United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the danger that awaits the world with the words “we need a green planet, but the world is on red alert. Mother Nature is not waiting. We are on the verge of the abyss and leaders everywhere must take action.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, to some extent, opened our eyes to the damage done to the world. The cessation of mobility and mass production made the future visible. Although our nature breathed a sigh of relief, emissions have not stopped. Activities necessary for life such as transportation, production, and communication continued, albeit in limited form.
Despite the world coming to a halt due to the pandemic, the pollutants were continued to be released into the atmosphere. One of the most prominent among these pollutants is greenhouse gases, which play a leading role in global warming.
This situation was also supported by data in the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) 2020 Global Climate Outlook Report. The pandemic that almost stopped the world, unfortunately, could not slow the negative effects of climate change.
The report evaluated that the average temperature increased by 1.20 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to the pre-industrial period. The carbon dioxide concentration, one of the main factors behind this increase in temperature, reached 410 parts per million (ppm) and could hit 414 ppm in 2021.
In the report, it was emphasized that 2020 was one of the three hottest years on record, it was also stated that the years 2015-2020 were the six hottest years ever recorded. Moreover, the last decade between 2010-2020 was the hottest 10-year period ever recorded.
We all know that the highest temperature of 38 degrees Celsius detected in historical records in Siberia triggered forest fires that lasted for months and exacerbated the effects.
The report underlined that along with this temperature peak, the destructive effects of weather events increased substantially.
There was also a new record in the Pacific Hurricane season in which more than 30 destructive hurricanes have taken place.
Drought and crop losses in the inner parts of South America, as well as floods in Asia and Africa, negatively affected more than 50 million people.
Another highlight of the report is the increasing seawater temperature, as it reached a record level and continues to increase. This causes the dissolution of more carbon dioxide and acidification in the seas which are crucial sink areas.
More carbon absorption is prevented as well as 80% of the oceans are exposed to at least one heatwave which poses a great threat to the coral reefs.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Guterres drew attention to the importance of the 26th Meeting of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow by saying that the world is on the edge of the abyss and carbon must have a price.
In this respect, it was stated that 2021 is expected to be a key year within the framework of science and solidarity.
The whole world expects 2021 to be a turning point in the fight against climate change. The Paris Agreement was negotiated at the 21st Conference of the Parties and opened for signature on April 22, 2016, and then entered into force on Nov. 4, 2020, as the implementation tool for the period after 2020 of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In that respect, the annually-held COP26 as per the contract had unique importance. However, it was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic and is expected to be held this year.
The U.S., which has the greatest responsibility on a historical basis and is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter on an annual basis, left the Paris Agreement under the Trump administration and this decision set off a worldwide reaction.
However, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to return to the Paris Agreement during the 2020 presidential elections (which also contributed greatly to his win) and he immediately kept his promise and put the U.S. back in the process.
Biden made another initiative to improve the U.S.’ image on environmental issues. In order to show that the U.S. was once again a pioneer in the world, Biden announced that he would hold a Climate Leaders Summit in April.
The date for the summit, April 22, was significant because it is celebrated as Earth Day.
In 1968, 12 million liters of oil spilled on the shores of Santa Barbara suddenly drew attention to the increasing environmental pressures.
Thereupon, the events held on April 22, 1970, watched by more than 20 million people also played a triggering role in the U.S. for legal regulations on "clean air and water."
Since then, April 22 has been celebrated as the world's birthday. It was a day celebrated to draw attention to the health of our world, global warming, and all kinds of environmental problems that we face.
The Paris Agreement was opened for signatures on April 22, World Day, five years ago. Therefore, April 22 is also the anniversary of Paris.
Forty world leaders, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were invited to the summit. Biden succeeded to revive the environmental sensitivity of the U.S. with the summit, which had deteriorated under the Trump administration.
There were some developments just before the summit. The first of these was the talks between the U.S. and China. Two-day talks were held in Beijing with the climate change chief negotiators of both countries.
As a result of the meeting, they reached a common consensus that the two countries will coordinate further to combat and adapt to climate change, the cooperation and leadership of the two countries will be carried out in the implementation of agreements such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris. The two countries will also work closely with other states to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement targets, as well as acting in line with the reduction schedule in the Montreal Protocol, known as the Kigali Amendment, which stipulates the reduction of hydrofluorocarbon (HCF) production and consumption over time.
Another important development took place exactly one day before the summit. Declaring the European Green Consensus after COP25, the EU negotiated to reduce its carbon emissions by 2030 and to become a carbon-neutral continent by 2050, under the green agreement.
As a result of very intense and tough negotiations, the European Commission reached a preliminary agreement to reduce greenhouse gases by 55% compared to the 1990 level.
Due to the pandemic that locked down the world for more than a year, the summit was held online. Countries emitting the most greenhouse gases such as China, India, Japan, the EU and Russia were among the participants.
African countries Kenya and Gabon, which face severe repercussions of climate change even though they have little contribution to gas emissions, as well as island states like the Marshall Islands and Antigua and Barbuda, who are at risk of being submerged with the rise in sea levels, also participated.
The world has paid careful attention to the summit as the environmental problems have almost peaked ever since the pandemic and the public expects useful and serious steps.
More ambitious targets were expected to be shared in order to achieve the targets of keeping the global average temperature increase below plus 1.5 degrees Celsius, if possible, compared to the pre-industrial temperature in 2050, as envisaged by the Paris Agreement.
Biden made the opening speech as the host. Mentioning the importance of collective action due to the insufficient fight of any state with the effects of climate change, he announced new targets for 2030, which is the target year of Sustainable Development Goals.
The U.S. has committed to reducing emissions by up to half (50-52%) by 2030 compared to the 2005 value. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) given by the U.S. in the year the Paris deal was signed, was committed to reducing the 2005 emission values by 26-28% by 2025. Therefore, this new value is interpreted as exactly doubling the previous reduction value.
Furthermore, the U.S. proposed an $2-trillion infrastructure support package for areas such as green economy, renewable energy investments, public transportation, and electric vehicles. Besides, it was announced that the U.S. doubled its support for developing countries’ adaptation phase.
This attitude of the U.S. raised expectations for other major emitters to announce such targets. However, it was not the case.
Despite the declarations of Biden, China and India, two of the major emitters, stated that they will continue to emit. Brazil, on the other hand, asked the developed states to contribute $1 billion annually for the protection of the Amazons.
A remarkable move was also expected from Japan since the previously offered reduction value of 26% of the second-largest economy in the world but its inaction was disappointing.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga partially met the expectations and shared a 46% decrease from 2013 values by 2030 and a net-zero target by 2050.
A similar move came from Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the target upon foreseeing a 30% reduction in emissions compared to 2005 in the National Contribution Statement submitted in 2015. Similar to the U.S., it declared a 40-45% reduction target compared to 2005. He also called for urgent action on the grounds that no vaccine could end the pollution of the planet.
On the other hand, China, world's the largest greenhouse gas emitter, said as a developing country, it will continue its emissions until 2030, reach a peak value in 2030 and be carbon neutral in 2060.
However, China, which is responsible for almost half of coal-induced emissions, underlined that it will reduce its use of coal by 2025.
Similarly, the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, Russia, avoided specifying a net value. Russia stated that they have fulfilled their responsibilities in combating climate change and that they will make significant reductions in the next three decades.
Russia also called for a global reduction in methane emissions, which is 84 times more greenhouse than carbon dioxide, while it has already halved its emissions compared to 1990 values.
India, one of the other major emitters, did not announce a new commitment while stating that it was carrying out the necessary works as it struggles to come to terms with the pandemic.
In this respect, India announced that 450 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy installed power will be built by 2030. Besides, South Korean President Moon Jae stated that Korea will stop public support for coal power plants.
Likewise, Brazil has pulled its carbon-neutral target from 2060 to 2050. It also asked the developed states to contribute $1 billion annually for the conservation of the Amazons, as well as actively combating illegal deforestation activities in the Amazon, which are considered to be the lungs of the world.
Speaking at the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her satisfaction with the U.S. being a party to the Paris Agreement again.
Guterres warned us that the world is on the edge of a cliff and urgent and effective measures should be implemented on the road to 2030. He reiterated that they expect 2021 to be a year of action in this sense.
Within the scope of the European Green Consensus declared in 2019, the EU promised a 55% reduction in emissions for 2030 compared to 1990, while the U.K., which left the EU, has the highest target for 2035 with a 78% reduction compared to 1990 emissions.
Undoubtedly, the fact that the U.K. will host the 26th Climate Change Meeting of the Parties to be held in Glasgow in November has also been effective in this.
Erdoğan, who attended the summit, emphasized that we are a nation that has acted in harmony with nature throughout history.
In this respect, he asserted that although we have almost no historical responsibility within the framework of global warming, an effective fight against climate change is being carried out in our country.
Within the scope of our INDC, based on the Paris Agreement, Erdoğan reiterated our commitment to a 21% reduction in greenhouse gases, including a reduction from the increase in 2030.
Erdoğan invited world leaders to keep Turkey in the same category as other countries of similar status and to show a fair approach in this respect.
In addition, he called on world leaders to identify special protection areas in the high seas to increase the protected areas in our seas, which are one of the most important sink areas.
According to U.N. evaluations, in order to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, it is necessary to reduce emissions globally by 45% by 2030 and to be carbon neutral in 2050.
According to the Climate Action Tracker evaluations, the new commitments submitted within the scope of the summit are at a better level than the national contribution statements submitted at the signing of Paris.
However, although higher reduction targets have been presented, it is predicted that it will provide a reduction of between 2.6 and 3.7 Gigaton Carbon Dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in global greenhouse gas emissions on a cumulative basis.
These new INDCs, which offer a proportional reduction of 14-16%, are unfortunately still far from the 2050 Paris Agreement targets.
To limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius as stipulated by the Paris Agreement, a reduction of 20-24 GtCO2e is still required. This value is roughly equivalent to the annual national emission values of China and the U.S., which are currently emitting the largest greenhouse gases.
Again, in a simple comparison, the 50-52% reduction declared at the Climate Leaders Summit should be at least 57-63% for the U.S. to reach the Paris Agreement targets.
Yes, the world is undergoing a transformation toward nature-based solutions that put the climate at the center. However, it is not enough. Paris does not appear on the horizon. We hope Glasgow will be effective in delivering its targets.
*Deputy Minister of the Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, chief climate change envoy
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