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Yale 62

COP26 Cop-Out?

By Gary Richardson

The “agreements” emerging from COP26 are too little, too late, especially for those already in harm’s way. Without quantified, scheduled, and verifiable objectives pledged by nations and industries as part of a funded worldwide strategy it is all, as Greta Thunberg has articulated, “Blah-blah-blah.”

About a month ago, I agreed to pull together and moderate the Nov. 4 Yale ’62 Coffee Hour panel on climate change and the COP26 climate summit getting underway in Glasgow. While I was fairly well educated on the worldwide climate crisis, I knew little about COP26. When several years ago it became apparent that the 2015 Paris accords (COP21) were essentially meaningless, I had pretty much lost interest in climate summits.

As I dug into the topic, I was amazed to learn that these Conferences of the Parties, COPs, now comprising some 200 countries, had been getting together nearly every year since the first summit at Rio in 1992 and that so little has been accomplished. It was lucky that classmate Bill Reilly agreed to join our panel. As head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Bill had led the US delegation to that first UN Earth Summit, when 154 nations attended and agreed to work on climate issues.

If you were present at the Coffee Hour or have watched the recording of it, you may have detected from my interviews with Bill and NRDC co-founder Ed Strohbehn that I didn’t expect much to come of COP26 except a COP27. Since that first earth summit three decades ago, the amount of energy generated worldwide by fossil fuels—gas, oil, and coal—has remained at about 80 percent. To paraphrase a banner outside COP26: The COPs have failed to arrest the causes of global warming.

There is a growing consensus among scientists that temperature increases 1.5° C to 2° C (2.7°–3.6° F) will push some global systems over a “tipping point” from which recovery would be difficult if not impossible. Living in the drought-plagued Urban-Wildlands Interface above Boise, Idaho, with weeks of smoke-filled, triple-Fahrenheit-digit days, the approaching apocalypse seems imminent. For millions of people in island and shoreline communities, reaching 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels spells certain disaster.

Here are the COP26 milestones (millstones?) as I see them:

Damning with Faint Praise:

“We don’t have a perfect package but we have a possible package.”
              —Andrea Meza, the Environment and Energy Minister of Costa Rica

Pledged emission cuts:

Deemed the agreement’s “most significant demand”—nations to return next year, instead of 2025, with stronger pledges to cut planet-warming emissions in this decade. Kicking the can only one year down the road instead of four—progress!

On developed countries’ 12-year-old, $100-billion-a-year pledge:

Wealthy nations urged to “at least double” by 2025 the financial aid that they provide to developing countries to help them adapt. 2023 is already too late. But, dare not call “loss and damage” what communities experience from the global warming they did not cause lest such words imply a responsibility for compensation.

On attacking the major sources of global warming:

For the first time “fossil fuels” are mentioned in an international climate accord… but at the last minute, nearly destroying a 200-nation consensus, India and China forced the conference to suggest the “phase-down” rather than the “phaseout of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”—whatever that means.

Re: China-US “deal”

“The terms of the deal weren’t groundbreaking — but the fact that agreement occurred at all is notable,”…. “the agreement was the product of months of meetings between Mr. Xie and Mr. Kerry.” —Thin gruel, indeed!

On Carbon Trading

One of the thorniest problems: how to enable polluting companies and countries to buy and trade permits to lower global emissions. In 1990, as EPA chief, Bill Reilly oversaw passage of Clean Air Act amendments that featured a new emissions-trading program that successfully cut acid rain. It’s not rocket science.

Vulnerable countries want rich nations to grant them a share of proceeds from carbon-market transactions to help them build resilience to climate change. The United States and the European Union have opposed doing so. Island nations, especially, want to ensure that carbon trading leads to reduced global emissions.

All classmate comments related to the topic of the environment are here. Please make your own, as well.