As thousands of protesters walk through the streets of Glasgow this afternoon, country delegations take stock of the first week of negotiation at the global climate summit. “Keeping the 1.5 degree warming alive,” is the expression that comes by each time. Only if new agreements lead to a rapid drop in emissions, global warming can still be limited to 1.5 degrees.
But whether the negotiations are on the right track? The answer to that question in Glasgow depends a lot on who you ask it to.
At the top, some commitments have already been made. About stricter climate targets and the allusion of money for poor countries, for example, but for many (young) protesters, this isn‘t far enough. They get remarkably right from the president of the conference, the Brit Alok Sharma. Only when you put on the glasses of a young person, can you see how urgent the climate problem is, he thinks.
The first thing Sharma said at a press conference yesterday was, “I am impressed by young climate activists.” And: “I urge all political leaders and policymakers to listen to young people and bring their story to the negotiations.” Young people themselves, with the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg first, have little to no more confidence in a good outcome.
The first week of the summit has nevertheless yielded a few concrete commitments. For example, groups of countries announced that they would stop deforestation, reduce greenhouse gas methane emissions and stop financing foreign fossil projects. Incidentally, the latest statement was not signed by the Netherlands.
Some countries also made new climate promises, such as India wants to be CO2 neutral in 2070, and Brazil that tightens its target for 2030 a bit. The International Energy Agency came up with the surprising announcement that all new promises together lead to a warming of 1.8 degrees. A significant change from a previous calculation.
But many climate experts find it too early to cheer, although they are cautiously positive. “It is not yet clear to me whether the proposed methane reduction is on top of the previous climate promises, because if not, double counting threatens,” says climate scientist Leo Meyer. “Still enough doubts for the figures and too early to cheer, but still a good result of ‘Glasgow”.
Detlef van Vuuren of the Planning Bureau for the Living Environment is also cautiously responding positively: “More and more countries promise to reduce emissions to net zero sometime in the middle of this century. Countries are trying to make agreements about deforestation, and methane. But the crucial question is about execution. Still, if countries are really going to implement all this, then we will go a long way towards the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.”
The cautious optimism is not shared by 27-year-old Mara de Pater, organizer of the special climate train to Glasgow. “There were pretty nice words this week, for example about deforestation. But if you read the fine print, the agreements do not turn out to be binding. On other topics, too, you can see that agreements are written down in such a way that countries do not have to adhere to them or that countries are trying to make their contribution as small as possible.”
Next week, two more difficult issues will be on the agenda: money and sales. The first is about the hundred billion dollars that has to go from rich to poor countries annually. The money is intended to help them with damage caused by climate change, and because they too have to go through the energy transition.
This promise dates back to 12 years ago, but the money has still not been brought together, much to the annoyance of poor countries. They again often point out that the climate does not change because of their actions, but due to the emissions of rich countries. The trade in emissions between countries is another hot hang iron. It has been talking about it for six years, but so far without results.
According to Chairman Alok Sharma, it will be another exciting week. “There were commitments here on stage from one world leader after another, that more action is needed, and that emissions should fall in this decade. But that will actually have to be reflected in agreements that their negotiators and ministers will make next week.”
Do you have half an hour to spare today? Then look at this explainer from CCeit at 3 about climate change: