China and the United States have this week boosted momentum ahead of November’s COP26 key climate summit with new energy and funding pledges to tackle planetary warming, but analysts said they lacked detail and far more was needed to meet global goals.
Leaders of the world’s two largest economies announced separate measures at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Tuesday, with China pledging to end overseas coal financing and the US saying it would double climate funding for developing countries.
The announcements were hailed as important ahead of the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow, but green groups said both countries — the world’s two largest carbon polluters — and other major emitters needed to raise their game in the coming weeks.
Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, said climate finance and action to slash emissions “need to be scaled up considerably” before COP26.
Getting countries to strengthen their emissions-cutting plans and provide the finance to put them into practice are crucial at COP26, billed as the last chance to galvanise the collective effort needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the US and Chinese announcements but said the world still had “a long way to go to make COP26 a success”.
He urged countries to “go the extra mile” and bring their “highest level of ambition” to Glasgow, to keep the 1.5C goal — the lowest threshold in the 2015 Paris Agreement — within reach.
China’s coal ‘addiction’
Swiftly ending coal use is seen as crucial to meeting the Paris pact commitment to cap global warming at “well below” 2C, and ideally 1.5C, to avoid rapidly worsening climate threats such as harsher storms, floods, wildfires and crop failures.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the annual UN gathering on Tuesday that his country would not build any new coal-fired power projects abroad, following in the footsteps of South Korea and Japan earlier this year, but did not provide details.
Campaigners urged China to provide more clarity on how it plans to end overseas coal financing, and to set a clearer timeline to phase out the dirty fossil fuel at home.
“(This) is significant as China, the last man standing in the world of overseas coal finance, made clear that coal power is not part of its future,” said Joojin Kim, managing director at Solutions for Our Climate, a Seoul-based non-profit.
He said more information was needed on whether China would move away from overseas coal projects already planned and what it would do with the long pipeline of coal power plants under development within its borders.
Coal remains a mainstay for power generation in Asia, which accounts for 75 per cent of global coal demand, according to the International Energy Agency.
China alone is home to just over half of the new coal power capacity under construction globally, according to a report by think-tank E3G this month.
Li Shuo, a senior advisor at Greenpeace East Asia, said he would be watching how Beijing puts its new promise into practice, especially how it will apply to state banks and other agencies.
“With the new direction set for overseas coal, China needs to work harder now on its domestic coal addiction,” he added. “Beijing should drastically reduce coal in its energy system to ensure its emissions peak before 2025.”
Show us the money
Green groups also urged US President Joe Biden to do more after he told the UNGA he would work with Congress to double climate finance for developing nations to $11.4 billion a year by 2024.
Biden’s announcement will move donor governments closer to meeting an overdue pledge, set more than a decade ago, to deliver $100 billion a year from 2020 to help vulnerable countries adapt to global warming and transition to cleaner energy.
But many campaigners said the new pledge still fell short.
“In terms of the United States’ fair share towards climate finance as a whole, this is a drop in the ocean and insufficient,” said Harjeet Singh, a senior advisor at Climate Action Network International, uniting more than 1,500 groups.
He noted that Washington’s fair share was $40 billion-$50 billion a year, based on its historical responsibility for planet-heating emissions, wealth and population.
“By some estimates, the US owes about $800 billion by 2030 to meet its responsibility towards fixing the climate crisis as the largest emitter among rich countries,” Singh added.
The latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development out last week show that in 2019, donor governments channelled $79.6 billion to vulnerable countries, an increase of just 2 per cent from $78.3 billion in 2018.
Climate finance is seen as crucial to convince developing countries — both big and small emitters — that any efforts to raise their ambition will be met with solid financial backing.
“Much more finance will be needed to support developing countries as they pursue low-carbon, climate-resilient development,” said Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute, a US-based think-tank.
“President Biden should work with the US Congress to assure that these funds can be credibly delivered,” she added, urging the US to set a “clear path” to dishing out the money it aims to provide.
The world’s two super-powers will need to show they are serious about their new commitments, said Greenpeace’s Li.
“There is always a danger to take countries at face value,” he said. “This danger is growing bigger as the trendy thing becomes (to) over-promise and under-deliver.”
This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.
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