China has failed to revive the stale North-South conflict at Cop26

Beijing is instead trying to weaponise the argument of historical legacy, with help from Jair Bolsonaro’s government in Brazil and a shrinking group of business-as-usual emitters.

But research released this week by Carbon Brief shows that China and Brazil account for a larger share of the accumulated carbon legacy since 1850 than claimed, once you include deforestation and land abuse. 

The US is still the great emitter. It has gobbled up a fifth of the carbon budget used so far. China is at 11.4pc, Russia 6.9pc, Brazil 4.5pc, and Indonesia 4.1pc, with the UK well behind at 3pc and drifting down each year.

Crucially, India is no longer going along with China’s script, even though they are nominally in the same Cop negotiating bloc with Russia and Brazil known as Basic. It has an extremely low share of per capita legacy emissions – a quarter of Chinese levels – yet Narendra Modi has committed to a drastic change in India’s mid-term CO2 trajectory with a target of 50pc renewable power by the end of this decade.

Lord Stern says it is possible that India will achieve peak emissions before 2030 despite a fast-growing population, and even though it is still in the early catch-up phase of economic growth.

This is the under-appreciated miracle of Glasgow. But it also reshuffles climate geopolitics. “We cannot compare India and China. It’s time we de-hyphenated the two,” Sunita Narain from New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment.

China has become Glasgow’s awkward customer. While legacy emissions matter – and may end up at the International Court of Justice – current emissions have greater moral potency. What grates is the pattern of China’s behaviour since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in late 2018 that critical tipping points are closer than previously supposed.

It is worth viewing the Cop26 press conference on the ‘Ten New Insights in Climate Science 2021’ for a quick tour d’horizon of what is going on at the cutting edge of global research. Basically, everything experts were worried about last year, they are even more worried about a year later. The risks are hardening.

The warming threshold deemed likely to trigger feedback loops and unstoppable ‘cascade’ effects keeps falling as the science evolves, with a “very high risk” at barely above two degrees.

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