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Climate change 2021: There’s no turning back now

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This year's COP26 inspired all these reactions at once.But dedicated experts in the negotiating arena hailed solid — even historic — advances in beating back the existential threat of global warming."The Glasgow Climate Pact is more than we expected, but less than we hoped for," Dann Mitchell, head of climate hazards at Britain's Met Office, said with haiku-like economy.Compared to what came before, the first-ever call by 196 countries to draw down coal-fired power, or a promise to double financial aid each year — to roughly $40 billion — so poor nations can brace for climate impacts, are giant steps forward. But all these hard-won gains at COP26 shrivel in significance when stacked up against hard science.An unbroken cascade in 2021 of deadly floods, heatwaves and wildfires across four continents, combined with ever more detailed projections, left no doubt that going beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) heating limit envisioned in the Paris Agreement would push Earth into the red zone."But the atmosphere responds to emissions — not COP decisions — and much work remains ahead to translate the strong rhetoric here into reality."It found that global heating is virtually certain to pass 1.5C, probably within a decade. Meanwhile, ocean levels are rising faster than anticipated, and will do so for centuries.Then there is the threat of "tipping points" that could see permafrost release massive amounts of CO2 and methane, the Amazon basin transformed into savannah, and ice sheets shedding enough mass to submerge cities and deltas home to hundreds of millions."But Glasgow has at least created an exit lane."Part 2 of the IPCC report on climate impacts, seen exclusively by AFP ahead of its February 2022 publication, reveals another yawning gap between the baby steps of COP26 and what is needed in the long term."Adaptation costs are significantly higher than previously estimated, resulting in a growing 'adaptation finance gap'," said an executive summary of the 4,000-page report.Glasgow marked the transition from fleshing out the rules for the 2015 Paris treaty to implementing its provisions. How that saga unfolds will depend a lot on the world's four major emitters, collectively responsible for 60 percent of global carbon pollution.But they refused to set up a fund demanded by more than 130 developing countries to help pay for climate damage already incurred. China and India — accounting for 38 percent of global emissions in 2021, and rising — have resisted pressure to give up fossil fuels.If climate politics remains stymied, however, global capital is already flowing into what some have called the most massive economic transformation in human history. "If we only had to transform one sector, or move one country off fossil fuels, we would have done so long ago," commented Christiana Figueres, who headed the UN climate convention when the Paris deal was struck.Where some of that money might flow — and who might get left out — has also come into focus, with major investment deals announced for South Africa, and others in the pipeline for emerging economies such as Indonesia and Vietnam."We cannot just wait for open market incentives to have their way, we need to set prices on carbon globally, we need to set science-based targets that become climate laws," said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. …



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