This year’s international conference on the climate, COP27, begins on Sunday, November 6th at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The previous conference, COP26, resulted in a number of promises to reduce the production of greenhouse gases (GHGs) with the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. COP27’s goal is to see how well the world has been doing so far and to plan what must happen next.
The key issues are: is global warming better or worse than it was in COP26; how fast is global warming changing and in what direction; how close are the facts to what was promised last year and what must be done to reach the 1.5C goal?
It’s time to check the evidence so far and think about alternative futures.
First the bad news
There doesn’t seem to be much difference from what I wrote a year ago.
Global air temperatures continue to rise, essentially unabated. The earth is now at about 1.2C, on its way to the 1.5C limit established by the UN. The chances that we’ll meet and obey that limit anytime soon are small. A more likely result is that we’ll hit 2.6C [may be a pay barrier] by the end of this century. The odds are 2 to 1 that the world will meet that temperature IF the COP26 countries, especially the biggest polluters, keep their promises.
For example, methane, a much more near-term potent greenhouse gas, is accelerating its component of the atmosphere. According to the World Meteorological Organization atmospheric methane jumped by 15 parts per billion in 2020 and 18 parts per billion in 2021.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seriously muddled world trade, changed energy production and delivery patterns for the worse and possibly triggered a global recession; all in order to cater to the empire fantasies of a tyrant.
Oil companies are still spreading misinformation — and raking in profits — while claiming to be good citizens. Politicians, while accepting large donations from the oil industry, are doing too little to rein them in. Large delegations from the oil industry are expected to be at COP27
Hurricanes and floods have intensified. For example Pakistan has suffered the worst flooding in its (brief) history. Hurricane Ian has devastated western Cuba, Florida and other parts of the southeast US. Coastal flooding is increasing in low-lying areas worldwide. Glaciers are melting and producing floods as well as reducing water supplies for mountain communities. Heat-induced deaths are increasing annually.
The interest in global warming, although greatly increased in some quarters, seems to have induced little actual change. Promises by countries abound, are frequently revised or abandoned, but often produce only more hot air.
Funding by developed countries to climate improvement programs in developing countries continues to lag. While the OECD estimates that $2 trillion is needed annually for sustainable development, only $179 billion was provided by the west in 2021. Pressure is needed on the World Bank and others to increase the ratio of grants to loans in order to minimize long-term burdens on developing countries. (Grants do not need to be repaid, while loans do.)
The price of all this inaction continues to rise. As I wrote last year it will continue its upward pressure as long as we collectively do nothing to reduce emissions. And that calculation doesn’t include the escalating costs of the damages caused by warming. Those should act to focus us all on the old saying: Don’t just stand there, DO something.
Next some better news
Although not much is happening on the ground, other than promises, action is starting to occur. President Biden’s Inflation ReductionAct has massive funding for climate related projects. It has $369 billion for energy security and climate change. That, in turn, covers lowering energy costs, increasing cleaner energy production, and reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.
Battery Electric Vehicle sales continue to grow [full disclosure: I own a BEV]. New BEVs account for 35% of sales in China, 23% in The Netherlands, 19% of sales in Germany, 16% in France, and 6% of all auto sales in the US in the 3rd quarter. BEV sales could exceed combustion-engine car sales by 2030.
Installation of solar energy utilities continue to grow, while wind farm development have slowed. Unfortunately, in both cases it’s not fast enough to meet the challenges.
Global food production continues to exceed population growth, even in developing countries. Still, the problem remains of the increasing rates of heat death in those countries as the climate warms.
For the first time, global demand for each of the fossil fuels shows a peak or plateau across all WEO scenarios. Record distribution of renewables and BEVs has changed the CO2 intensity of the global energy supply for the better, compared to 2021.
More people and institutions have become energized about doing something about the climate, rather than passively enduring whatever happens. As the pressure increases, both on institutions and individuals, so will the rate of positive change.
India, currently the world’s 3rd largest producer of greenhouse gases, has embarked on an ambitious energy program to replace its coal-burning power plants. The program includes greatly increasing solar and wind capacity, replacing its creaking electric grid and investing in the production by electrolysis of “green” hydrogen, together with its transport infrastructure.
We are nearing an inflection point, where the trends switch from worsening to improving. COP27 may give us some hope that the ships of state and industry are finally turning. Still, we face a period of uncertainty about whether we are heading in the right direction, fast enough, for a sustainable future.
A good strategy at the personal level is patient persistence. At the institutional level the strategy should focus on impediment reduction and responsible, but rapid, change.
Keep on persisting!