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Cop26 reveals limits of Biden’s promise to ‘lead by example’ on climate crisis

Cop26 reveals limits of Biden’s promise to ‘lead by example’ on climate crisis

US declined to join promise to end coal mining and to compensate poor countries for climate damage. Critics ask, is that leadership?

The crucial UN climate talks in Scotland have produced landmark commitments to phase out coalmining, to call time on the internal combustion engines and to compensate poorer countries for damage caused by the climate crisis.

The United States, which has trumpeted its regained climate leadership at the summit, has not joined any these pledges as the talks draw to a close.

This disconnect has provided the world with a muddled sense of America’s willingness to confront the unfolding climate catastrophe, with the fate of historic legislation to lower planet-heating emissions still uncertain ahead of an expected vote in Congress next week.

Joe Biden arrived in Glasgow vowing the US will “lead by example” on climate change and avoid disastrous global heating beyond 1.5C, dispatching his entire cabinet to the Cop26 talks and making widely praised new promises to cut methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and to end deforestation.

Two dozen Democratic lawmakers wearing congressional lapel pins have swept the conference venue this week, all expressing confidence that the vast $1.75tn spending bill will pass back home.

“This is the most ambitious climate legislation of all time,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told the summit. “America is back and is ready to lead,” added Kathy Castor, chair of the House select committee on the climate crisis. “Once we pass this historic package, finally, it will help keep 1.5C alive.”

We have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect intentionally. It’s that simple

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

But the US is bedeviled by its recent past and – many delegates of other countries fear – its potential future, following Donald Trump’s embrace of climate science denialism and American isolationism. “We have not recovered our moral authority,” admitted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive New York representative, when asked about the specter of the former president. “I believe we are making steps, but we have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect internationally. It’s that simple.”

There is also mounting criticism that Biden’s actions have not matched his words and that the US president’s negotiators haven’t pushed hard enough for an ambitious deal in Glasgow to secure the deep emissions cuts needed to avoid disastrous warming that will spur ever-worsening floods, heatwaves and wildfires.

More than 40 countries announced at Cop26 a promise to end the mining of coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, although the US was conspicuously absent from the list. “It’s very disappointing because the science is quite clear that we have to turn sharply away from coal this decade if we are going to meet our climate goals,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We need very clear signals that orientate the US towards clean energy,” she added. “The climate crisis is too dire to just wait for coal to fall out. It’s just another signal of the sway the fossil fuel industry still has over US politics.”

Despite its attempts to expand the rollout of electric vehicles, the Biden administration has also declined to set an end date for the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, unlike the UK, European Union, Canada, India and a slew of other countries at Cop26.

Its delegation in Glasgow is similarly wary of a push to provide “loss and damage” payments to countries vulnerable to climate impacts and has sought to shift criticism towards the inaction of China and Russiaalthough the US and China did unveil an unexpected plan to work together on cutting emissions, despite the enmity between the two countries.

This reticence, critics claim, undermines Biden’s credibility on climate. Others say the dysfunctional nature of Congress, where sweeping climate legislation to expand renewable energy and wind down fossil fuels is effectively in the hands of a senator who derives most of his income from investments in coal, is to blame.

“There is a handful of members of Congress who represent coal-intensive parts of the country who see [climate action] as a threat to their region,” Sean Casten, a Democratic representative, told the Guardian. “It’s kept the president from doing all that he’d like to do.”

Pete Buttigieg, the US transport secretary, told the Guardian that the Biden administration aims to give Americans better public transit options, as well as electric vehicle rebates and infrastructure, but that “each country is on its own path” to ending the age of fossil fuel-powered cars.

“What we are talking about is a race to the ambitious targets the president has set,” Buttigieg said, adding that the goal of half of all car sales being electric by 2030 will be in itself a “massive lift”.

Biden will face further scrutiny almost immediately after some sort of deal is struck in Glasgow, not only over the fate of the Build Back Better bill but also his issuance of permits for oil and gas drilling.

An auction of 80m acres of the Gulf of Mexico seabed, an area larger than the UK, will be offered to fossil fuel companies next week, while a new report has warned that the oil and gas that will be burned in the Permian Basin, a geological formation in the south-west US, by 2050 will release nearly 40bn tons of carbon dioxide, nearly a tenth of the remaining global “carbon budget” to stay under 1.5C.

“If the Biden administration wants to be serious about its promise to demonstrate US climate leadership, it must first clean up its own back yard,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.

“The Permian Basin is the single largest fracking basin globally, and the continued reckless pursuit of oil extraction from New Mexico to the Gulf coast is the ultimate display of hypocrisy.


Oliver Milman at The Guardian

Climate change: Extreme weather events are ‘the new norm’

Climate change: Extreme weather events are ‘the new norm’

Extreme weather events – including powerful heat waves and devastating floods – are now the new normal, says the World Meteorological Organisation.

The State of the Climate report for 2021 highlights a world that is “changing before our eyes.”

The 20-year temperature average from 2002 is on course to exceed 1C above pre-industrial levels for the first time.

And global sea levels rose to a new high in 2021, according to the study.

These latest figures for 2021 are being released early by the WMO to coincide with the start of the UN climate conference in Glasgow known as COP26.

The State of the Climate report provides a snapshot of climate indicators including temperatures, extreme weather events, sea level rises and ocean conditions.

The study finds that the past seven years including this one are likely to be the warmest on record as greenhouse gases reached record concentrations in the atmosphere.

The accompanying rise in temperatures is propelling the planet into “uncharted territory” says the report, with increasing impacts across the planet.

Extreme weather events are 'the new norm'

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Melting ice off Greenland

“Extreme events are the new norm,” said WMO’s Prof Petteri Taalas. “There is mounting scientific evidence that some of these bear the footprint of human-induced climate change.”

Prof Taalas detailed some of the extreme events that have been experienced around the world this year.

  • It rained – rather than snowed – for the first time on record at the peak of the Greenland ice sheet
  • A heat wave in Canada and adjacent parts of the USA pushed temperatures to nearly 50C in a village in British Columbia
  • Death Valley, California reached 54.4C during one of multiple heat waves in the south-western USA
  • Months’ worth of rainfall fell in the space of hours in an area of China
  • Parts of Europe saw severe flooding, leading to dozens of casualties and billions in economic losses
  • A second successive year of drought in sub-tropical South America reduced the flow of river basins and hit agriculture, transport and energy production

Another worrying development, according to the WMO study, has been the rise in global sea levels.

Since they were first measured by precise satellite-based systems in the early 1990s, sea levels went up by 2.1mm per year between 1993 and 2002.

But from 2013 to 2021 the rise has more than doubled to 4.4mm, mostly as a result of accelerated ice loss from glaciers and ice sheets.

“Sea levels are rising faster now than at any other time in the last two millennia,” said Prof Jonathan Bomber, Director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre.

“If we continue on our current trajectory, that rise could exceed 2m by 2100 displacing some 630 million people worldwide. The consequences of that are unimaginable.”

In temperature terms, 2021 will likely be the sixth or seventh warmest on record.

That’s because the early months of this year were impacted by a La Niña event, a naturally occurring weather phenomenon that tends to cool global temperatures.

But the report also shows that the global temperature record is on course to breach 1C for the first time over a 20 year period.

Extreme weather events are 'the new norm'

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Rushing flood waters at Hawick in the Scottish borders

“The fact that the 20-year average has reached more than 1.0C above pre-industrial levels will focus the minds of delegates at COP26 aspiring to keep global temperature rise to within the limits agreed in Paris six years ago,” said Prof Stephen Belcher, chief scientist at the UK Met Office, which contributed to the report.

Commenting on the analysis, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said the planet was changing before our eyes.

“From the ocean depths to mountain tops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated,” he said.

“COP26 must be a turning point for people and planet,” said Mr Guterres.


Matt McGrath at BBC News

Eco-anxiety over climate crisis suffered by all ages and classes

Eco-anxiety over climate crisis suffered by all ages and classes

Poll finds most Britons believe global warming will have far greater effect on humanity than Covid-19

A clear majority of people believe that climate change will have a more significant effect on humanity than will Covid-19, which has already claimed about five million lives worldwide, according to a new poll conducted ahead of the Cop26 summit being held in Glasgow this weekend.

The survey, carried out as part of a study into “eco-anxiety” by the Global Future thinktank in conjunction with the University of York, also finds that concern about global warming is almost as common among older and working-class people as it is among those who are young or middle-class. Overall, 78% of people reported some level of eco-anxiety.

The authors of the report say that their findings should serve as a warning to politicians who may believe that worries about the climate emergency are confined to younger, middle-class and metropolitan voters.

The YouGov poll of more than 2,100 people found that 56% believe the implications of climate change will be greater for the world than will those of the coronavirus pandemic, with a majority of all age groups and social classes holding this view.

Similarly, climate change is considered a top global priority among people of all age groups and backgrounds, and across all regions of the UK.

Despite this widespread concern about the climate crisis – with some 42% of middle and upper-class people reporting high eco-anxiety against 39% of working-class voters – people lack faith in political leaders to act. Some 31% of those questioned believe that the Cop26 summit will have little or no effect, 32% think it will have a moderate effect, while only 18% think it will have a big effect.

The polling found that the biggest difference in levels of eco-anxiety was not between rich and poor or young and old, but between men and women. Some 45% of female participants reported high levels of worry about climate change compared with 36% of men.

Rowenna Davis, author of the report and director of Global Future, said: “Everyone – rich and poor, young and old, north and south, men and women – is suffering eco-anxiety. Therefore, some cynical politicians who seek to use wedge issues like petrol prices to divide the public are not only wrong, they are also making a strategic error.

“Whoever hopes to win the next election will need to win the ‘red wall’. This will mean responding to concerns these voters actually hold rather than perceptions of them. From our research, this must include a meaningful response to climate change.”

Pavlos Vasilopoulos, politics lecturer at the University of York, added: “These findings contest commonly held views that the environment is only an issue for the southern middle class. Instead, climate change appears to be becoming more similar to issues such as unemployment or crime, which are recognised as priorities by the majority and are used to evaluate government performance.”


Toby Helm at The Guardian

Arctic scientists team up with Billie Eilish to urge climate action ahead of COP26

Arctic scientists team up with Billie Eilish to urge climate action ahead of COP26

The group Arctic basecamp previously set up a tent camp at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Music star Billie Eilish joined forced with scientists from the group Arctic Basecamp on Tuesday, calling on world leaders to stand together and take urgent action at the U.N. COP26 climate summit next week.

The singer recorded a video message, with “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson, explorer Levison Wood and Robert Irwin, son of the late Australian conservationist Steve Irwin, also lending their voices to the project in conjunction with Britain’s University of Exeter.

The global climate summit, hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, kicks off in Glasgow on Oct. 31.

“This year our leaders are deciding the global actions required on the environment climate emergency in a critical decade for our planet,” Eilish said. “We must stand together and speak up to save our planet, not just for us, but for our future generations, and we need urgent, urgent action now and to work together as one.”

Britain has cast the summit as the last big chance for countries to commit to steps to slow rising temperatures.

“Courage. That’s what our world’s leaders need more than anything. The decisions that they make about the climate crisis in the next decade are the most important decisions in our planet’s history,” Wilson said.

Arctic Basecamp was founded by Gail Whiteman, a social scientist who studies how decision makers make sense of environmental threats such as climate change. The group has set up a tent camp for scientists at the World Economic Forum in Davos and will be attending the COP26 summit.

“This is a crisis and the Arctic is sounding the alarm. It is time that world leaders come together to create real change that ensures a safe future for humanity,” Whiteman said in a statement.


Marie-Louise Gumuchian via Reuters