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Dull start to COP26: India delays its goals by 20 years (and that’s the best news)

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COP26 has been announced as the most relevant event since Paris 2015. But it is no longer valid just to keep alive the commitment that was made to limit global warming

India, one of the most polluting countries in the world, will meet net-zero emissions by 2070. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this Monday at the United Nations climate summit held in Glasgow. 

They are 20 years behind the goal that the international community had set to avoid environmental catastrophe. But the fact that, so far, this is precisely one of the most significant announcements of COP26 reveals the few expectations that exist for the nearly 120 leaders concentrated in Scotland to star in the urgent turning point that scientists demand.

COP26 has been announced as the most relevant event since the historic 2015 Paris Agreement. But it is no longer valid just to keep alive the commitment that was made to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century. Time runs against humanity. You have to go from words to deeds. There are 10 days of intense technical negotiations ahead. But judging from the political speeches, the omens are not overly optimistic. Much rhetoric, little action.

Countries need to come up with a concrete roadmap to cut emissions in half by 2030. In an ideal world, in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe, leaders should be carbon neutral by 2050, this means that they could only emit gases that can be captured by nature or by technologies that are now experimental.

But we are not in an ideal world. At the G-20 summit held last weekend in Rome, only 12 of the 20 richest countries in the world – which in total account for 80% of global emissions – have committed to this goal.

India, a developing country of more than 1.3 billion people, is one of the world’s largest emitters of CO₂ after China, the United States and the EU. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the only one in this group who had yet to update his road map. And when announcing his plans, he also pledged that by 2030 he will increase his capacity to generate electricity with clean energy by 50% – compared to 40% in the past – and reduce its carbon intensity by 45% by 2030 (compared to the previous target of 35%).

The details of the engagement

While the goal of net-zero for 2070 lags behind the 2050 pledge made by the US and the EU, and the 2060 pledge made by China and Saudi Arabia, it is in line with what many climate experts have modeled as the scenario “more realistic” than New Delhi to achieve carbon neutrality.

Unlike Western countries, and even China, India is decades away from its peak in terms of economic growth and energy consumption, and India’s energy demand is expected to grow faster than that of any other country in the coming years. Its population is also expected to exceed China’s to make it the largest in the world. 

Millions of people throughout the country are already exposed to severe heat, water scarcity, extreme weather events such as floods and coastal erosion, all of which have been on the rise in recent years.

In 2009, rich countries pledged to raise $ 100 billion a year to help poorer nations by 2020, but this goal has yet to be met and could be postponed until 2023.

The general tone of the speeches by a large part of the 120 presidents present – the rest will continue this Tuesday – was rather rhetorical without specific announcements. 

In short, the “blah, blah, blah” that activist Greta Thunberg denounced outside the Glasgow Convention Center. 

“True leadership is here on the street, not in there,” she said.

The return of the United States to the environmental chessboard – after the denial period of Donald Trump – was one of the most anticipated events of COP26. US President Joe Biden urged to act this decade with ambition, so that the fatal effects of global warming can still be mitigated.

Despite everything, engrossed in his own country with Congress to carry out his environmental plans, he did not offer additional commitments to those he has previously made.

Nor did the most polluting country on the planet, China, offer great announcements, whose president, Xi Jinping, demanded in a written intervention that the richest states increase their aid to those who still need in many cases to resort to fossil fuels. His absence, which joined that of other leaders such as the Russian Vladimir Putin, the Turkish Erdogan, the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro or the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was criticized by some officials, such as the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

In his role as host, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the parties “creativity, imagination and will” to “irrefutably” change the course of the planet because the current reality “is not a movie”. “We are in roughly the same position as James Bond today, except that the tragedy is this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real,” he warned.

“Either we stop it — or it stops us”

In any case, the Downing Street tenant is in full controversy for deciding to return from Glasgow to London this Tuesday by private plane. A government spokesman stressed that it is a very efficient model. Asked by journalists why he could not use the train, the source pointed out that it is about managing “significant time constraints” on the agenda of the head of Government.

The Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, could not be clearer: “Either we stop it — or it stops us. It’s time to say: enough”. His intervention at the summit turned into a harsh reprimand to the leaders, whom he asked to cease their unfulfilled promises because we have already reached a point where failure to act to stop climate change will become “a death sentence”. 

“We are digging our own graves. Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves”, he said.

In fact, he regretted that the recent announcements and commitments could give the impression that the world is going in the right direction, but, in his view, this is “just wishful thinking”, because the so-called “sum of nationally determined contributions”

In other words, the plans of each country to reduce emissions will place the global increase, in the best of scenarios, at 2.7 ° C. 

“Even if the commitments are serious, there are doubts that the worst catastrophes can be avoided,” he stressed.

Image Credit: Getty

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