Thumbscrews on for climate action – Marotzke

A leading climate expert has said the Glasgow agreement has “tightened the thumbscrews” on the world’s nations to delivering on their climate promises.

Jochem Marotzke, (above) director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, has spoken about the outcome of COP26, which he believe included a range of positives.

He said the agreement delivers the ability for countries to put the transition to net zero at the top of their agendas in the years to come.

“A government can now claim that its country has committed itself to a goal and must therefore implement certain measures – even if they are unpopular,” said Marotzke. “So far, there have been many announcements of wanting to be climate neutral at some point in the distant future. But the scientific community agrees that the years up to 2030 will be crucial. If we want to make progress on decarbonisation by the middle of the 21st century, we need to set a decisive course now.

“In Glasgow, it was decided that by 2022, the signatory states must update their voluntary commitments on which climate targets they want to achieve by 2030. Glasgow has thus tightened the thumbscrews. I expect that this will bring significantly more than formulating goals in several decades. Because that is about the policy that is being made today and which is verifiable.

“There are no sanctions yet. But no state likes to be shamed for not keeping its promises. Even Saudi Arabia and China are averse to this. Against this backdrop, it is remarkable that governments such as Saudi Arabia have also agreed – even though they will lose billions to trillions of dollars through decarbonisation because their assets will be devalued. Because the oil and coal that remain in the ground are no longer worth anything. This is not something that can be taken lying down. Overall, much more came out of Glasgow than I expected.”

He added that the decision to include specific terms around fossil fuels in the agreement was a significant step forward, despite opposition from some.

“At the end of the day, I am quite satisfied. Of course, there is still much that hasn’t been achieved. This conference has not decisively brought us to the 1.5 degree target. But some things are moving in the right direction.

“This is the first time that coal, coal-fired power generation, and fossil fuels have ever been explicitly mentioned in a UN document on climate change. That is a huge step forward. Even in the scientific status reports I am involved in, the term ‘fossil fuels’ does not appear. And when it was once almost accidentally included in a text, Saudi Arabia immediately made sure that it got removed again.”

On the move by China and India to turn the term phase out to phase down, managed to get it accepted that it should be called ‘phase down’ instead of ‘phase out’ Marotzke said those actions had weakened the agreement.

The fact that coal-fired power generation has been replaced by ‘coal-fired power generation without carbon capture’ is also a limitation,” he added. “But if you look at this point closely, it doesn’t make much difference. Because at present, the capture and underground injection of CO2 is so expensive that coal-fired electricity is no longer competitive. For me: ‘The end of coal is nigh’. This is a beacon of hope.”

On the support given to developing economies Marotzke said the agreement at least reiterated the pledge form the world’s leading economies to fund the transition for those who could afford it least.

“It was, of course, shameful how the rich countries addressed this issue at the Glasgow negotiations,” he explained. “They wanted to provide 100 billion dollars per year by 2020. It’s not that much money per year when you look at the financial and economic power behind it.

“But according to the industrialised countries themselves, we are now only at just under 80 billion dollars. So it is important that this has now been written into the agreement again – even if 2024 is not very ambitious for this.

“It is also good that the adjustment contributions are to be doubled by 2024 compared with 2019. Until now, people have been reluctant to talk about adaptation because they feared that otherwise too little would be done to slow climate change. But whether you like it or not, you have to face the question of what happens if we miss the targets of the Paris Agreement, especially the 1.5 degrees. Not to mention that climate change is already here and is becoming stronger.

“It is therefore clear that the damage from climate change will be greater and that we need to do more to adapt, especially in developing countries.”

The fact that coal-fired power generation has been replaced by ‘coal-fired power generation without carbon capture’ is also a limitation,” he added. “But if you look at this point closely, it doesn’t make much difference. Because at present, the capture and underground injection of CO2 is so expensive that coal-fired electricity is no longer competitive. For me: ‘The end of coal is nigh’. This is a beacon of hope.”

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