Will COP 26 make a difference?
COP 26 is dominating the news. Floods and forest fires, especially in the developed world, have made many of us realise the seriousness of climate change, campaigners have become increasingly vocal and the issue has been taken up by powerful influencers from the Royal family to David Attenborough.
Under increasing pressure, surely Governments will act decisively now? Will COP26 make a difference?
But many people remain cynical, with good reason.
One pledge from Cop26 is for the wealthier countries to provide $100bn per year to poorer countries to adapt to climate change. This is simply repeating a promise made in 2009. A broken promise. The renewed pledge is for this amount by 2023.
The 2015 Paris agreement was hailed as a breakthrough, but has failed to achieve its targets. The agreement talked about reducing emissions “as soon as possible”. It was vague and unenforceable.
Recently, the British Government’s claim to have reduced emissions by 44% since 1990 was shot down in flames, because the figure excluded aviation and shipping. The Government has promised, under pressure, to include these figures in the future. But no one denies that the UK has reduced emissions.
Much has also been made about the absence of the heads of state of China, India and Russia. US President Biden has made much of the USA’s rivalry with China. In addition, powerful lobbyists that used to deny climate change are now arguing that China is the world’s largest polluter, so what smaller polluters (like the UK) do is irrelevant.
So how is China performing in comparison with other countries?
China is the world’s largest polluter at the moment, but it is also home to one fifth of the world’s population. Looked at per capita (per person) the largest polluter is Saudi Arabia which emits 18 tons of greenhouse gasses per person yearly, followed by Australia, with the USA in third place emitting 16 tons. The world average is 4.8 tons. China emits 7.3 tons per person, the UK 5.5 tons and India 1.9.
So the USA’s promise to reduce emissions by half by 2030 would still leave it throwing out more CO2 per person than China does now.
China has increased its use of renewable energy considerably in recent years. It is now the world’s largest generator of electricity from wind power, the largest producer of hydroelectric power, and has the world’s largest capacity from solar power (but only when the sun shines).
China has the largest wind farm in the world and the largest hydroelectric power plant. India has the world’s second and fourth largest wind farms.
China is also helping to finance an ambitious (and controversial) hydroelectric programme in Ethiopia which will supply electricity to Africa’s second most populous country as well as neighbouring countries.
China has also increased the area that is forested from 12% to 23% of its land area since the 1990’s and expects that figure to increase to 30% by 2050. It has also invested in public transport, and has built the world’s largest High Speed rail network in under 15 years, and efficient transport systems in many of its cities.
China’s new climate pledge is that its emissions will peak before 2030, and it will be carbon neutral by 2060. That’s disappointing, but achievable.
The Chinese Government may be unpleasant, but it can get things done.
We wait to see if President Biden can force measures to reduce greenhouse gases through the US Congress. Pressure from the oil lobby is likely to make its passage difficult’
India has also made a pledge that it will be carbon neutral by 2070. While that may seem disappointing as well, it’s a major improvement on its previous projections, and one of the main surprises of COP 26 so far.
Meanwhile we can buy Chinese manufactured goods, and if any greenhouse gasses were produced when they were manufactured and transported 5,000 miles, that’s China’s fault, not ours!