The promises at the last climate summit in Great Britain came from almost 200 countries: Leading politicians pledged to tell the United Nations how their countries would reduce the emission of greenhouse gases faster and sooner. A year later, when we met again at the current world climate conference in Egypt, only 26 countries had done so.
Broken promises are an integral part of climate conferences: in 2009, rich countries assured poorer countries that they would pay 100 billion dollars (101 billion euros) annually from 2020 so that they can reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases and take measures to adapt to global warming.
In 2020, however, only around 83 billion US dollars were paid out instead of 100 billion – a large part of it in the form of loans that have to be repaid.
And: Despite all the promises made to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial age, the measures taken so far are not enough. If we stick to what has been done so far, the earth will warm up by 2.7 degrees by the end of this century.
But what about the promises made at the last climate conference?
Glasgow promise 1: less coal power
All governments agreed in Glasgow to end coal power – including the coal countries of Poland and Vietnam. 39 states also pledged to stop financing projects to promote coal, oil and gas in other countries.
But many countries are currently backtracking on their promises. According to the news portal Euractiv, Poland announced that it would postpone plans to close coal mines. Other countries in Europe are restarting coal-fired power plants to replace natural gas from Russia.
Nevertheless, high gas prices and concerns about energy shortages have boosted investments in renewable energies. The technology for converting sunlight into electricity has now become so inexpensive that building a new solar farm is cheaper than keeping an existing coal-fired power plant running.
Many nuclear power plants in France are defective, natural gas is scarce, which is why more coal-fired power plants are producing electricity in Europe again
“To meet the Paris climate agreement, the energy system must be carbon neutral by 2040. That requires accelerating the pace of the coal phase-out by a factor of six,” said Jennifer Layke, director of energy at the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington. “Around 100 gigawatts of coal power would have to be shut down every year. That corresponds to the closure of 310 average-sized power plants per year.”
Glasgow Pledge 2: less methane emissions
More than 100 countries have committed to reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by 70 percent between 2020 and 2030. Natural gas consists mainly of methane, and cows also emit it during digestion. Methane is 80 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2) and therefore accelerates global warming, especially in the short term.
Some countries have now taken action: In June, Mexico promised to invest two billion dollars in the state oil company to stop the venting and flaring of methane at the drilling sites. The EU is currently working on regulations to curb methane emissions in the energy sector.
Much of methane emissions could be reduced quickly and cheaply by banning practices such as methane gas flaring in oil production
But so far, according to the World Resources Institute, only 15 of the 119 signatories to the global methane agreement have given concrete figures for their methane reduction plans. Analysts expect dozens of countries to announce action plans to reduce methane emissions at the climate change conference in Sharm El Sheikh.
Even if governments are interested, some companies are blocking progress. In the US, the oil industry is resisting the government environmental agency’s regulation of methane emissions. In Europe, oil and gas companies are pushing for imported fuels to ignore methane emissions in the assessment – even though imports accounted for at least 80 percent of EU gas consumption in 2021.
“Many of the companies involved in this lobbying are making public statements about reducing methane emissions,” says Vivek Parekh of UK-headquartered non-profit think tank Influence Map.
Glasgow promise 3: no more money for climate killers
At the last climate conference in Glasgow, hundreds of banks and insurance companies with assets in excess of $130 trillion pledged to reallocate funds towards the 1.5 degree target.
But the alliance is shaky. Some members have resigned and most still benefit from coal, oil and gas projects. A recent UN report addressing the issue of greenwashing on net-zero emissions pledges lists precisely this group.
Banks are investing less and less in climate-damaging coal projects – but their commitment is not enough
A report by UK charity ShareAction found that most banks that set their net-zero goal were too slow to reallocate their money to green activities. Most of the 43 largest members of the Net Zero Banking Alliance have climate targets that are “insufficient to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”
Only seven banks have set overarching targets to reduce emissions by 2030. Most goals are to reduce the intensity of emissions per investment – but not the absolute amount of emissions.
Glasgow Pledge 4: Protect forests and soil
At the Glasgow climate conference, over 140 countries pledged to stop deforestation and soil degradation. At the same time, they promised to ensure afforestation and regeneration of soils by 2030. These countries include Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the most valuable and threatened forests in the world.
“Despite encouraging signs, there is not a single indicator anywhere in the world that we are on track to meet these 2030 goals,” says a recent report by the non-profit organization Forest Declaration Assessment. In order to reach the target, deforestation rates would have to decrease by ten percent per year. In the past year, however, they fell by only six percent.
Cattle ranchers, miners and loggers have devastated large parts of the Amazon rainforest – encouraged by outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
In Brazil, newly elected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest. “A standing tree is worth more than tons of wood harvested illegally by those who only think of a quick buck,” he said after his election victory at the end of October.
The last four years of government under his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro were marked by forest fires, land grabs, obstructions to environmental authorities and attacks on indigenous groups fighting to protect the forests.
Now a group of leading agribusinesses – including major beef producers like Cargill and JBS – have released a roadmap for climate action. In the short term, emissions are to be reduced and progress reported. And by 2025, deforestation in the Amazon for beef, soy and palm oil production is set to end altogether.
Adapted from the English by Gero Rueter