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If successful, COP26 climate pledges could reduce warming to 1.9 degrees

If governments meet their commitments to reduce methane emissions, slash coal use, end deforestation, and fully fund projects that have been historically underfunded the world will reduce rising temperatures by nearly a full degree.

That’s the word from Fatih Birol, the head of the influential energy monitoring group, the International Energy Agency, who released the news in a tweet yesterday.

“A big step forward, but much more needed!”, Birol wrote.

That small number will make a huge difference to coastal cities facing rising oceans, agricultural lands hit with historic droughts, and really anywhere that’s been hit by increasing flooding or damaging wind and rainstorms.

Before the climate talks began, the consensus from scientists was that the world was heading toward a disastrous temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius.

Much of the progress hinges on governments being able to come through on pledges to end the use of coal-fired power, dramatically reduce methane emissions, and end deforestation while financing reforesting and afforesting efforts.

Not everyone agrees with the IEA’s assessment. The assistant secretary-general for climate change at the United Nations, the international body that convened the climate talks, said

“Our fight is far from over,” Hart told delegates, moments after Birol’s address, according to a report in The Guardian. “Fatih, I heard your numbers, but based on the NDCs that have been submitted, the world is on a 2.7C pathway, a catastrophic pathway, and therefore we are a long way away from keeping the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement alive.”

The key is to eliminate new fossil fuel investments, according to the IEA. India’s climate commitments are helping to move the needle, but the biggest hits to global greenhouse gas emissions come from the near-term pledges to cut out methane and end deforestation.

What’s now important is to implement the measures that achieve those pledges, one of the leading European Union climate negotiators told Reuters.

“[Thinking] the NDCs plus the (new) net-zero pledges has put us on a pathway to 1.9 or 1.8, as the IEA said today, then you’re discounting the fact that none of those have been implemented,” said EU climate negotiator Jacob Werksman. “It would be insane if people said ‘Now the work is done.”

The IEA, which has long been seen as a mouthpiece for the traditional oil industry, upended its reporting on the status quo earlier this year with a statement that no new fossil fuel projects beyond this year (aside from ones already approved) should proceed if the world hoped to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

In a report issued this year, the Agency said that clean energy investment needed to triple by 2030 to meet global net-zero goals.

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