Draft of U.N. Climate Accord Calls for Tougher Action

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Credit…Kieran Dodds for The New York Times

The United Nations climate agency on Wednesday released a draft of an accord that urges countries to “revisit and strengthen” in the next year their plans for cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The document marks an initial agreement among some 200 nations that will be used as a template to strike a deal as the two-week global climate summit in Glasgow nears its end Friday.

In addition to calling on countries to set more aggressive goals for cutting emissions, it urges nations to “to accelerate the phasing out” of coal and to stop subsidizing other oil and gas. It also asks them to set policies to stop adding greenhouse gases “by or around mid-century” to help keep global warming at relatively safe levels.

Still, a lack of firm deadlines and enforcement mechanisms in the document pointed to the hurdles ahead as negotiators try to reach a consensus at the summit known as COP26, where a primary goal is to agree on stronger action to keep the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to preindustrial levels.

Beyond that threshold, scientists say, the likelihood significantly increases of deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and species extinction. The planet has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius.

David Waskow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, said that the draft lacks a “clear sense” that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is a global target, and that the language urging countries to toughen their emissions goals is vague and nonbinding.

Still, he called it a positive step that is “very much in line” with the commitments that vulnerable nations have been seeking from heavily polluting countries.

The United States under President Biden has pledged to cut emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. China, the world’s largest climate polluter, has said its emissions will peak before 2030 and Russia has made a vague pledge to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2060 — but analysts say the goals of both countries are insufficient for getting the planet on a 1.5-degree trajectory.

On Tuesday, United Nations researchers released a report that found that under countries’ current pledges to reduce emissions, the Earth is on track to warm about 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), a full degree beyond the goal outlined in the draft.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, whose nation is hosting the summit, was expected to appear in Glasgow on Wednesday to urge ministers and negotiators to seize the moment and craft a final, ambitious agreement.

“Negotiating teams are doing the hard yards in these final days of COP26 to turn promises into action on climate change,” Mr. Johnson said before he arrived. “This is bigger than any one country and it is time for nations to put aside differences and come together for our planet and our people.”

He will be joined by the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who warned at the start of the conference that the world was “careening towards climate catastrophe.”

The Glasgow conference began with hopes of building on the accord struck in Paris in 2015, the first time nearly every country on the planet committed to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the severest effects of climate change.

The draft document released on Wednesday urges nations to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally-determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.”

While it calls for countries to phase out coal and fossil fuels, it does not offer any firm timelines. And it calls upon rich countries to “urgently scale up their provision of climate finance” to help developing nations adapt to global warming, without setting targets or enforcement mechanisms.

Tensions have flared over what sorts of financial aid richer countries should give poorer ones to deal with the rising damage from heat waves, floods, droughts and storms. And while there is broad agreement that most nations aren’t cutting their greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough, there’s far less consensus about how to get deeper reductions.

By tradition, a final agreement requires every party to sign on. If any one country objects, talks can deadlock. And each country brings its own set of often competing interests. Small island states like the Maldives, facing an imminent threat from rising seas, want all countries to slash emissions as fast as possible. Oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia note eager to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. And big developing countries like India are holding out for more help to shift to cleaner energy.

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Credit…Pool photo by Daniel Kim

At least six major automakers — including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo — and 31 national governments pledged on Wednesday to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”

But some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, including Toyota, Volkswagen, and the Nissan-Renault alliance did not join the pledge, which is not legally binding. And the governments of the United States, China and Japan, three of the largest car markets, also abstained.

The announcement, made during the COP26 global climate talks in Glasgow, was hailed by climate advocates as yet another sign that the days of the internal combustion engine could soon be numbered. Electric vehicles continue to set new global sales records each year and major car companies have recently begun investing tens of billions of dollars to retool their factories and churn out new battery-powered cars and light trucks.

“Having these major players making these commitments, though we need to make sure that they follow through, is really significant,” said Margo Oge, a former senior U.S. air quality official who now advises both environmental groups and auto companies. “It really tells us that these companies, and their boards, accept that the future is electric.”

The automakers that signed the pledge accounted for roughly one-quarter of global sales in 2019.

Countries that joined the coalition included Britain, Canada, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Sweden. The addition of India was especially notable, since it is the world’s fourth-largest auto market and has not previously committed to eliminating emissions from its cars on a specific timeline.

California and Washington State also signed the pledge. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order saying that only new zero-emissions vehicles would be sold in the state by 2035, though regulators have not yet issued rules to make that happen. Washington had not previously made such a formal pledge.

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Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Wealthy nations have promised to “pursue efforts” to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. But meeting that goal means that all countries must commit to cutting emissions faster and deeper than they are already doing.

For every fraction of a degree of warming, scientists say, the world will experience more intense heat waves and drought, and more deadly floods and wildfires. Humans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century.

Countries have less than 10 years to reduce emissions enough to keep the planet below 1.5 degrees of warming. So if leaders don’t commit to bold steps now, when so much global attention is focused on the Glasgow climate talks, many fear that the world will barrel toward dangerous levels of warming.

Read the article below to see how far the world has, and hasn’t, come.

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Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Around the world, governments and automakers are promoting electric vehicles as a key technology to curb oil use and fight climate change. But as electric cars and trucks go mainstream, they have faced a persistent question: Are they really as green as advertised?

While experts broadly agree that plug-in vehicles are a more climate-friendly option than traditional one, they can still have their own environmental impacts, depending on how they’re charged up and manufactured.

Here’s a guide to some of the biggest worries — and how they might be addressed: