GLASGOW – Day four and the leaders have left COP26. But a spat between the United States, China and Russia dominated headlines and risked souring the mood in the vast halls of the Glasgow conference venue.
United States President Joe Biden accused Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin of failing to show leadership by their absence at the summit, which 100 other world leaders attended.
“The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader – not showing up, come on,” Mr Biden told a news conference in Glasgow.
“It just is a gigantic issue and they walked away. How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership?” Mr Biden said, adding that the same was true for Mr Putin.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday: “Actions speak louder than words.”
He noted: “What we need in order to deal with climate change is concrete action rather than empty words.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We are certainly not minimising the importance of the event in Glasgow, but Russia’s actions are consistent and thoughtful and serious.”
Cooperation from all three nations is vital for any breakthrough at the conference, so it remains to be seen if relations on the climate front can be patched up.
1. Carbon offsets: A dodge for the fossil fuel industry?
Conservation group Greenpeace thinks so.
On Wednesday, the head of Greenpeace joined Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in lambasting a taskforce that aims to expand the use of carbon offsets to help companies meet their climate goals.
One offset represents a tonne of carbon dioxide prevented from being produced or locked away, for example by a forest project, as trees soak up a lot of CO2. The idea is to fund projects that take up CO2 from the air or avoid it being produced.
In return, the project owners earn an income by selling the offsets, which companies can use as an extra tool to help them cut emissions. But offsets are not meant to be used as the sole measure to reduce emissions and projects are meant to be regularly vetted and meet strict design criteria.
At COP26, the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, backed by fossil fuel companies including Shell and BP, held a promotional event attended by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney. The taskforce is seeking to radically expand carbon offsetting, which some environmental groups see as a way to avoid taking more meaningful steps against climate change.
As Mr Carney started speaking, Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan and a representative from ActionAid International held aloft placards that together read: YOUR TASKFORCE IS A SCAM.
Ms Thunberg, who also attended the event, tweeted: “This Taskforce, and other schemes like it, are scams that could trash the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C.” As she walked out of the event she said: “No more greenwashing.”
Ms Morgan said: “Offsetting smothers ambition and gives polluters a way to avoid making genuine, substantive, timely emissions cuts. It’s like saying you’re going on a diet but you keep eating cake while paying someone else to eat lettuce.”
2. Scheme to pay nations to retire coal power plants
On Wednesday, the Asian Development Bank launched a plan at COP26 to speed the closure of coal-fired power plants in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Burning coal is a major source of CO2 emissions for both nations and the proposal, called Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM), plans to create public-private partnerships to buy out the plants and wind them down within 15 years, far sooner than their usual life.
ADB has been working with other financial institutions to implement the plan, which was devised by Donald Kanak, chairman of Insurance Growth Markets at British insurer Prudential.
ADB is now launching a pilot in Indonesia and the Philippines that will see it work with the governments on a feasibility study to detail the right financial model for each country. Japan’s Ministry of Finance committed a grant of $25 million to the ETM, the first seed financing, ADB said in a release.
3. Climate pledges – can the promises be delivered?
New climate pledges made by China and India – among the top three producers of planet-warming greenhouse gases – have for the first time set the world on a path to reducing planetary heating to under 2 deg C, according to research published on Wednesday.
The study by Climate Resource – a Melbourne-based research start-up – showed that if all 194 countries fulfil the pledges they made under the Paris Agreement, the world stands a good chance of limiting warming to 1.9 deg C above pre-industrial levels.
This is within the 2 deg C target outlined under the 2015 Paris Agreement, but still falls short of the 1.5 deg C threshold that climate scientists say will help countries avoid experiencing harsher climate impact.
Said the researchers in a statement: “The major changes that bring projected warming below the significant benchmark of 2 deg C are China’s new (climate pledge) and India’s new announcement at COP26, both featuring net-zero emission targets by 2060 and 2070, respectively.”
In October, China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – released its national plan detailing how it intended to achieve a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. It did so just days before the COP26 climate talks began in Glasgow.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced during COP26 that the country will become carbon neutral by the year 2070 – becoming the last of the world’s major carbon polluters to announce a net-zero target.
But the researchers caution that it is still too soon to rejoice.
All the pledges need to be backed up by strong climate actions and policies, the researchers said, citing Australia’s recent net-zero by 2050 pledge as being “hollow” since there are no clear policies guiding its implementation.
“Without climate policies, sectoral targets and a change of course, the 2050 net-zero target won’t come about,” they said. “And 1.9 deg C won’t be achieved without a proper implementation of the pledges.
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