Our Burning Planet

OUR BURNING PLANET

World prays that ‘Ambition Summit’ will put Paris climate agreement back on track

World prays that ‘Ambition Summit’ will put Paris climate agreement back on track
The world is on track for a four degrees Centigrade average increase in temperature by 2100, France’s ambassador to South Africa Aurélien Lechevallier said on Tuesday in Pretoria. (Image: Adobe Stock)

The planet is now set for four degrees Centigrade warming by 2100, not the two degrees Centigrade Paris goal, says France’s ambassador to South Africa Aurélien Lechevallier.

The world’s climate champions are hoping that a “Climate Ambition Summit” this weekend will start putting the planet back on track to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming at 20C. It will be led by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera.

The Paris Cop21 agreement – the world’s first universal climate control pact – committed all 195 signatories to restrict global warming to an average of less than 20C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, and ideally to cap the increase in global warming at the even lower temperature of 1.50C.

But instead, the world is on track for a 40C average increase in temperature by 2100, France’s ambassador to South Africa Aurélien Lechevallier said on Tuesday in Pretoria. He was addressing a National Press Club press briefing about events to mark the fifth anniversary of the historic Paris Agreement. These include Saturday’s virtual Ambition Summit, which hopes to accelerate momentum for major improved commitments to reductions in carbon emissions by the nations of the world at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021.

Lechevallier said a 40C heating of the planet by 2100 did not sound like much. “But it’s on average. Which means for countries like South Africa you would have a difference of about 80C or 100C. That would affect everything; agriculture, industry, infrastructure, sport. So the consequences of a 40C warming on average would be a catastrophe for the planet,” he said. The world would see a proliferation of extreme events like flooding and heatwaves, with the greatest impact on the most vulnerable in society.

British High Commissioner Nigel Casey said, contrary to initial expectations, there had been no silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic in reductions of greenhouse gases. Initial reductions in carbon emissions had been as low as 4.5% and these proved temporary as they were wiped out as economies started to recover.

Casey said all the “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) made by all the signatories at the time of the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions had only been enough to keep the average rise in global temperature down to 30C and not the 20C which the agreement committed them to.

And now the world was on track for a 40C increase. “So we really need to raise political ambitions. Because we can’t afford not to secure an ambitious outcome from Glasgow next November which gets us back on track globally for that 20C goal.

“And that is why we’re doing this Ambition Summit on Saturday. We want to see countries all round the world coming forward, both with enhanced emissions reduction targets for between now and 2030 and long-term strategies with a pathway to net zero greenhouse gas emission by the middle of the century.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa and French ambassador to South Africa Aurélien Lechevallier. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

Lechevallier said so far only 15 to 20 countries had announced more ambitious NDC targets for greenhouse gas emissions, including the European Union which had committed to a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. So many more countries needed to announce more ambitious targets. Casey noted that the UK had just announced its own improved target – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% from 1990 levels by 2030, which he said was the most ambitious by any major economy.

He said Japan, South Korea and China had announced the goal of reaching net carbon neutrality by 2050. These all amounted to significant commitments by countries representing about half of global GDP.

He said so far the leaders of 81 countries planned to tell the virtual Ambition Summit about their plans to reduce their emissions even further. This would include a number of African countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Some countries are surprised and disappointed that South Africa will not be participating in the important Ambition Summit.

Albi Modise, spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries told Daily Maverick: “The summit is a platform for leaders to make ambitious announcements on the net zero (greenhouse gas emissions by 2050) and enhanced NDCs.

“South Africa and many other countries are still working on their NDCs which were delayed owing to Covid.”.

Casey said that the increased commitments to greater mitigation of global warming through reduced emissions, at the Ambition Summit, was just one of the pillars of the Paris Agreement for dealing with the issue. The UN negotiations leading to the Glasgow Cop26 would give equal priority to the other two pillars, adaptation and financing.

“Because even if we stopped emissions and temperatures rising today, the world would still have to deal with significant climate disruption. And adapting to climate impacts is crucial. We also need to ensure that donor countries increase their support for developing countries; increase the resources available to deliver that ambition.”

As co-host (with Italy) of the Cop26 in Glasgow, Britain would press all donor countries to meet their prior climate commitments, including to mobilise $100-billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries finance mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. Casey said that despite being hit economically by Covid-19 – like all economies – the UK had committed to double its international climate finance over the next five years to £11.6-billion.

Lechevallier said that South Africa, as one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth, was already feeling the impact of global warming more than most. He commended it for playing a key role in the success of the Paris Agreement by leading negotiations for all of Africa. And he said France and others hoped that South Africa would play the same leading role again in 2021 at the Glasgow Cop26.

He noted that South Africa had not yet announced an improved NDC – its commitment to further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – for the Glasgow Cop26. He acknowledged that for any country to increase its contributions to reducing emissions was not easy, and especially not for South Africa, which had a coal-based energy mix.

Casey added that South Africa was a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, but also recognised the need to reduce transmissions – though in a way which also addressed its challenges of economic growth, unemployment and inequality.

He said Britain wanted to work closely with the South African government in the international climate negotiations to try to reach strong global outcomes in the three pillars of the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and particularly climate finance.

Britain wanted to encourage and support an acceleration in South Africa’s own climate transition. This would have to happen across the whole economy, but particularly in the energy sector, which accounted for most of South Africa’s emissions.

“This makes sense for South Africa’s economic future, as well as in terms of the international climate response. There is a growing momentum behind greater ambition which is changing the international marketplace. There are investors who control roughly $40-trillion in assets who want to make investments to sustain and support a low-carbon world through their portfolio companies, and this ambition is shared by development finance institutions.

“We want to support South Africa to be at the front of this global shift, helping create new jobs, supporting sustainable investment and laying the foundation for long-term growth based on global competitiveness.

“We welcome the reference in South Africa’s Low Emission Development Strategy to their journey towards net zero emissions by 2050. And we know there is a lot of work going on to develop South Africa’s new greater emissions reduction target for Cop26 backed by many policy initiatives, like the establishment of the Presidential Commission on Climate Change and the Climate Change Act.”

Casey warned, though, that South Africa could also be affected by Britain’s own accelerated emission reductions, such as its recent decision to bring forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030. Other countries were introducing similar policies.

Khodani Mulaudzi, co-chair of the South Africa youth NGO, Resilient 40, called for more accountability by countries to ensure they were keeping to their past Paris Agreement commitments and would keep their future Glasgow commitments. She said countries needed to have plans that could be monitored.

Italian ambassador Paolo Cuculi said the Paris Agreement did include mechanisms to record the commitments countries had made and to check whether they were meeting their commitments. But apart from this formal compliance mechanism, there was also the “actual compliance verification” by public opinion on whether countries were complying.

“Facts are stubborn,” he said, and all over the world, people were confronted with the irrefutable evidence of global warming in the increase of extreme weather events. DM

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