Zoom Baby, Zoom

A big week of climate diplomacy leaves us lots to recap

Zoom me up Scottie

The annual Earth Day event took place this week and in a piece of carefully choreographed coinciding, so did a multinational, online climate conference led by President Biden of the United States and his Climate Envoy, John Kerry.

The event saw 40 world leaders and other luminaries gather to discuss the climate crisis and set out new targets and initiatives where possible. The event was regarded as a key moment on the road to the COP26 gathering in November. Because it’s hard to keep up with the flurry of announcements generated by this giant zoom call, we’re dedicating this week’s blog to summing up the positives and the negatives that have emerged this week.

Positives

  • Just before the summit began the UK announced it was committing to a stiffer emissions reduction target. The goal, which will become law, is to reach a 78% reduction of emissions compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with what was recommended by the government’s independent climate advisory committee.

  • To kickstart the two day virtual summit, Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its existing targets and aim for a 50-52% CO2 reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Although not as deep a cut in percentage terms as the UK, this would lead to a larger reduction in carbon emissions due to the greater size of the US economy.

  • China and Russia both showed up to the summit, and both made positive statements regarding tackling climate change globally. This might not sound much, but there was a chance neither would show up. They need to be part of the solution, so we need them in the room to begin with.

  • Canada and Japan announced new, stiffer targets for reducing their carbon emissions.

  • The United States and Denmark signed up to a new agreement to work out how to reduce the emissions associated with global shipping. This is a big deal, and in case you’re wondering, Denmark is the home of the largest shipping conglomerate in the world and so has a lot of stake in this particular matter.

  • South Korea committed to ending the spending of government money on overseas coal power plants and make a public pledge to aim to increase their emissions cutting targets at November’s COP26 summit.

  • Saudi Arabia announced a plan to plant 50 billion new trees.

  • The US and other developed nations signed up to a deal to work on increasing the financial support available to developing nations to allow them to de-carbonise or tackle the effects of climate change caused by historic rich world emissions. This is a small seed that needs to become something bigger in time, but hey, it’s a start.

  • This week the EU put its existing pledge to cut emissions across the bloc by 55% compared to 1990 levels, into law.

  • And whilst it didn’t deliver anything concrete, Greta Thunberg joined yet another zoom call and told a load of American politicians to buck their ideas up. She ended her plea for action based on science by reminding the assembled audience that it was the young people of today who would write the history books and that there will be a reckoning for action not taken. Oh, and she also embraced another of Boris Johnson’s bumbling stupidities by changing her twitter bio to ‘Bunny Hugger’. Go Greta!

Negatives

Ok, enough with all that positive, what didn’t go so right this week;

  • China failed to announce a new carbon reduction target. It did say that it hoped emissions would peak by 2025 which was marginally better than before but still nowhere near enough. We have to hope that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping has something up his sleeve for November.

  • Russia gave no target and no new actions at all though Putin was in the room and committed to working on existing agreements such as Paris and Kyoto. Presumably, he has been too busy this week torturing opposition politicians and pondering on invading Ukraine to come up with a realistic carbon reduction scheme. Maybe he’ll have more time on his hands by the time COP26 comes round.

  • Japan and Canada’s new targets weren’t as ambitious as they might have been. They’re one step forward instead of a giant leap. They get a C- for their homework. Must do better.

  • Former blog star Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil had the cheek to pledge to eliminate deforestation by 2030, but only if he was paid lots of money by the US to do so. This is basically climate extortion by the arsonist who started the fires himself. Shocking.

  • American opposition leader Mitch McConnell denounced President Joe Biden’s plans for carbon reduction and a shift to green energy production as costing American jobs whilst gaining nothing for the planet if China didn’t do the same. This is nonsense. As you, well informed readers of the blog know, all reductions in emissions are good and all contribute to keeping global warming lower than it might otherwise be. This is not a zero sum game. There are also plenty of jobs going decommissioning oil wells, building hydro, wind and solar generation facilities, retrofitting houses, installing power charging points and so on. Yes, the transition to a green economy is disruptive but is a change, not a destruction. Mitch is a terrible, terrible human being so we’d expect nothing less of him. The problem is that without any opposition support, Biden is going to find it hard to make the most ambitious parts of his plan a reality. He needs sixty votes to pass some stuff and he only has 50 of his own. Without ten Republicans finding some faith in science again, he’s going to struggle to make that 50-52% reduction a reality.

  • The same is true in the UK. That 78% target is great headline, but the UK is yet to unveil any detail on how it plans to turn it into reality. To be fair, more information has been promised over the summer in advance of COP26, but right now our government has a big shiny headline number and ten point bullet plan written on the back of a fag packet. The UK is a leader in emissions reductions, but we’ve not seen anything yet to make us confident we’ll get to where we need to. Hopefully, Boris will spend a little time hugging some bunnies and come up with the answers. Or he could just listen to the scientific consensus.

  • The final negative leads on from those last two points. It is important to take the positives from this week. The UK, EU and the United States are all committed to Net Zero by 2020. Other parts of the western world are also almost on board. Concerted action this year can make that goal part of the normality of the political discussion. That is really good. It’s also great the US is back playing a key leadership role in making all this happen and the lunacy of the Trump years. It’s also a good sign that XI Jinping attended the summit himself and is on board with making sure climate is one area where China and America continue to co-operate dispute all their other differences. There are lots of positives this week.

    But, if we’re being brutally honest, there are still huge problems. None of the goals currently set add up to what we need to keep average global temperature rises below 2 degrees, let alone the ideal of 1.5C. There is no government on the planet that is doing enough to tackle climate change and nowhere are the hard decisions being taken that will see us do what we need to do over the next decade to stay on track. Global emissions will continue to rise this year.

On top of all that, US climate envoy, John Kerry, let slip the ugly truth that even if we do reach Net Zero by 2050, it’s not enough. We’d need to go and remove carbon from atmosphere that was already there as a result of previous actions. Beyond 2050 we need to go into minus numbers, zero isn’t the end game. It’s rare for a politician to be so candid about what scientists are well aware of.

In her recent documentary series on BBC1, Greta Thunberg spoke with a psychologist about how best to frame the arguments on the climate crisis. Despite all the positive headlines and niceties, people weren’t changing their behaviour as result of her words and actions. Was there a way of being more effective? The answer was that humans respond best to an argument that is 75% positive and 25% negative. I’m not sure this blog has hit that ratio, it’s a bit more 50/50 this week. We have hope, we have many things we can all influence as individuals, and in the UK we have elections coming up where can make our voice heard. We also have politicians who are starting to listen and economies that are starting to respond to the signals sent by changing consumer habits. That’s a whole load of positives.

But we have a fight on our hands. This weeks Earth Day summit was a tiptoe onto a stepping stone. COP26 needs to be a giant leap into a new reality. The way forward is clear; Bunny Huggers of the world unite!


If you’d like to read more on this week’s climate stories, try the following links;

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-56837927

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56859751

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/24/biden-vows-us-will-work-with-russia-on-climate

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/biden-climate-summit-2021-us-b1836053.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/04/23/climate-summit-job-biden/

https://www.economist.com/united-states/2021/04/24/joe-biden-asserts-americas-role-in-the-fight-against-climate-change