘friends’.
The famous $100 billion a year, long promised to developing countries, has never fully materialised and COP26 is expected to fill this gap. India’s Narenda Modi pledged to invest massively on renewables in the coming decade, but he reminded the developed world that it must stick to its financial promises first.
It is not just about South v North. The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, said he has no hopes that COP26 will reach a major agreement on climate and complained that Europe is ‘the only one putting in a lot of effort.’ He added that, with growing energy prices, the European Green Deal will ‘turn out to be a Green Suicide’. Babis lost the recent election and soon enough will no longer represent Czechia. But other EU member countries, namely Poland and Hungary, basically agree with him.
And what about the statements from the two biggest polluters on Earth: China and the United States? Xi Jinping didn’t even bother sending a recorded video – just a printed statement without any new commitments. Joe Biden was punchy in his commitment to restore the reputation of the USA (after his predecessor stepped out of the Paris Agreement), but he didn’t offer a new pledge, at least for now.
In the meantime, Planet Earth made its own statement at COP26. During a press conference, Petteri Talaas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), updated a few reporters on the findings of WMO’s latest report. ‘It is pretty striking reading,’ he admitted.
To quickly sum up:
– The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has reached more than 413 parts per million, the highest in the past 125,000 years. Methane and nitrous oxide have reached 262% and 123% of their preindustrial levels.
– The Amazonian region, which used to be a carbon sink, has become a source of carbon dioxide because of deforestation.
– Sea levels are now rising by 4.4 millimetres a year as water warms and expands, and glaciers melt. This rate has more than doubled in two decades.
– Since the ocean absorbs on average 23% of anthropogenic CO2, the oceans are getting mode and more acidic. They are now more acidic than in the last 26,000 years.
– The temperature gap between the poles and the tropics is diminishing, inciting a growing number of powerful heatwaves and devastating floods. ‘The size of the flooding in Germany, would have been impossible without climate change,’ Talaas said.
– Greenland is on an uninterrupted melting trend since the early 90s. African glaciers will disappear by 2040.
So, yes, we are officially in trouble. Let the negotiations begin.