Robert Peston Robert Peston

Has COP26 already flopped?

‘There is no chance of stopping climate change next week,’ the Prime Minister told me in an interview for ITV News. ‘There is no chance of getting an agreement to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees’.

Standing in Rome’s magnificent ancient Colosseum, he warned that the cost of this failure, if not somehow rectified, would be far worse than the recent pandemic: ‘The Romans thought they were going to go on forever…Then wham, the middle of the fifth century, they hit a complete crisis, uncontrolled immigration, you have the Dark Ages. The lesson is things can go backwards… for a long time. Unless we fix climate change, unless we halt that massive growth in temperatures, that’s the risk we run”‘

But if COP26 has already failed, as the PM seems to be saying – because the world’s biggest emitters are such a long way from promising measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the necessary 55 per cent before 2030 – why on earth are more than 100 world leaders descending on Glasgow for the negotiations?

For COP26 to start with anything that feels like a following wind, 1.5 degrees has to be commonly accepted as the baseline for all planning

Also what’s the point of this weekend’s preceding discussions in Rome of the G20 leaders of the world’s most powerful nations? For Boris Johnson, COP26 is what he calls a ‘weigh station’, a checkpoint on a route towards future agreements that would stand a chance of reducing global warming to a safe increment.

For him there remain possible constructive outcomes to be achieved in Glasgow, such as securing pledges to end the use of ‘unabated’ coal (that’s all burning of coal where the CO2 isn’t ‘captured’ and kept out of the atmosphere) by 2030 for developed nations and 2040 for developing nations.

But truthfully, though he refused to say this, the best possible outcome of COP26 for Johnson is that in the final conclusions there is backing for what officials call a ‘ratchet’, which would be a mechanism such that in two or three years all countries would come back together to make ew pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would exceed their current nationally determined contributions (or NDCs).

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