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Key figure: from +1.8° to 2.7° C

That is the trajectory of global warming reported at the end of COP 26.

Although the 26th United Nations Conference, held in Glasgow in November, ended with an encouraging compromise to limit global warming, it did not conform to the objectives of the Paris Agreement aimed at keeping it “well below” 2° C and at 1.5° C if possible.

Admittedly, this COP saw several advances: 152 countries out of 196 submitted new more ambitious commitments for 2030, and 82 countries representing three quarters of global GHG emissions included carbon neutrality in their objectives, i.e. 13 more than before the conference. India announced it wanted to reach carbon neutrality by 2070.


Source: UNEP et Carbon brief; Infographie: Le Figaro

Nonetheless, according to a preliminary note from UNEP, the UN organisation responsible for the environment, these new commitments sustain a very strong trend, with +2.7° C by the end of the century in comparison to the pre-industrial era. This figure could be reduced to +2.1° C if the promises made to reach carbon neutrality are kept, which remains to be seen. During the first week of the COP, the International Energy Agency appeared resolutely optimistic, with its Director, Dr Fatih Birol, mentioning a “historic moment: this is the first time that governments have proposed sufficiently ambitious targets to hold global warming below 2° C”. According to the new estimations released by his agency on 4 November, the rise could be held at +1.8° C if the commitments made are kept to and translated into actions in the short term. But what matters is: will these commitments will be sufficient?


Action is urgent


Behind this battle of figures, the verdict is irrevocable: to maintain the objective of +1.5° C “alive”, everything depends on the capacity and the will of governments to do their utmost to make this far-reaching ambition a reality. According to Antonio  Guterres, UN General Secretary, the world has no choice: “As I said at the opening of the COP, we must act more and faster to keep the objective of 1.5° alive. Our fragile planet is holding on by a thread. We are still on the edge of a climate disaster (…). It is time to switch to emergency mode, otherwise we will have no chance of reaching zero net emission.”

A small advance was made: the countries agreed to revise their contributions more frequently than every five years, the period set by the Paris Agreement. As from 2022, at the COP27 to be held in Charm El-Cheikh (Egypt), it will be necessary to assess the progress made with the commitments made.

Another advance concerned fossil fuels. For the first time, an agreement was reached between forty countries to abandon coal, by 2030 for developed countries and by 2040 for the others. The agreement was signed by Canada, Ukraine, Chili, Vietnam and Poland, among others. These countries also promised to no longer finance new coal-fired power plants on their own territory or elsewhere, and to speed up the deployment of renewable energies. However, the countries that consume the most coal in the world did not sign the agreement, namely the United States, China, India, Japan and Australia. Although for the first time the final declaration included the words “we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”, as emphasised by Barbara Pompili, French Minister of Ecological Transition, the impetus was blunted by an unexpected U-turn. Under the influence of India, the text called to “strengthen efforts towards a progressive reduction” of coal and no longer its “progressive disappearance”.

©Karwai Tang/ UK Government

International solidarity falls short


The number of declarations of intentions increased for cooperation agreements in favour of forests, resilient agriculture and reducing methane emissions, the second most common greenhouse gas linked to human activities. However, the international community fell short of displaying real solidarity at a time when the health crisis is aggravating inequalities.

One of the main claims of the poorest countries exposed to the effects of climate change was that they should receive compensation for the losses and damage already incurred by them. A point of conflict during the negotiations, this claim for additional funds was obscured in the final declaration. This revealed another failing of wealthy countries with respect to the poorer ones: the promise made in 2009 to help them cope with the long-term effects of climate change, amounting to $100 billion a year and starting in 2020. This threshold of $100 billion will not even be reached by 2023.

Antonio Guterres empathised his belief in climate action to restore confidence:

We have another climate crisis today, that of the climate of suspicion that surrounds our world (…). That means that the commitment to provide $100 billion in climate funds to developing countries must finally be respected.”

A huge effort remains to be made in terms of adaptation


Although the countries gathered in Glasgow multiplied the number of declarations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, little was said about adaptation to climate change, which above all concerns the developing countries. Human and financial losses and damage linked to climate change are inevitable and will occur over a long period, even if the temperature increases by only +1.5° C.

Overcoming this issue will require considerable funds. The Adaptation Gap Report on the difference between needs and perspectives – 2021: the gathering storm, made public by UNEP on November 1st, observes that the cost of adaptation will probably amount to the higher figure of the estimation ranging from $140 to $300 billion from now to 2030 and from $280 to $500 billion from now to 2050, solely for the developing countries. We are nowhere near these figures today: overall, the costs of adaptation estimated in developing countries are five to six times higher than the current flows of public funds for adaptation – close to $80 billion for 2019 – and the gap is widening.


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