The International Energy Agency (IEA) will soon provide a roadmap for the world to be in line with 1.5°C, said its director, Fatih Birol, on opening the COP26 Net Zero Summit in March. The summit marked part of the preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference that will be held in Glasgow next November (COP26). One and a half degrees represents the maximum acceptable increase in the world’s mean temperature since the Industrial Revolution, according to scientists. The Paris Agreement of 2015 pledged to keep the temperature rise ‘well below 2°C’ and to ‘pursue eff orts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’
Other speakers at the summit pointed to the need for an increased sense of urgency on the issue. ‘We are currently on track to go over three degrees,’ said Alok Sharma, the president of COP26. Just doing what is prescribed by the Paris treaty, added US Climate Change envoy John Kerry minutes later, ‘brings us to an increase of 3.7 degrees. But if we look at the curve right now, we are heading to over four degrees.’
The alarm bell has well and truly been sounded. Such a temperature rise would bring unpredictable yet catastrophic eff ects on an unprecedented scale. As things currently stand, global temperatures are estimated to be about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. The World Meteorological Organization recently said that there is at least a one in fi ve chance of ‘temporarily’ exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. Keeping the temperature rise well below 2°C will be a formidable task.
COP26 has the chance to make history. The public, although largely unaware of what a 4°C world would look like, is more concerned than at any time in the past. Climate change sceptics have finally left the White House, the EU is determined not to miss the net-zero-emission goal by 2050, and China seems to have the political and economic will to keep Xi Jinping’s green promises. Sharma’s final words at the online summit couldn’t be more heartening: ‘It is time for the world to move from a decade of climate change deliberation to a decade of delivery.’
If the world gets serious about steering away from fossil fuels, this decade could go down in history for happier reasons than a deadly pandemic. Given that the key issue in decarbonisation is about energy, let’s look out on 18 May for the IEA roadmap to net zero. Not much time is left. We have run out of decades.