In the race to avert catastrophic global heating, there is no more wriggle room left
Six years ago, as the Paris accord was agreed amid euphoria at the 21st UN climate conference, the French hosts wisely insisted on a clause obliging countries to match promises with deeds. Having committed to try to hold global temperature rises “well below” 2C compared to preindustrial times – and aspire towards a limit of 1.5C – governments were mandated to produce updated plans in 2020, showing how they would actually achieve that goal.
Delayed by a year due to the Covid pandemic, the climate summit now beginning in Glasgow represents that moment of truth. In the words of Laurent Fabius, the former French foreign minister who presided in Paris, Cop26 “is the Cop of action, at which we apply the Paris agreement”. Boris Johnson has acknowledged that there is no prospect of a formal commitment to the 1.5C threshold in Glasgow. But if a pathway to that target is not kept open, the world’s leaders will knowingly be locking the planet into a journey towards environmental catastrophe. This year’s extreme weather events – the terrible heatwaves, wildfires and floods that have made headlines across the globe – are evidence that the destructive consequences of global heating are happening faster than expected and on a larger scale. The world today is 1.1-1.2C hotter than in the preindustrial era. Heating beyond 1.5C would deliver even more devastating droughts and crop failures. It would increase the chances of greater famine and ecosystem collapse.