University of São Paulo: COP 26: Countries resume negotiations to avoid climate chaos

ÇWith the coronavirus pandemic finally under control, the world’s attention is once again turning to what many consider to be the greatest threat to the future of the human species: global climate change. Thousands of activists, scientists, entrepreneurs, diplomats and political leaders from the smallest and largest economic powers on the planet will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, starting this Sunday (October 31), for the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 26 ) of the UN Climate Convention, with the challenge of crafting a new global alliance to combat global warming.

COPs have been held annually since 1995, with the exception of 2020, when the conference had to be canceled due to the pandemic. From them, emblematic agreements were born, such as the Kyoto Protocol , which established the first goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at the beginning of this century, and the Paris Agreement , forged in 2015, whose mission is to ensure the global warming of the planet. “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and preferably below 1.5 ºC, “recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

The 25 conferences held so far have been instrumental in drawing the planet’s attention to the seriousness of the problem; but the practical results obtained so far are not encouraging. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the planet’s temperature continues to rise, the effects of climate change are increasingly severe, deforestation of tropical forests is growing again (especially in Brazil) and the world economy remains heavily addicted to use fossil fuels and other unsustainable consumption and development practices.

“Whatever the result, it will be a very important meeting,” researcher Paulo Artaxo, a professor at the USP Institute of Physics, a specialist in atmospheric physics and global climate change , told the Jornal da USP . “The task ahead is huge and the problem will not be solved in a single meeting, but it is important that there is a clear signal from the international community about a series of things that need to happen going forward. Is fast.”

This year’s attention is mainly focused on the new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are the commitments formally adopted by each country to decarbonize their economies over the next few decades. The first NDCs were presented as of 2015, within the framework of the Paris Agreement, with the commitment to be revised every five years, in order to make them more ambitious, in light of new scientific evidence. By the end of this COP, therefore, all 192 “parties” (countries or blocs signatory to the agreement) are expected to present their new NDCs.

What the light of new scientific evidence shows us is frightening. The current situation is as follows: according to the calculations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the planet’s average temperature has already increased 1.1°C since the beginning of the industrial era and, to keep this global warming below 2°C, the world needs reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030, compared to what was emitted in 2010 (or by 50%, to respect the 1.5ºC limit, which many already consider to be a mission impossible). The NDCs presented until the beginning of this month, however, project a 16% increase by 2030, which would result in a 2.7°C warming by the end of this century, according to a Synthesis Report released by the Climate Convention on the 25th. In other words, what countries are promising to do is much less than what needs, in fact, to be done to curb warming and prevent a climate debacle of potentially catastrophic proportions for economic health, environmental and social aspects of the planet.

IPCC: if nothing is done, climate collapse is imminent
Collectively, these new commitments represent an additional reduction in emissions of just 7.5% over the first NDCs filed since 2015, according to the latest Emissions Gap Report ,of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), released on the 26th. In other words: the gap between where we are and where we should be is narrowing a little, but it remains huge. In a very optimistic scenario, considering the full implementation of everything that is foreseen in the NDCs, plus the other goals that have been announced by different countries – to become “carbon neutral” in 2030 or so -, it would be possible to restrict warming global at 2.2ºC, which would already imply very serious climate changes, according to the IPCC. The distance between the announcement and the achievement of goals is long, with little room for optimism. Most G20 countries (a group of the world’s largest economies, including Brazil) are still far from meeting their 2030 commitments.
Still, there are those who hope that this new COP will inaugurate a process of more effective political engagement in the fight against global warming, due to the lessons learned during the pandemic and the worsening of climate change itself, which have become much more noticeable in recent years years—in the form of storms, droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather events, increasingly acute and frequent. Professor Pedro Leite da Silva Dias, from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG) at USP, is one of those cautious optimists: “The perception of risk determines the outcome of negotiations, and I think that the perception of risk today is very larger, due to what has been happening in recent years”, says Dias, who is a meteorologist and has followed the work of the Climate Convention since its inception — always with many frustrations. “Maybe it’s scientist’s naivete,” he jokes, “but it’s something that makes me more hopeful going forward.”

Another big news this year is the return of the United States to the front line of climate diplomacy, after four years of denial by the Donald Trump government, which even removed the country from the Paris Agreement. Confronting climate change is one of the main banners of President Joe Biden, who on the first day of his term put the US back in the agreement and announced a multibillion-dollar plan to decarbonize the American economy. The United States is currently the second country that emits the most greenhouse gases, behind China, and the first in the world in terms of per capita emissions .

“I don’t have high hopes that any important decision will come out of this meeting, but I’m hopeful that there will be a positive direction, pulled by the United States”, assesses meteorologist Tercio Ambrizzi, professor at the IAG and coordinator of the Support Center for Research on Climate Change of USP. He emphasizes that scientific projections about the progression and effects of global warming have proved to be extremely reliable, which leaves no doubt about the risk of remaining on the current trajectory of development. “We have to work much harder to reduce emissions,” he says. “The warming continues and we are already seeing the increase in weather extremes and their impacts on society.”

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, fell 5.4% in 2020, due to the covid-19 pandemic – which forced the shutdown of several economic activities and, consequently, reduced the use of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) during this period — according to UNEP. But even that was not enough to curb the increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which reached 413.2 parts per million (ppm), according to the latest Greenhouse Gases Bulletin , from the World Meteorological Organization, released on the 25th.

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was between 3 and 5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2°C to 3°C warmer and the sea level was 10 to 20 meters higher than it is now. But there weren’t 7.8 billion people [in the world] then,” said WMO General Secretary Petteri Taalas.

The case of Brazil

Brazil arrives at COP 26 with its image overshadowed by the increase in deforestation in the Amazon and by the scientific denial of President Jair Bolsonaro – who refused to hold COP 25 in Brazil in 2019, and who will not participate in person at this conference in Glasgow, ” for reasons of the agenda”, according to its secretary of government. The government’s first two years were marked in international climate diplomacy by the denial of then Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo and the arrogance of then Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, which left a terrible impression on the international community. For this conference, the ministers are different, but the government’s policies remain the same, heading in the opposite direction from the rest of the world, according to experts.

According to UNEP, Brazil is the only country, so far, that revised its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to emit more carbon, instead of less, compared to what had been originally proposed. The main goal has not changed: to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, compared to what the country emitted in 2005. The problem is that the baseline has changed. In the first NDC, presented to the Convention in September 2016, the estimate was that Brazil had emitted 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2005. In the revised NDC, presented in December 2020, this value was recalculated to 2.8 GtCO2e, based on a new methodology; but the reduction target was not changed in the same proportion,Climate Observatory analysis . This is what experts have come to call “carbon pedaling”, now confirmed in UNEP’s Emissions Gap report. (The UN program calculates a slightly smaller ride, on the order of 300 million tons of CO2 equivalent.)

Also against the world’s trend, Brazil’s carbon emissions grew 9.5% in 2020, despite the pandemic, according to the latest report by the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removal Estimates System ( SEEG)), from the Climate Observatory, released last Thursday (28). The main cause of the increase could not be another: deforestation. According to the report, prepared by researchers from several non-governmental organizations, the emission of greenhouse gases from changes in land use and forests in Brazil increased by almost 24% in 2020, while the emissions generated by the energy sector only fell 4.5%. A lot of things stopped working in the country during the pandemic, but not deforestation. The damage done in the Amazon alone, according to SEEG, released more carbon into the atmosphere in 2020 than the whole of Germany.

These are numbers that “complete the negative cycle of the Bolsonaro government”, according to the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, Marcio Astrini. “Everything the government has planted in terms of environmental destruction, it is reaping now, in the form of emissions,” Astrini said at the report’s launch event .

Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and president of the scientific committee of the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change ( PBMC ), classified the data as a “portrait of backwardness” in Brazil, not only in relation to confronting climate change, but also to adapt its development model to the demands of today’s world. “We are not connecting to an energy or technological transition, which is where the world is heading”, he said. “We are going to be in the wake of the nations that have modernized.”

Artaxo believes that this 9.5% increase will bring a lot of pressure on Brazil in Glasgow. “No country is going to want to put money in Brazil to reduce deforestation with such a scenario ahead”, says the researcher, noting that the country does not depend on foreign resources to protect the forest, as it has already done this very efficiently in the past, using only own resources.

As it did at the last COP, in 2019, the Bolsonaro government should make its actions to combat deforestation and reduce emissions conditional on receiving external financial assistance. “The expectation, sincerely, is that we are going to be ashamed again”, says Professor Pedro Luiz Côrtes, from the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) and the Graduate Program in Environmental Science at the Institute of Energy and Environment (IEE) from USP, who talked about the topic with Jornal da USP and dealt with the subject in his weekly column on Rádio USP (listen to the interview here ). According to him, the government is already traveling to Glasgow with the “perfect excuse” for not doing what needs to be done. “He’s going to ask for money that he knows won’t be given, and then say he didn’t act because he didn’t receive the necessary help,” he says. “The Bolsonaro government has absolutely no credibility to ask for anything at the COP.”

The National Green Growth Program, launched by the government on the 25th, is “another fake news” of the Bolsonaro administration, according to Côrtes. “It’s a government that lives on false plans, false expectations and no achievements.”

Contrary to what is commonly said, when taking into account emissions from deforestation and agriculture, Brazil is one of the countries that contribute most to global warming. The position in the ranking varies depending on how the account is made, but it is always among the top ones , along with China, the United States, Russia, India and Indonesia. Even in per capita accounting (which divides the country’s total emissions by its population), Brazil ranks among the biggest polluters in the world. According to SEEG, Brazil’s average per capita emission was 10.2 gross tons of CO2 in 2020, compared to 6.7 tons of the world average.

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