After the US presidential elections and a global pandemic, curbing the climate crisis is a vital task for 2021.
By Cyrus Jarvis.
2020 was a busy year, particularly with the onset of a global pandemic taking us by surprise. For some, the climate crisis has been easy to forget about in a world where we are facing the more immediate effects of the pandemic. However, as we start 2021, it seems as though governments around the world may be nearer to making more solid commitments in the fight against climate change.
The postponement of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) until 2021 has given the British Government an extra year to polish up on its climate efforts at a time when Brexit has kept Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attention away from the crisis. In the US, the election of Joe Biden as the next president has brought further hope that the new administration will take concrete action against the oil and gas industry.
As of December 2020, government policies worldwide were projected to result in a global temperature increase of 2.9°C by 2100 – compare that to the limit of 1.5°C indicated by the 2015 Paris Agreement, which would prevent millions of people from facing dangerous heat waves. Before COVID-19 arrived in Europe, COP26 was set to be the most important climate conference since the 2015 international treaty. The key task of the conference was to encourage the roughly 200 countries that are party to the Agreement to improve on their climate action policies, as part of the five year ratchet mechanism that requires parties to commit to enhanced ambition. However, signatories were still required to submit their enhanced commitments (NDCs) for COP26 by the end of 2020. As of January 2021, only the European Union, Norway, Chile, and the UK have so far submitted stronger targets while Australia, the US, and Indonesia have refused to do so.
Despite this, the recent US elections, the commitments made by the EU in its European Green Deal, and China’s commitment to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2060 indicate that more countries could come forward with similar targets to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Although China has yet to register its commitment with the UN, the country is expected to provide more details in its next five-year plan, set to be published in March.
It can, however, be argued that even the countries that have committed to more ambitious targets haven’t gone far enough, as aiming for net-zero by 2050 is roughly 20 years too late for industrialized countries, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Other than COP26, the biggest actor to watch out for in 2021 will be the US government, which is expected to return to the Paris Agreement once Joe Biden officially assumes the presidency on January 20. Biden is also in support of a net-zero-by-2050 target, which would affect 45% of the world’s emissions when counted together with the EU and China. The remaining 55% of emissions will lay largely in the hands of countries like Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Australia – whose governments continue to block climate progress.
In short, the world is not on track to beat the climate crisis just yet, but there’s still hope for progress to be made – as long as countries act with urgency.