What’s Up With COP26?
by Robert Hunziker
[This article was first published in CounterPunch on September 17, 2021.]
The UK (in partnership with Italy) will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26 in Glasgow on October 31- November 12, 2021.
COP26 will be one of the most significant meetings in modern human history, comparable to the meeting of the Big Three at the Tehran Conference November 28, 1943, when the Normandy invasion was agreed, codenamed Operation Overlord and launched in June 1944. Thenceforth, tyranny was stopped, an easily identified worldwide threat symbolized by a toothbrush mustache. Today’s tyranny is faceless but recklessly beyond the scope of that era because it’s already everywhere all at once! And, ten-times-plus as powerful as all of the munitions of WWII.
What’s at risk at COP26?
Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs answers that all-important query in a summary report intended for heads of governments, entitled: Climate Change Risk Assessment 2021.
The report introduces the subject with three key statements:
1) The World is dangerously off track to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
2) The risks are compounding.
3) Without immediate action the impacts will be devastating in the coming decades.
The report highlights current emissions status with resulting temperature pathways. Currently, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) indicate 1% reduction of emissions by 2030 as compared to 2010 levels. To that end, and somewhat shockingly, if emissions are not drastically curtailed by 2030, the report details a series of serious impacts to humanity locked in by 2040-50, which is the time frame for item #3 to kick in, which states: “Impacts will be devastating.”
But, hark: Governments at COP26 will have an opportunity to accelerate emissions reductions by “ambitious revisions of their NDCs.” Whereas, if emissions follow the current NDCs, the chance of keeping temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels (the upper limit imposed by Paris ’15) is less than 5%.
Not only that, but any relapse or stasis in emissions reduction policies could lead to a worst case 7°C, which the paper labels a 10% chance at the moment.
The paper lambastes the current fad of “net zero pledges” which “lack policy detail and delivery mechanisms.” Meanwhile, the deficit between the NDC targets and the carbon budget widens by the year. In essence, empty pledges don’t cut it, period!
Failure to slash emissions by 2030 will have several serious negative impacts by 2040:
1. 3.9B people will be hit by major heatwaves at various intervals of time.
2. 400 million people will be exposed to temperatures that exceed “the workability threshold.” Too hot to work!
3. Of more immediate and extremely shocking concern, if drastic reductions do not occur by 2030, the paper suggests “the number of people on the planet exposed to heat stress exceeding the survivability threshold is likely to surpass 10 million a year.” This can only refer to the infamous Wet Bulb Temperature, meaning: A threshold is reached when the air temperature climbs above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is above 90 percent. The human body has limits. If “temperature plus humidity” is high enough, or +95/90, even a healthy person seated in the shade with plentiful water to drink will suffer severely or likely die. Climate models only a few years ago predicted widespread wet-bulb thresholds to hit late this century; however, global warming is not waiting around that long. Indeed, the Wet Bulb Temperature death count of 10 million per year nearly scales alongside WWII deaths of 75 million, both military and civilian, over six years or 12.5M per year.
4. Population demands will necessitate 50% more food by 2050, but without huge emissions reductions starting now, yields will decline by 2040 as croplands hit by severe drought rises to 32%/year. Fifty percent more food demand in the face of 32% rise in drought impact does not add up very well.
5. Wheat and rice account for 37% of calorific intake, but without drastic cuts, >35% of global cropland for these critical crops will be hit by damaging hot spells.
6. By 2040, without the big cuts in emissions, 700 million people per year will be exposed to droughts lasting at least 6 months duration at a time. “No region will be spared.”
Accordingly “Many of the impacts described are likely to be locked in by 2040, and become so severe they go beyond the limits of what many countries can adapt to… Climate change risks are increasing over time, and what might be a small risk in the near term could embody overwhelming impacts in the medium to long term.” (Pg. 5)
Chapter 4 of the paper covers Cascading Systemic Risks, which is an eye-opener. Systemic risks materialize as a chain, or cascade, impacting a whole system, inclusive of people, infrastructure, economy, societal systems and ecosystems. 70 experts analyzed cascading risks, as follows: “The cascading risks over which the participating experts expressed greatest concern were the interconnections between shifting weather patterns, resulting in changes to ecosystems, and the rise of pests and diseases, which, combined with heatwaves and drought, will likely drive unprecedented crop failure, food insecurity and migration of people. Subsequently, these impacts will likely result in increased infectious diseases (greater prevalence of current infectious diseases, as well as novel variants), and a negative feedback loop compounding and amplifying each of these impacts.” (Pg. 38)
“Climate change contributes to the creation of conditions that are more susceptible to wildfires, principally via hotter and drier conditions. In the period 2015–18, measured against 2001–14, 77 per cent of countries saw an increase in daily population exposure to wildfires, with India and China witnessing 21 million and 12 million exposures respectively. California experienced a fivefold increase in annual burned area between 1972 and 2018. There, average daytime temperatures of warm-season days have increased by around 1.4°C since the early 1970s, increasing the conditions for fires, and consistent with trends simulated by climate models.” (Pg. 39)
And, the biggest shocking statistic of all pertains to the high risk red code danger region of the planet that is ripe for massive methane emissions: “In Siberia, a prolonged heatwave in the first half of 2020 caused wide-scale wildfires, loss of permafrost and an invasion of pests. It is estimated that climate change has already made such events more than 600 times more likely in this region.” (Pg. 40)
“600 times more likely” in the planet’s most methane-enriched permafrost region is reason enough to cut CO2 missions to the bone, no questions asked.
Several climate change issues dangerously reflect on fragility of the food system and a pronounced lack of adaptation measures as well as natural systems and ecosystems “at the edge of capacity.” Lack of social safety and social cohesion is found everywhere, all of which can erupt as a result of an unforgiving climate system that is overly stressed and broken.
Cascades will likely lead to breakdown of governance due to limited food supplies and lack of income bringing on increasingly violent extremists groups, paramilitary intervention, organized violence, and conflict between people and states, all of which has already commenced.
Already, migration pressures are a leading edge of climate-related breakdowns in society. Each year in 2008-20 an average of 21.8 million people have been displaced by weather-related disasters of extreme heat, floods, storms, and wildfires. In the most recent year, 30 million people in 143 countries worldwide were displaced by such climate disasters.
Without doubt, the eyes of the world will be focused on COP26 to judge commitments by governments.
There is no time left for failure because failure breeds even worse failure.
Based in Los Angeles, Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.