by Madison Li ’22
Published Dec. 22nd, 2021
On November 6, 2021, during the United Nations COP26 climate conference at Glasgow, Scotland, researchers from the U.N. Environment Program predicted that in the next century, the Earth would warm 2.5ºC (4.5ºF) above pre-industrial levels.
2.5ºC is dangerously higher than the goal set by the Paris Agreement of 2015, which aimed to limit the century’s global warming to “well below” 2ºC while “pursuing efforts” to reach 1.5ºC. This 2.5ºC prediction is based on nations’ current NDCs (nationally determined contributions), which are short-term climate action plans, with reassessments in progress every five years. However, experts warn that NDCs do not reflect long-term net zero pledges for carbon emissions.
Many nations that are heavy carbon emitters have set zero emission goals for the middle or end of this century, though it is likely to be an impossible achievement at the current NDC levels. Inadequacies arise from countries’ unwillingness to prioritize climate control over national issues, especially economic circumstances, as well as the difficulty in holding politicians accountable for far-off visions after they’re out of office.
In response to the prediction, U.N. members at the summit reached remarkable agreements to take stronger, faster climate action.
Instead of waiting five years to reassess the NDCs as the Paris Agreement originally intended, nations at the summit agreed to discuss revision of current NDCs at climate conferences next year, and in following years.
The COP26 conference produced the first ever commitment to reduce power production using coal, the most harmful fossil fuel, although India and China opposed a goal of completely eliminating coal.
Furthermore, wealthy countries have agreed to increase financial support for developing countries to $500 billion by 2025, since only $80 billion of the $100 billion previously promised by 2020 was reached, as well as refocus the funding for adaptation from emission cuts to climate change. These optimistic plans would set the world much closer to the goal of 1.5ºC, although proper execution awaits to be seen.
If there aren’t more serious efforts to curb global warming from all nations, there could be catastrophic consequences. Extreme heat and ice sheet loss may continue, permanently altering weather worldwide. The sea level may rise over two feet, leading to devastating floods and widespread displacement. Severe natural disasters and water scarcity may destroy ecosystems and communities, disrupting all forms of life. Such effects have already begun and can only worsen. Climate change poses an existential risk not just to humans, but to life on Earth.
The Glasgow summit’s global warming trajectory is a solemn reminder of the danger that humanity faces and the necessity of nations to collaborate to overcome issues that transcend borders.