Coal barges in Indonesia. Credit...Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

This graphic from Bloomberg Green gives a quick and fair picture of what was accomplished (or not) in these pivotal climate negotiations.

Some observations.

Unfortunately our governments remain on trajectories that will push global temperatures beyond the 1.5C increase that scientists regard as a dangerous tipping point after which calamitous weather (heat and storms), water scarcity, ecosystem collapse, population dislocation and sea rise impacts will compound. The best assessment is that the planet might achieve a 1.8C limit, but is more likely to hit 2.4C.

Countries are expected to comeback within a year with fresh and more ambitious targets to meet by 2030, but of course there are no sanctions for not doing so, nor for failing to meet current ones. In this sense, COP26 is all about moral suasion and — dare I say — atmospherics.

Meantime, all adults in ‘industrialised’ nations should get coal in our Christmas stockings. And there’s plenty of it available.

Unfortunately, language to ‘phase out’ coal power was watered down to ‘phase down’ under pressure from the biggest coal producers/users like Indonesia and India. The photo above illustrates what the coal trade looks like in Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter.

Curbing methane emissions and “halting” deforestation by 2030 (as pledged by 130 countries) also got heaps of attention. This is the first time methane has been explicitly addressed, with over 100 countries including NZ pledging to cut these emissions by 30% this decade. Again however, none of this with the force of international law.

A carbon trading regime has been established with more explicit and consistent counting and measuring rules, but here too there will still be concerns about the credibility of ‘offsets’, their use to avoid painful actual domestic reductions (think NZ), and potential accounting mischief.

And finally there’s the biggest implementation question of all — money.

Major banks — except the world’s biggest 3, all Chinese owned — investors and insurers, with some $130 trillion in assets, have made pledges to end their financing of carbon-based energy investments. That’s great … a financially shrewd massive redeployment of capital and a bit less ‘blood money’ floating around.

But that still leaves the planet’s rich and poor nations facing the most extraordinary environmental and social justice challenge we’ve ever seen. A huge test of our morality.

The rich countries have built comfortable lifestyles off the back of their carbon-fuelled economies, which turns out to have f**ked the planet, with more injury to come. The poor countries want a belated chance to improve the welfare of their populations (using dirty/GHG-emitting energy), which in many cases involves outright national survival (think Maldives and Pacific islands) and/or ‘restitution’ payments for damage already being suffered and certain to get worse.

Trillions of dollars are involved — pre-COP26 the rich nations were expected to provide $100 billion per year to the poor nations to aid their climate mitigation efforts, but have not met those funding targets. The projected need is at least twice as much.

This remains the biggest unresolved issue on the international climate agenda. Governments will be summoned to meet in 2022, 2024 and 2026 to discuss climate finance. 

New Zealanders might think about it as the most monumental ‘treaty settlement’ process and negotiation of all time, but without the poor (or less-developed) countries having a treaty to stand on. What they do have is national sovereignty … the right as China, India, Indonesia, Poland or Brazil to just keep doing what they’re doing.

So while you wait for COP27 (in Egypt next year), how do you feel about all this … worried, guilty, angry, energised, bored?

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  1. How do I feel?…. fearful, angry, and deeply disappointed and wondering, what is in the heads of these decision-makers? Certainly not courage nor a belief in the ability to facilitate change; instead, too hard short-termism, inertia, self-interest, delusion about maintaining a status quo in the face of certain chaos caused by unstoppable climatic events.
    Sadly, these attitudes also reflect the populations they lead and so I also feel a sense of doom and will, like everyone else, try to close my mind to it and live in the present fiddling about with recycling and home gardening and such.

  2. I’m with Kay on this – not at all hopeful, and intensely concerned with the future my son and granddaughter are inheriting from us. The pollies are letting us down big time, despite knowing the inevitable outcomes of their tardiness. Our descendants will pay for what we’re doing now. I sincerely hope climate change will become the big thing at the next election – from now on we need governments who are prepared to make hard choices because they are the right ones to make, not to satisfy some populist notions.

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