TGIF! It’s been a long week at the COP26 climate conference, where Friday’s theme was about the impact of climate change on future generations.
The focus, therefore, turned away from the suits and briefcases in the conference venue to the city center, where thousands of kids and young adults wanted to make sure their voices were heard by marching though Glasgow.
Here’s what happened Friday.
‘Green wash festival’
Young activists poured into Glasgow from all over the world to demand from leaders at a Fridays for Future demonstration.
Greta Thunberg headlined the event and called the COP26 summit a “global north green wash festival,” and said “it should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.”
But while Thunberg was the most anticipated guest at the event, there were many other equally passionate speakers that took the stage, many sharing their personal experiences with the crisis.
Young Filipino climate advocate Jan Karmel Guillermo told crowds the summit was a “crucial moment” in the climate crisis, while Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate said “no action is too small to make a difference.”
“Today we shall continue to fight on, everywhere we can. We cannot give up now,” Nakate told the crowd. “We need to continue holding leaders accountable for their actions. We cannot keep quiet about climate injustice.”
America’s plan to make carbon capture cheaper
US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced Friday the Department of Energy has a new goal: dramatically reduce the cost of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Granholm said Friday at COP26 that the DOE’s goal is to reduce the cost to $100 per ton of carbon by 2030. Right now, the department estimates it costs roughly $2,000 per ton.
Scientists say removing greenhouse gas from the atmosphere is crucial to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the technology is still relatively young and incredibly expensive. It also needs to be scaled up significantly in order to make a dent in what humans have already emitted.
“By slashing the costs and accelerating the deployment of carbon dioxide removal, we can take massive amounts of carbon pollution directly from the air and combat the climate crisis,” Granholm said in a statement.
A word about the good news from IEA
Several analysts urged caution about the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) assessment that global warming could be limited to 1.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, if all COP26 commitments made as of Wednesday night are fulfilled on time. The IEA was asked by the COP26 President Alok Sharma to keep tabs on the pledges.
Mark Maslin, a professor of earth sciences at University College London, poured cold water on the analysis.
“This is irresponsible, because this is only true if all the country pledges are met and their policies are 100% effective - which they never are,” Maslin told CNN. “It’s almost like the IEA wants to tell everyone the job is done and we have solved climate change, whereas we climate scientists know we are still a long, long, way from 2 degrees let alone 1.5 degrees.”
Taryn Fransen, senior fellow of the Global Climate Program at the World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization, said in an online briefing that while it’s very positive that many new countries have pledged to get to net zero emissions, the devil is in the details.
“The problem is that a lot of [the countries] that are taking on these net zero pledges haven’t yet put forward a credible plan to get there,” she said. “And their 2030 targets don’t suggest the kind of near term transformative change that will be needed to get on track. In particular, you’ve got countries like Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, putting forward net-zero pledges, but not making any meaningful improvements to their 2030 targets,” she added.
Al Gore wants to throw a switch
Former US Vice President Al Gore had a lot of praise for the young people marching through Glasgow on Friday. Speaking during the official conference, he said the world leaders need to “legitimize their expectations for a future that is worthy of them.”
“We can do so but we must put the period of delay and distraction and expedience in the past, recognize that we have entered a period of consequences and make it a period of solutions,” he said.
Gore, who is a fierce climate change advocate, said humanity has the power to save the world if the political will can be mustered.
“It’s as if we can throw a switch and save the future of our civilization,” Gore said. He also emphasized a common theme this week: that promises are great, but they must be kept in order to have an impact.
“We have the tools that we need to solve the crisis. We have heard pledges that will move us in a long direction toward these solutions. We must ensure that these pledges are kept,” Gore said.
Negotiators hard at work
The first week of the COP26 summit will wrap up Saturday, and negotiations on some of the key aspects of the Paris Agreement are well under way. The Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, and committed the countries that ratified it to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably 1.5 degrees. But some of the details have yet to be hashed out.
Specifically, the national delegates are still trying to figure out the rules to implement Article 6 of the accord, which established the need for carbon emissions trading.
The trades work roughly like this: Countries that are exceeding what they had pledged to cut in emissions can sell the overflow to countries that can’t meet their own targets. It would be an incentive to for countries to go beyond what they promised, and provides a bail out for countries that are struggling.
Leaders are attempting to create rules that would lead to good transparency on how carbon emissions are traded. They aim to capture things like how often countries need to report their progress and how to avoid double-counting emissions cuts – since you shouldn’t be able to count toward your own pledge what you’ve just sold to another country.
Ella Nilsen contributed reporting.