GLASGOW — A leader of the UN’s Conference of Parties (COP) offered a blunt assessment to kick off the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) most consequential gathering Sunday.
“Very frankly, we are not where we need to be and I think that’s something that we need to be very honest about,” Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters ahead of the World Leaders Summit. “We are seeing that all together. Our assessment indicates around a 16% increase of emissions by 2030, while we should be getting to a decrease of 45%. That is a fact.”
Espinosa cited the lack of commitment from leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) nations to take more aggressive actions on climate as a major headwind. The G20 agreed to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad but failed to set a target to phase out coal domestically, with clear opposition from China and India, among the biggest polluters in the world.
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G20 nations account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
China, the world’s largest coal producer, relies on it as its main source of power generation. And while President Xi Jinping announced Beijing would stop financing coal-fired projects internationally at the UN General Assembly in September, he has resisted pressure to set a timeline to phase out its use back home while the country ramps up coal production this year in an effort to meet its electricity needs.
Espinosa acknowledged China has yet to increase its climate commitments or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The country has vowed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and lower its carbon intensity — emissions per unit of GDP — by 65% of 2005 levels, but Beijing’s stated aim to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 lags well behind major economies, including the U.S.
“There is a strong determination to fulfill the commitments that [Chinese officials] are making… of course, I hope that they can succeed and that we can encourage them to come to bring that date forward as much as possible,” Espinosa said. “It is no doubt challenging. These huge populations have very complex, social, cultural, and political realities.”
China isn’t the only problematic country when it comes to climate. The latest UN assessment estimates national climate pledges combined put the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, well beyond the 2 degree cap nations committed to in Paris six years ago.
A global energy crunch threatens to complicate the outlook for COP26 further, as leaders face pressure to slow the transition to clean energy amid a supply shortage and soaring utility costs.
COP President Alok Sharma downplayed the headwinds, saying the commitments to end coal financing was proof that “we are consigning coal to history.”
“If this press conference had been taking place a year ago and I had said to you that this is how far we would have come, I suspect you might have been skeptical,” he said. “Ultimately, pushing forward on clean power is something that benefits each country individually.”
Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita
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