With COP26 now in full swing we are seeing a gradual stream of commitments being announced. But the real question is which commitments count? To maintain a sub 1.5°C world, we need commitments that reduce and significantly slash our emissions in this decade. The more commitments to act in this decade, the more successful this COP will be. With this in mind, we saw several commitments on Tuesday to give us reasons to be hopeful.
Led by the US and the EU, over 100 countries signed the methane pledge which aims to reduce global emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020. Methane is extremely potent, with 80 times more warming potential than carbon, and accounts for between 25-50% of all global warming caused to date. Meeting this goal worldwide would limit global warming by 0.2°C which would be a significant step towards our 1.5°C ambition. Methane also cycles out the atmosphere within a decade, much faster than carbon, giving us the speed that we need.
The major methane emitting industries are oil and gas, waste management, and agriculture. It is highly likely that pledge signatories will be focusing their efforts predominately on oil and gas, which account for almost 40% of all methane emissions. Also, most emissions in this sector are due to leakages along the distribution chain and are therefore not only avoidable, but there are cost benefits wrapped up in them too. We should also expect to see national incentives for improved waste treatment facilitates to capture escaping methane emissions. The agriculture related methane emissions however, will be a significantly harder challenge for leaders to tackle.
With over 100 countries covering 40% of methane emissions, including Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria, it is a good start, especially if additional signatories sign the pledge. Big players such as China, Russia and India are yet to sign, should they decide to do so it will certainly move the dial on this pledge. However, without any further commitments, the 100 countries would need to reduce their emissions by 75% to meet this global target, making this a lot more challenging to meet than it should be.
Over 100 world leaders have promised to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030, accounting for 85% of the world’s forests. Forests are a major buffer in stopping climate change, absorbing 30% of emissions, which is under threat given the rapid rate of deforestation happening across the world. The EU pledged 1 billion € and the UK pledged a further £1.5 billion for this cause.
The big focus is on the Amazon, and then Congo and Indonesian rainforests – some of the largest forests in the world. We have seen pledges to provide funding to support financially supporting indigenous people to conserve their forests and strengthen their land rights who are best placed to meet this challenge. Although this is an immense step forward it can only succeed if the money is sensibly invested in consulting and empowering the indigenous people and ensuring that land rights are introduced with teeth.
At 85% the coverage is very significant and includes signatories such as Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – all homes to large forested areas. Yet, there are suspicions on how seriously the signatories are taking this pledge, especially given the record high level of deforestation and destruction in Brazil this year, as covered by Sky News. Although this is a valid concern, the pressure is mounting from all angles to tackle deforestation – over 30 of the world’s largest financial companies (Avia, Axa, Schroder) have all committed to ending investments related to deforestation. As industry and financial pressure mounts, programmes of support to tackle deforestation may start to look quite appealing, giving the pledge a fighting chance.
Over 40 countries including US, UK, India, China, and EU have committed to achieving almost “near-zero” emissions by 2030. The steel industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet and with demand for steel expected to rise 23% to 2,300 Mt between 2020 and 2050, the deal is a key player to maintaining a 1.5°C world, making this a big win on Tuesday.
Steel is a difficult sector to decarbonise because coal alternatives needed to produce steel, such as hydrogen or electricity steel are not widely available. Funding into research and technology is going to be vital for the industry to decarbonise, requiring huge investments as well as a shift in production and manufacturing in this sector.
The US, India and China are amongst the top five steel producers in the world, so this is a very promising start. As these countries pave the way on research and development we may find that over time there is an increase in the number of industry leaders, and countries align with this 2030 commitment.
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