COP26’s Cautious Kick-off and India’s Controversial Carbon Pledge

A matter of degrees . . . 

Leaders of the world’s major economies moved from the G20 meetings in Italy to the COP26 climate conference in Scotland over the weekend. All eyes remain on whether countries responsible for the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions can agree to reduce carbon output to levels that prevent global warming exceeding the previously agreed 1.5-to-2.0-degree Celsius threshold. While G20 leaders pledged to take meaningful action on climate change, critics noted that the summit’s final communique did not include a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, seen by many as the minimum required to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Environmentalists called this out as a lack of ambition. Still, on COP26’s first day, deals were announced to end deforestation by 2030 and significantly reduce the global output of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, also by 2030.

India’s 2070 carbon-neutral pledge panned . . .

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi courted controversy after announcing his country’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. While leaders of India’s largest companies and business organizations celebrated the announcement as a “practical long-term target” that shows “urgency in implementation,” it was widely panned in countries that have set out more aggressive targets. In contrast, the U.S., U.K, Canada, Australia, and others have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, and China has set 2060 as its target. Modi’s announcement did, however, outline firm climate-friendly targets, including that half of India’s energy would be from renewables by 2030. Modi also committed to significant improvements in energy intensity – the economic value produced per unit of energy – by 2030.

Asia Pacific holdouts in a grand climate bargain?

Today, China’s top climate negotiator insisted that temperature increase targets need to remain up for discussion and that sticking too closely to the 1.5-degree target would “destroy consensus.” The UN’s former climate chief, meanwhile, branded Australia’s lack of a plan to achieve its recently-announced 2050 carbon neutrality goal as “completely irresponsible” even as the country’s Prime Minister today pledged to significantly increase climate financing to neighbours in Southeast Asia and the Pacific to address the effects of climate change. Fiji’s leader called Australia’s overture “a start.” Nobody believes transitioning to a global green economy will be easy. While bridging significant gaps between major emitters is fraught with difficulty, the initial days of COP26 indicate the ground for incremental agreement remains fertile.