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COP26: We All Live on the Same Planet

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Encomiums to Greta and plaudits to the COP26 delegates. She kept their feet to the fire and their efforts had at least one unexpected side effect: The world's two largest polluters (China and the US) agreed to phase out coal, the worst fossil-fuel polluter.

India walked out, and prime minister Narendra Modi returned home complaining the rich countries were not contributing enough to assist poorer countries in making the necessary energy transitions to alleviate global warming. Ironically, Delhi was enveloped in smog shutting schools and colleges soon after his arrival.

A deal labeled 'historic' by the conference chairman, Alok Sharma, was finally announced a day late on Saturday (November 13). Taking no chances, he banged down the gavel and closed the meeting.

The final draft of the Glasgow Climate Pact, as it is now called, changed the 'phase-out' of coal to its 'phase-down' at the behest of India, making environmentalists most unhappy. Under this change, the goal of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels could be considered in jeopardy. The earth has already warmed 1.1C. Still, the signals are there. The coal era is clearly coming to an end for this is the first time coal has been targeted explicitly.

The pessimists can point to current projections (scroll to end of reference). Before the pledges of COP26, the world was expected to emit 52.4 Gt (gigatonnes) of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030; after the pledges, this figure has been reduced to 41.9 Gt. But here's the surprise: In 2040 we need to be emitting at the most 26.6 Gt to limit warming to 1.5C.

Is the world in la-la-land? There may be hope in the fact that countries will convene again next year to pledge further carbon cuts towards the flat elusive 1.5C goal. Pledges so far will lead to a 2.4C warming. It means at present we are headed for a 1.3C warming over and above the 1.1C level that we have already reached. The Paris goal of 1.5C implies a 0.4C additional warming. And simple arithmetic tells us we are warming at a rate more than three times (1.3C divided by 0.4C) what we can afford if we hope to arrest global warming.

To repeat, the good thing about the deal is that countries are obliged to discuss the issue again next year to examine whether pledges are consistent with the 1.5C goal. On the downside, as we have seen, the pledges are not even viable now.

If the temperature rises discussed appear to be minuscule, yet the example of coral reefs gives perspective. A 2C rise would kill more than 99 percent of them.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
 
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