Climate activist Greta Thunberg has been in the news this week. Speaking at a UN Youth4Climate summit in Milan, Italy on 28 September, the 18-year-old face of global climate activism said, “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.” Whatever your views may be on Thunberg, the one thing you can’t deny is that she’s absolutely correct.
We’re just a month away from one of the most crucial international climate summits since Paris 2015, the COP26, and the strong indications are that it will end in failure. If ‘failure’ is a strong word, it’s also a true one, because UN officials are resigned to not being able to meet the all-important goal of cutting fresh global CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. Without this in place, it may be impossible to reach zero global emissions by 2050. And if that doesn’t occur, it may be impossible to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100. The results of that will be catastrophic, as the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in August made very clear.
Speaking to The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, one UN official said, “We are not going to get to a 45% reduction, but there must be some level of contributions on the table to show the downward trend of emissions.” As it was discussed in this column last week, there are two chief obstacles to consensus at the COP26: the unwillingness of many countries, including India and China, to announce fresh pledges for stricter emissions cuts (called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs); and the inability of wealthy countries to stump up a promised $100billion a year in climate finance to developing nations. Apart from this, there’s no clarity as to how major industrialized nations like the US, UK and the EU countries will fulfill their ambitious mid-century net zero emissions pledges. According to a 17 September UN report on the efficacy of current NDCs, emissions will actually rise by 16% by 2030 rather than reduce by half.
Despite high-minded carbon-cut talk from western nations, in reality, they’re continuing to invest heavily in fossil fuels. Just this week, for example, the EU voted to prolong subsidies for natural gas pipelines till 2027. No wonder then that efforts are on to downplay the importance of COP26 and present it as just another stepping stone towards reaching climate goals. Meanwhile, a new study, Intergenerational Inequities In Exposure To Climate Extremes, published in the journal Science, shows that children born in 2020 will face a world with an average of 30 extreme heatwaves in their lifetimes, seven times higher than those born in 1960. They will also face twice as many instances of droughts and wildfires, as well as three times more river floods and crop failures; if the world sticks to current pathways of emissions reductions, that is.
Little wonder then that Thunberg feels frustrated. She is also well aware of the irony that though her relative privilege forces the UN to give her a platform, no one is really listening. “They invite cherry-picked young people to meetings like this to pretend that they listen to us. But they clearly don’t listen to us. Our emissions are still rising. The science doesn’t lie,” she said. Just like Thunberg, we should all be annoyed.