Five things that need to happen in 2022 for climate action to get on track

Why countries must shift up a gear to meet their Cop pledges over the next year

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From cutting carbon emissions to stopping deforestation, many of the deadlines set at Cop26 in Glasgow are for 2030 or beyond.

This may seem a long way off, but countries already behind on previous pledges will need a "gear change" if they are to have any hope of meeting them, experts have told The National.

That makes the year ahead crucial for the world’s efforts to limit global warming.

A month on from the global climate conference in Scotland, what needs to be done in 2022 to keep the key pledges on track?

1. Phase down coal

Many countries agreed to phase down the use of coal and cut carbon emissions to net zero within differing timescales.

But the pledges fell far short of what is needed to limit warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

If the current plans were fully implemented, the increase would still be 2.4ºC, according to Climate Action Tracker research group.

This would mean sea levels rising by more than half a metre, nearly all coral reefs being lost and agricultural yields falling rapidly. Wildfires, floods and droughts would worsen.

To keep the goal of 1.5ºC in sight, countries agreed to review and strengthen their pledges to cut carbon emissions in 2022.

As the UK still holds the Cop presidency – until it passes the baton to Egypt next year – it is responsible for ensuring countries act on their promises.

“I would anticipate emails and letters going to the representatives of all the countries,” said Sir David King, the British government’s former chief scientist, told The National.

The correspondence should remind delegates of their existing pledges and urge them to come forward with new nationally determined contributions, which are carbon emission targets set out by each country, he said.

“Many countries made a pledge to get to net zero by 2050,” he said. “I would be keen to see – if I was in the presidency – that every country is asked to set out its strategy for meeting that commitment.

“In other words, we have to make sure countries are not simply making commitments for future governments to achieve, rather than themselves.”

The UAE has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, making it the first state in the Middle East and North Africa region to do so.

For emissions cuts to be politically acceptable, the transition out of coal has to be a socially just one, which doesn’t leave coal-dependent communities behind.

“It’s about creating alternative employment and economic activity in regions where you might see coal production going down,” said Prof Jim Skea, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group III.

South Africa could provide a model for other developing countries looking for a fair transition out of coal.

We have to make sure countries are not simply making commitments for future governments to achieve rather than themselves
Sir David King

The country, a major carbon emitter, announced it had secured to $8.5 billion from wealthier nations at Cop26.

The funds would be used to “decarbonise” South Africa’s economy, in particular its electricity system. It would also support workers and coal-reliant communities while financing the electric car and green hydrogen sectors.

Observers will watch with great interest in 2022, amid hopes that South Africa could provide a model for other countries.

“Globally, the big challenge around moving out of coal is probably India,” said Prof Skea. “I think that would be the big challenge, in terms of a ‘just transition’ because there are parts of India that are very reliant on coal.”

Building on renewable energy, investing in carbon capture and storage and increasing energy efficiency in buildings – particularly in cold countries – will also be important in 2022, he added.

Globally, there has been “a big move” towards the electrification of vehicles, which has the added public appeal of reducing air pollution in smog-filled cities, Prof Skea said.

“That’s not only people in wealthy countries with four wheelers,” he said. “There is a big move with two wheelers in places like India and the developing world.”

2. Give $100bn a year to developing countries

Back in 2009, wealthy nations pledged to give poorer countries $100bn a year by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change and make the transition to low-carbon.

That promise was not fulfilled.

The delay, coupled with the fact that some funds were provided as loans instead of direct aid, has led to poor nations losing trust in rich countries, said Mr King.

“We need to see the realisation of $100bn a year,” he said. “We need to keep explaining to the developed world that the mistrust created by this is causing real problems.”

For example, at Cop26 the wording of a key pledge was changed from “phase out” of coal to “phase down”. India was one country accused of pushing for this change.

Danae Kyriakopoulou, senior policy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics, pointed to problems caused by a lack of support for those countries that are willing to make the transition to a greener economy but have limited resources to do so.

In the next 12 months, providing support for emerging markets and developing economies to shift away from carbon should be a “priority”, she said.

A report commissioned by Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, said that current trends show “developed countries making significant progress towards the US$100bn goal in 2022”.

Campaigners at British charity Oxfam have called for funds to be given as grants rather than loans, to avoid saddling poorer nations with debt.

It’s also important to see more “transparency” regarding long-term climate financing ahead of Cop 27, said Mouhamadou Bamba Sylla, research chair in climate change science at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Rwanda.

3. Cut methane

Methane is the second largest contributor to global warming. A large proportion of it comes from leakages in oil, gas and coal facilities.

Using existing technology to capture and reuse leaked methane could reduce the energy sector’s emissions by 40 to 50 per cent by 2030 – much of it at a low cost, said a report by the UN environment programme.

“If you captured the methane and sold it to a customer, the value of the revenue would actually more than compensate for reducing the methane leakages,” said Prof Skea.

“So, I think the methane pledge is pushing a bit of an open door.”

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which includes multinationals as well as state owned energy companies, has already taken up methane reduction as a priority, he said.

“It’s not going to cost them a lot of money and they can get an awful lot of credibility from it.”

Agriculture, including livestock and rice paddies, is the predominant source of methane emissions.

The way to reduce methane from livestock would be for the world to eat less meat, said Mr King.

But that would be a “very difficult challenge”, as the global middle-class population is growing and bringing with in a greater appetite for beef.

Pressure group Global Citizen has also called for more investment in regenerative agriculture, which is more in harmony with nature, in 2022.

4. Stop deforestation

A hundred countries, including Brazil, signed a pledge to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030.

Protecting rainforests is vital as trees absorb carbon dioxide. However, a football pitch-sized area of rainforest was being cleared every minute in Brazil, according to satellite images in July. Much of it is done for cattle grazing.

“The rate of [rainforest] loss is increasing per year in Brazil,” said Mr King. “So, the commitment by the Brazilian government, we need to make sure that commitment becomes real.”

Meticulously gathering evidence on how far each country has come on the Glasgow pledges will be important next year.

The Climate Crisis Advisory Group, founded by Mr King, is planning to release a series of reports tracking the progress made by different governments since Cop26.

Its findings will be released to the public.

“That’s one way of putting pressure on governments to deliver,” he said.

Climate Action Tracker, which monitors countries’ climate policies, has also rated nations on how well they are doing in terms of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Iran, Russia and Singapore were on the list of states rated as being “critically insufficient” in meeting this aim. Efforts by the UK, the Gambia, Kenya and Morocco, were rated “almost sufficient”. No country was rated sufficient or better.

5. Stop carbon subsidies

More than $420bn a year is spent on subsidising fossil fuels around the world, according to the UN Development Programme.

This is four times the amount of money being pledged to help poor countries tackle climate change.

In some countries, taxpayers subsidise the use of fossil fuels to, for example, make cooking gas cheaper. Some nations also subsidise fossil fuel production, often to protect jobs in that sector.

At Cop26, global leaders agreed to phase out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.

Next year, developed countries need to lead in agreeing on carbon pricing, said Ms Kyriakopoulou, of the London School of Economics.

This will be a big priority for next year’s G7 agenda under Germany’s presidency, she added. “Getting this right in 2022 will be a big win,” she said.

In 2022, world leaders need to stop financing coal and put in place bigger plans for funding green energy, said Rachel Kyte, dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, US.

“The price of climate change is being paid by ordinary men and women already, in every country around the world,” said Ms Kyte, who is a former group vice president and special envoy on climate change for the World Bank.

She added that if action is not taken to keep the pledges on track, then we would be letting ourselves, our children and other species down.

“If the focus before Glasgow was on the ambition gap – the focus must now be on the potential implementation gap too,” she said.

“Pledges are one thing, reducing emissions, bolstering adaptation and financing loss and damage are another. And all countries need a gear change to implement their commitments.”

Case study: flooding in Senegal

Aida Sarr, 40, lives on the front line in the fight against climate change.

Homes in her community on the island of Maya in Senegal’s Saloum Delta have been flooded, she said.

“Our animals have no meadow … even the track which leads to the island of Djirnda is in a very bad condition and that sometimes leads to accidents.”

She said children often miss lessons because they can't get to school in the neighbouring community of Djirnda.

When she first arrived on Maya in 1998, there were many trees. Now, there are none.

“Even the grass dries up due to the rise in sea levels, making the soil saltier,” said Ms Sarr.

A community development worker and mother of five, she works at the local “health hut” on Maya.

Rising sea levels have made it harder for children to get to secondary school in Djirna.

The community built a wooden bridge for the students. But, over time, the water has damaged the bridge.

Many children now miss school because of the risks involved in getting there.

Updated: December 20, 2021, 5:00 AM