New Report Predicts 2.4°C Warming as COP26 Negotiators Race to Reach Climate Agreement – ‘Health’ Missing from Draft
COP26 president Alok Sharma

A draft agreement released by UN Climate on Wednesday “calls upon parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” – as countries work toward reaching consensus by the time the Glasgow Climate Conference (COP26) ends on Friday.

The word ‘health’ also was noticeably absent from the draft text, reflecting the continued failure of the global community to recognise and address the intrinsic linkages between planetary and human well-being.

Despite a recent spate of promises, including new pledges by the US and China, limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius remains well out of reach.  Even if all commitments are met, the world would still see 2.4°C warming by the end of the century, experts now predict.

That was the conclusion of the non-profit Climate Action Tracker, which added up the most recent country pledges – or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – for CO2 reductions – translating those into forecasts for expected temperature rise. 

Target shortfalls reported by Climate Action Tracker.

Earlier calculations had estimated a 2.7°C temperature rise – showing slight gains in the slow race to carbon neutrality.  

Dr Stephen Cornelius, the World Wildlife Fund’s chief advisor on climate change, described the country pledges as “woefully inadequate”.

“COP26 has gotten further than Paris, but we are nowhere near the 1.5°C needed to avoid the worst impact of climate change,” Cornelius told a media briefing on Wednesday.

However, he welcomed the draft’s recognition of the importance of science, including reference to the “code red” warning contained in a recent report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the urgency of climate action.

‘Wreckers’ like Saudia Arabia and Australia will try to weaken text

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan described the draft declaration as “a polite request that countries maybe, possibly, do more next year”. 

“We’ve just had a landmark study showing we’re heading for 2.4°C of warming,” said Morgan. “The job of this conference was always to get that number down to 1.5°C, but with this text, world leaders are punting it to next year.”

Greenpeace wants an agreement that is much stronger on finance for countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  

It also wants a commitment from countries to report annually – instead of every five years – on “new and better” plans until the world is able to reduce the global warming trajectory to the 1.5°C goal. 

While the language calling for an accelerated phase out fossil fuel subsidies, estimated to exceed $5 trillion annually, is seen as a signal of progress, there is no timeline for that to take place. 

And Morgan predicted that “wreckers like the Saudi and Australian governments” would try to delete the call for an accelerated phaseout of coal and fossil fuel subsidies from the draft. 

UK Green MP Caroline Lucas also condemned the draft, saying that it “utterly fails to rise to the moment” by failing to phase out all fossil fuels not just coal.

COP26 delegates ignore warnings that fossil fuel subsidies are dangerous to health 

Fossil fuel subsidies have been repeatedly decried by the World Health Organization and other health experts at a series of health-focused COP26 events as particularly pernicious. 

Such subsidies, WHO points out, fuel dirty energy and transport sources – leading to air pollution emissions that kill an estimated 7 million people a year – while also discouraging investments in cleaner solutions that would be more cost-effective for societies overall.

But the draft final COP statement had nary a word about health – or the climate-air pollution nexus plaguing many developing cities, particularly in South-East Asia.  

“Nearly half a billion will suffer severe health harm from north India’s air pollution even as COP26 offers up unambitious targets to a world at the brink of extinction,” stated the Indian NGO Care for Air. 

Paradoxically, COP will be concluding just as northern India’s seasonal air pollution emergency begins – a situation seen every autumn when smoke from crop stubble-burning in rural areas drifts toward Delhi, where it combines with a potent mix of fumes from construction, traffic, waste burning, and firecrackers celebrating the Hindu Diwali festival.  

Grand promises by politicians last year to devise more sustainable alternatives for farmers – such as composting or machine threshing of crop stubble – to have so far failed to materialize.   

‘Massive credibility gap’, absence of clear targets for fossil fuel phase-out

In Glasgow, politicians seemed anxious to avoid making the potent linkages between climate change and millions of deaths a year from air pollution.

Language in the draft agreement remained general and non-specific around critical points, such as setting a target or timeline for actually phasing out fossil fuels. 

The draft agreement merely “invites parties to consider further opportunities to reduce non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions”.

The statement does, however, go further than previous COP declarations in suggesting that a more holistic approach to the climate crisis is needed, emphasising the “critical importance of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches, including protecting and restoring forests, in reducing emissions, enhancing removals and protecting biodiversity”.

Even so,  “at the midpoint of Glasgow, it is clear there is a massive credibility, action and commitment gap that casts a long and dark shadow of doubt over the net zero goals put forward by more than 140 countries, covering 90% of global emissions”, Climate Action Tracker’s briefing document observed.

The country targets for 2030 remain “totally inadequate”, added the report, estimating that they “put us on track for a 2.4°C temperature increase by the end of the century”. 

Another significant unresolved issue: LMIC financing  

COP26 President Alok Sharma confirmed at a plenary on Wednesday that while “some significant issues remain unresolved”, he expected “near-final” texts from the various negotiating groups by Thursday morning and a consensus document for adoption by the close of the summit on Friday.

Aside from the inadequate emission targets, other sticking points concern financing, including agreement on finance for countries’ claims of climate change-related loss and damage – most of which are likely to be filed by low- and middle income countries. 

UK lead climate negotiator Archie Young told the plenary that more work also needs to be done on the “significant finance agenda and the $100-billion goal” – the annual finance target set by the Paris Agreement to be available by the end of 2021 to assist LMIC countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The draft appeals to “the private sector, multilateral development banks and other financial institutions to enhance finance mobilization in order to deliver the scale of resources needed to achieve climate plans, particularly for adaptation”.

Glasgow flooded with fossil fuel lobbyists

While the global business and finance community is said to have an unprecedented presence at COP26 – the largest contingent at the entire conference – is in fact the fossil fuel industry, an analysis of participants found.  

Some 503 fossil fuel lobbyists are registered at Glasgow, according to the analysis by the civil society groups, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and 

The report “Glasgow Calls Out Polluters” found that if the fossil fuel lobby were a country delegation at COP it would be the largest with 503 delegates – two dozen more than the largest country delegation. In addition, the report found that: 

  • Over 100 fossil fuel companies are represented at COP with 30 trade associations and membership organisations also present;
  • Fossil fuel lobbyiests are members of 27 official country delegations, including Canada, Russia and Brazil.
  • Fossil fuel lobbyists dwarf the UNFCCC’s official indigenous constituency by around two to one.
  • The fossil fuel lobby at COP is larger than the combined total of the eight delegations from the countries worst affected by climate change in the last two decades – Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Pakistan.

Image Credits: Climate Action Tracker., Climate Action Tracker.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.