Now that the UN's climate negotiations have ended the real work begins


Now that last week's international negotiations on addressing climate change have ended, the lingering question is "What happens now?"


Activists and government officials criticized the negotiations and commitments made by the world's biggest polluters including China, Brazil, the European Union, India, Russia, and the U.S. for not doing enough to end fossil fuel use quickly enough to keep the world from catastrophic warming.


Still, the return of the U.S. to the negotiating table -- after officially recommitting to the Paris Agreement earlier this year -- and taking a leadership role in last week's Glasgow talks yielded global commitments that could (if fully implemented) bring global warming down to 1.8 degrees over current temperatures.


This difference of degrees matters. Every tenth of a degree avoided reduces the risks of even more severe wildfires, drought, floods, heatwaves, and storms.


To achieve these reductions, nations made major commitments to reduce methane emissions, end deforestation, establish clear guidelines for international carbon trading markets, phase out coal use, end subsidies for fossil fuels, and coordinate and boost financing for sustainable and zero-emission technologies.


Now the nations that signed on to the Glasgow Climate Pact need to come up with ways to meet their global commitments.


Some of the steps taken at the negotiations should help.


Rules created to establish and regulate an international carbon market, will provide clarity on what kind of projects qualify, how those qualifying projects determine the emissions they offset, and who actually gets to apply those offsets in their calculations of how much greenhouse gases they produce.


Commitments to end deforestation, dramatically reduce methane emissions, and "phase down" coal, are all positive steps. So are the declarations by nations to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 (or, in the case of India, 2070).


Critically, following through on these ambitious pledges will require a lot of technical support.


This is where the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow provided another bit of positive movement. The corporate agreements from some of companies in the world's most polluting industries and statements from commercial and state-owned banks indicating that the money necessary to develop these projects would flow, were also positive steps.


For some, businesses came through with more important declarations than the national governments where those businesses reside.


Banks and asset managers representing more $130 trillion in assets under management agreed to push funding into climate friendly projects. And some money is already flowing to developing economies hoping to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past as they build out infrastructure to serve their citizens.


Other commitments on climate disclosures and accounting and providing early markets for new energy technologies, zero-emission industrial materials, fuels, chemicals, shipping and planes, all show movement in the right direction.


These commitments from government and business could turn the massive global economy in a more sustainable direction, but scientists say that there's still a long way to go.


"“COP26 has closed the gap, but it has not solved the problem,” Niklas Hoehne, a climate researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, told the publication Nature.


The Glasgow Climate Pact said that greenhouse-gas emissions need to be reduced and carbon dioxide emissions have to be cut by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 to hit a warming threshold of 1.5ºC.


The world has already warmed by 1.1ºC over pre-industrial levels, which has caused the floods and fires and storms and droughts already putting pressure on 85% of the world's population.


The document also acknowledged that under existing emissions-reduction pledges, greenhouse gas production will be 14% higher by 2030 than in 2010.


“We are well aware that ambitions have fallen short of the commitments made in Paris,” COP26 president and British politician Alok Sharma told the negotiation's attendees before the agreement was signed. “We have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”

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