Gangs of government officials, industry bodies and lobbying groups of every political stripe, as Recharge put its latest edition of its magazine to press, were making their way to Glasgow, Scotland, gathering for what is increasingly and certainly all-too-lightly being spoken of as the planet’s last chance to agree a set of concrete national emissions reduction targets that will collectively bend the curve of current global heating trajectories back toward the 1.5°C target set in Paris six years ago.
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This new energy revolution is happening at the best of times and the worst. Best because renewable power production is winning the cost argument on the ground – the financial markets’ quantitative measure of LCOE (levelised cost of energy) being generated by wind and solar and stored in batteries and long-duration thermal technologies now undercuts fossils and is getting cheaper – and in minds – where the truer cost of not accelerating our global population towards a more just, sustainable renewables-powered future looms large. And worst due to the fact that – one can only assume – greed-fuelled hubris lives deep in our homo sapiens DNA.
As the UN reported in October, despite raised climate action ambitions, governments around the world are currently planning production of oil, gas and coal by the end of the decade that is more than double the output that would be in keeping with limiting global heating to levels that would not be life-threatening.
And this production gap remains “largely unchanged” from two years ago, with 110% more fossils on track for 2030 than is sustainable if climate change is to be slowed en route to net zero by mid-century. Pledges the week before COP26 by climate action laggards Australia and Saudi Arabia of carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2060, respectively – joining those made this year by the US, China, Germany and Japan – were quickly called out as “climate fraud”.“ All spin and no action in this critical decade, when we need it most”, as the Australian Greens said of their country’s “no detail” plan; or in the case of Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest oil-exporting nation – “pure propaganda”, according to Greenpeace.
Two weeks from now, the world will know something more about itself. Mostly, to what extent the climate emergency is going to be battled along national borders – though wind and sun know no more about geopolitical finiteness than weather systems. After 150 years of hydrocarbon-driven global economic growth, the fact that Big Oil – too-slowly shifting towards being part of the solution to the climate crisis – was “not [formally] invited” to Glasgow will hopefully, for the sake of humanity, prove more than symbolic. And likewise, one can only hope that the city in which this civilisation-scale rescue deal is to be forged can live up to its epithet, the Dear Green Place.