February 8, 2023

Money News PH

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A Battle Over Degrees: How Hot Should Nations Make Earth Get?

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt – At last year’s global climate talks in Glasgow, world leaders, scientists and CEOs gathered around the call to “keep 1.5 alive”.

The mantra referred to an ambitious goal that every government backed in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement: to try to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this threshold, scientists say, the risk of climate catastrophes increases significantly.

Now 1.5 hangs for his life.

At the United Nations climate summit in the city on the Red Sea, the countries are arguing about whether they should continue to aim for the 1.5 degree target.

The United States and the European Union both say that any final deal at the summit, known as COP27, should underscore the importance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

But some nations, including China, have so far resisted efforts to reaffirm the 1.5 degree target, according to negotiators from several developed countries. Doing so would be a major departure from last year’s climate pact and, for some, a tacit admission of defeat.

“When I came here, I had a really strong sense of relapse,” said Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland who heads a group of prominent former leaders called the Elders. Joining leaders from nearly 200 of the world’s largest companies and civil society groups, Ms Robinson signed a letter urging governments to stick to 1.5 degrees in climate negotiations.

That temperature target is “a limit to safe living,” Ms Robinson said, adding: “Any rise by a tiny fraction of a degree is harmful and we must work to avoid exceeding 1.5.”

For some nations, the dispute goes beyond numbers. Leaders of low-lying island nations say large parts of their territory could be washed away if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees. “This is indeed a matter of survival for all vulnerable countries,” said Kwaku Afriyie, Ghana’s environment minister.

At a meeting of the world’s 20 largest economies, taking place this week in Bali, Indonesia, leaders will said they were resolved “To continue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” put pressure on diplomats at Egypt’s climate talks.

But with global carbon emissions hitting a record high this year, some negotiators fear the 1.5-degree target could soon be out of reach, whatever the agreements on paper. The planet has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and under current national government policies, the world will warm by 2.1 to 2.9 degrees this century, according to a recent UN report heat centigrade.

“The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is life-saving,” said Prime Minister Philip Davis of the Bahamas in a speech to world leaders at the Egyptian conference. “It is a harsh truth for many to admit, as even the best of scenarios will mean almost unimaginable upheaval and tragedy.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February sparked a global energy struggle that has complicated efforts to reduce fossil fuel use. As natural gas prices soared, countries in Europe and elsewhere switched to burning coal, an even dirtier fossil fuel, and began investing in new natural gas pipelines and terminals that could operate for decades to come. Russian fuel exports also continued despite Western sanctions and simply went to other trading partners. In the United States, Republicans continue to call for expansion of oil and gas production and exploration. Fossil fuel companies even struck a number of gas deals with nations at COP27.

All of this could make limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees all but impossible, said Al Gore, the former US vice president, in a speech on the opening day of the Egyptian summit.

“The world’s leading scientists and energy experts have told us that any development of new fossil fuels is incompatible with the 1.5 degree limit for temperature rise,” he said.

The Paris Agreement contains some ambiguity about what the world’s exact climate targets should be. The pact said nations should commit to keeping global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius while “making efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Half a degree doesn’t sound like much, but every fraction of a degree of additional warming could leave tens of millions of people worldwide exposed to life-threatening heat waves, water shortages and coastal flooding, scientists have found. A 1.5 degree world could still have coral reefs and Arctic sea ice, while a 2 degree world most likely would not.

The consequences are “massively disparate in terms of food security and the ability to grow crops in certain parts of the world, and in terms of the number of people at extreme risk of flooding and risk of extreme heat,” Rockefeller President Raj Shah said Foundation said.

But at this point, keeping warming to 1.5 degrees would require drastic steps that would be costly, politically difficult and disruptive, and would require concerted action by the leaders of almost every country. They would need to roughly halve their collective emissions from fossil fuels by 2030, and then stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by 2050, scientists have calculated. That would require a complete overhaul of all power and transportation systems at an unprecedented pace. And with each year of inactivity, the task becomes more difficult.

For comparison, to keep warming to 2 degrees, nations would have an extra decade to halve their emissions.

China, the world’s largest emitter, has several concerns about the 1.5 target, said Li Shuo, a Beijing-based policy adviser with Greenpeace. It would put pressure on the Chinese government to adopt a stricter national target for cutting greenhouse gases, which it wants to avoid, he said. And if the United States pulled out of the global fight against climate change, as it did under President Donald J. Trump, China would shoulder the burden alone.

“There’s this skepticism about the United States’ ability to fulfill its promise,” Mr. Li said. “The US could just walk away and cite Congressional opposition, and on the other hand, the Chinese will be held more accountable. ”

The Chinese delegation at COP27 did not respond to a request for comment.

India, the world’s third largest emitter, has historically been wary of focusing too much on the 1.5 degree target. To meet that goal, Indian officials said, richer countries would need to reduce their emissions much faster than they are doing and provide more financial aid, potentially on the order of trillions of dollars, to poorer countries to help them transition to clean energy. So far, wealthy governments have failed to do this.

The Indian delegation at COP27 declined to comment.

Some leaders appear increasingly pessimistic that the 1.5 climate target will be met, even if nations back the target. After all, words on paper do not reduce emissions.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley is leading a campaign to reform the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to free up more money to help developing countries move off fossil fuels. She said it wasn’t enough to sing “1.5 to Stay Alive” in hopes it would make a difference.

“I’m not proud to be associated with having to repeat it over and over again,” she said.

Instead, she said, after a year of record storms, floods, fires and droughts, nations must do the hard work of reducing carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

For the determined optimists, however, there are glimmers of hope.

This year, Mr. Biden pushed through the Inflation Reduction Act, America’s first major climate legislation that will pour $370 billion into low-carbon technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power plants, hydrogen fuel, electric vehicles and electric heat pumps. It aims to help the country reduce its emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Speaking at the climate summit, Mr. Biden urged other nations to follow his example and come up with plans to rapidly reduce their emissions that are heating the planet.

“If we’re going to win this battle, every major emitter nation needs to align with 1.5 degrees,” Biden said. “We can no longer plead ignorance of the consequences of our actions or continue to repeat our mistakes.”

Another recent development that has cheered those who believe 1.5 is still possible was the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a committed environmentalist, as President of Brazil. Mr Lula, who is scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s climate summit, has pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest. Mr Lula ousted Jair Bolsonaro, who cut environmental programs and oversaw a sharp rise in deforestation.

“There is an opportunity to protect the Amazon rainforest, which is critical to protecting our global climate,” said Leila Salazar-Lopez, executive director of Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization. “If the Brazilian elections had gone the other way, I think we would definitely be past a tipping point and would have no chance of 1.5.”

The International Energy Agency has also predicted that the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this decade will spur more nations to invest in lower-emission technologies to improve their energy security. Global clean energy investment is expected to grow from $1.3 trillion this year to more than $2 trillion annually by 2030, although that is still only half of what is needed to keep warming at 1.5 degrees.

“Science is showing us that if we stop fossil fuel expansion and carbon emissions, we can actually turn things around,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network. “It’s like an 11 hour rescue, but we mustn’t give up.”