Careening toward climate catastrophe, with glimmers of hope

Bob Sheak, November 17, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

Representatives from 200 countries arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31 for the convening of COP26, the purpose of which is to find an international consensus on how the nations of the world can address, curtail, and eventually stop global warming.

The first COP summit was held in 1995 and has served since then as the meeting of parties to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol that first committed countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to Wikipedia, “twenty-five thousand delegates from 200 countries are attending,[38] and around 120 heads of state” are participation in COP26 

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference).

The international efforts in all these years, based on unenforceable agreements,  have not kept the steady increase from emissions from fossil fuels since COP1 in 1995. This appears to be true of COP26 as well.

In this post, I point out: (1) there has long been recognition of the problem of global warming, well over a century before the first COP summit; (2) the evidence is increasingly compelling; (3) the U.S. has been the biggest contributor to the problem; (4) the U.S. and some other “rich” countries continue to expand their use of fossil fuels; (5) what transpired at COP26 to undermine the mission of the conference; (6) the contradictions in the U.S. position on global warming; (7) the weakness of what COP26 accomplished; (8) the Biden administration’s policies after COP26; and (9) an overall assessment of COP26.

The upshot of the post is that, despite growing recognition of the reality of advancing global warming and its destructiveness, and despite international efforts to reach agreements to stem the problem, the U.S. and the world’s nations have not yet been able to free themselves from fossil fuels, the principal sources of this growing existential threat. In the U.S., the chief hurdles have been continuing support and dependence on fossil fuels, too little investment in renewables, political and economic forces that generally prioritize fossil fuels, a powerful right-wing, reactionary movement under the sway of Trump, as well as a public that is by and large influenced more by their immediate economic interests than by increasingly catastrophic climate change.

#1 – It long been established scientifically that global warming is a growing, existential problem

Recognition, but not enough action

There has been an understanding of and concern about the rising Earth temperature for at least 165 years, principally caused by emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Eunice Newton Foote “theorized that changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could affect the Earth’s temperature back in 1856 (All We Can Save, p. xvii).

The scientific confirmation of this theory is confirmed again and again over the last century and a half. Jumping to recent times, James Gustave Speth, an internationally environmental expert, writes that it is well documented that “the federal government knew enough in the 1970s and 1980s to begin addressing the climate issue in energy policy and elsewhere.” Such understanding is documented during the Carter administration in the 1970s, and has been continuously demonstrated in every subsequent administration up through Trump’s four years. And all of  these administrations failed to reduce the rise in fossil fuel emissions (See Speth’s book, They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis). The climate denialism of the Trump administration was off the charts in denying or avoiding the problem and in undermining efforts to address it.

In an article published in The New York Times, Coral Davenport considers the evidence that Trump’s most profound legacy will be “climate damage” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-change.html). She writes:

“…Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.”

#2 – Recent evidence documenting global warming

Kenny Stancil analyzes a recent climate report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) titled State of the Climate in 2020. “It is,” he writes, “the 31st installment of the leading annual evaluation of the global climate system” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/08/25/atmospheric-co2-levels-havent-been-high-800000-years-noaa). The report is based “on the contributions of more than 530 scientists from over 60 countries and compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”

NOAA finds that 2020 “was the warmest on record without an El Niño effect, and ‘new high-temperature records were set across the globe.” Additionally, “The agency added that the past seven years (2014-2020) had been the seven warmest on record,” continuing a trend toward a warmer planet.

The trend reflects growing greenhouse gas emissions and how they are accumulating in the atmosphere. NOAA finds that, in 2020, “the global average atmospheric concentration of COincreased to a record high of 412.5 parts per million. According to CO2-earth, the number reached 414.57 ppm on November 15, 2021 (https://co2.earth/daily.co2).

Stancil notes that the atmospheric concentrations of other major greenhouse gases (GHG), including methane and nitrous oxide, also continued to climb to record highs last year despite the pandemic.” Astoundingly, 2020’s COconcentration “was 2.5 parts per million greater than 2019 amounts and was the highest in the modern 62-year measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.” Moreover, “the year-over-year increase of methane (14.8 parts per billion) was the highest such increase since systematic measurements began.” The trends are upward.

At the same time, global sea levels continued to rise. The NOAA research reveals the following, according to Stancil: “For the ninth consecutive year,” said NOAA, “global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.6 inches (91.3 millimeters) higher than the 1993 average,” which is when satellite measurements began. As a result of melting glaciers and ice sheets, warming oceans, and other expressions of the climate crisis, the “global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeter) per decade.”

Stancil also refers to other notable findings from the report, as follows.

  • Upper atmospheric temperatures were record or near-record setting;
  • Oceans absorbed a record amount of CO2, global upper ocean heat content reached a record high, and the global average sea surface temperature was the third highest on record;
  • The Arctic continued to warm at a faster pace than lower latitudes—resulting in a spike in carbon-releasing fires—and minimum sea ice extent was the second smallest in the 42-year satellite record;
  • Antarctica witnessed extreme heat and a record-long ozone hole; and
  • There were 102 named tropical storms during the Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm seasons, well above the 1981–2010 average of 85.

U.S. physicists take an official stand on the unfolding reality and destructiveness of climate change

Award-winning journalist Marianne Lavelle reports at Inside Climate News on how the nation’s physicists have toughened their stand on the causes and effects of climate change (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11112021/american-physical-society-climate-change-statement; also see Andrea Germanos, Truthout, Nov 11, 2021 https://trthout.org/articles/200-global-scientists-urge-immediate-large-scale-action-to-limit-global-warming).

Lavelle writes: “On Wednesday [November 10], the society of 50,000 physicists issued a statement on the policy, which was “approved at a virtual meeting of the APS 42-member policy-making council.” Lavelle quotes from the statement as follows: “Multiple lines of evidence strongly support the finding that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have become the dominant driver of global climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century.”

“The policy statement arrives,” Lavelle points out, “just a month after the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three physicists whose work became a foundation for science’s understanding of climate change: Syukuro Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann, an oceanographer and professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg; and Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy. Their work helped explain and predict complex forces of nature, showing how reliable climate models could be developed despite the apparent disorder of weather systems, and how human influences could be identified in a system also affected by natural forces.”

Sylvester James Gates, director of the theoretical physics center at Brown University, who took over as APS president earlier this year, is quoted:

“Physicists have been essential to advancing our understanding of the climate system and humanity’s impact on it.” And now “renews its call for sustained research in climate science and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The statement also expresses a sense of urgency, as it maintains that climate change and its potential consequences “are great and the actions taken over the next decade or two will determine human influences on the climate for centuries to millennia.” The ongoing research of physicists will help to clarify and explain what CO2 and other greenhouse gases are and their environmentally detrimental effects.

“As in its previous climate change statements,” Lavelle writes, “the APS urged sustained research on climate change. But drawing heavily from the scientific assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the society changed its characterization of the remaining uncertainties in climate science. In place of a previous sentence on the scientific challenges in our abilities ‘to observe, interpret, and project climate changes,’ the APS now points to the challenges in our abilities ‘to project, adapt to, and mitigate anthropogenic climate change’—indicating that the greatest remaining uncertainties pertain to solutions.” Lavelle underlines this point with a quote from the Associated Press from Syukuro Manabe, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics, who said that his work in the 1960s building the first model predicting climate change was ‘1,000 times’ easier than getting the world to do something about it.”

#3 -The U.S. has been the biggest contributor to global warming, along with other “rich” countries

New York Times journalists Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer address this issue that has great relevance for the world’s nations, namely, who among nations has the most historical responsibility for climate change? (https://nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/12/climate/cop26-emissions-compensation.html).

It is an issue that is publicly advanced by countries that have contributed very little to climate change, that are now particularly most affected by climate change, and that do not have the resources to adapt to the ongoing and increasing ravages of such change. They want the countries that are mostly responsible for this multifaceted and existentially threatening problem to give them support, some call it reparations, so they may be able to deal with the unfolding problem and have a chance of surviving as nations.

Popovich and Plumer say this is “[o]ne of the biggest fights at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow is whether — and how — the world’s wealthiest nations, which are disproportionately responsible for global warming to date, should compensate poorer nations for the damages caused by rising temperatures.”

Rich countries such as “the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.” Over this time, the “Earth has heated up by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit), fueling stronger and deadlier heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires. Poorer, vulnerable countries have asked richer nations to provide more money to help adapt to these hazards.”

In 2001, “the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020. But they are still falling short by tens of billions of dollars annually, and very little aid so far has gone toward measures to help poorer countries cope with the hazards of a hotter planet, such as sea walls or early warning systems for floods and droughts.”

In this context, poorer countries, “many of which still produce a tiny fraction of overall emissions, have asked for a separate fund, paid for by wealthy countries, to compensate them for the damages they can’t prevent. This issue is referred to as “loss and damage.” There are precedents.

“Lots of people are losing their lives, they are losing their future, and someone has to be responsible,” said A.K. Abdul Momen, the foreign minister of Bangladesh. He compared loss and damage to the way the United States government sued tobacco companies in the 1990s to recover billions of dollars in higher health care costs from the smoking epidemic.”

Wealthy nations are reluctant to go along with the plea for “a specific funding mechanism for loss and damage, fearing that it could open the door to a flood of liability claims. Only the government of Scotland has been willing to offer specific dollar amounts, pledging $2.7 million this week [during COP26] for victims of climate disasters.”

Moreover, “the United States and the European Union have argued that the world will never be able to minimize the damage from global warming unless swiftly-industrializing nations like India do more to slash their emissions. But India, which recently announced a pledge to reach “net zero” emissions by 2070, says it needs much more financial help to shift from coal to cleaner energy, citing both its lower per capita emissions and smaller share of historical emissions.” By the way, 2070 is not soon enough.

Resolving the disputes over money – or not – will determine whether negotiators from nearly 200 countries can strike a new global deal in Glasgow to limit the risks of future global warming. They have not been clearly resolved.

#4 – The U.S. and some other rich countries are expanding fossil fuel expansion

Contrary to the science and simple rationality, Kenny Stancil reports that the five of the richest nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Norway, have plans to support the expansion of fossil fuels in their respective countries (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/12/five-rich-nations-jeopardizing-future-plans-fossil-fuel-expansion-report).

The evidence on this situation was assembled by Freddie Daley, “a research associate at the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, as well as key partners in each of the five countries analyzed—Oil Change International, Uplift U.K., The Australia Institute, Stand.earth, and Greenpeace Norway.”

The key finding: “Coal, oil, and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31%, and 28% respectively between now and 2030… Projections suggest that the Fossil Fuelled 5 will… actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%,” while reducing coal production by only 30%. They also “intend to approve and subsidize new fossil fuel projects that ‘will be in operation for decades to come.’” Indeed, the five countries “have provided “more than $150 billion USD to support the production and consumption of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This level of support from the Fossil Fuelled 5 is more than the entire G7 put towards clean energy as part of the pandemic recovery effort ($147 billion).”

Here are examples of the country-specific findings from the report:

  • The United States has pledged to halve emissions by 2030 yet has simultaneously provided $20 billion in annual support to the fossil fuel industry;
  • Despite hosting COP26, the United Kingdom is expected to greenlight the Cambo oil field, which contains approximately 255 million barrels of oil;
  • Despite its recent commitment to net-zero by 2050, Australia has over 100 fossil fuel projects currently in the approval pipeline;
  • Canada is looking to increase their price on carbon but also provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020; and
  • Norway has raised its ambition to decrease emissions but has already granted 60+ new licenses for fossil fuel production and access to 84 new exploration zones in 2021 alone.

Progressive advocates from all five countries denounced their respective governments for subsidizing planet-wrecking fossil fuels when the world is demanding a rapid and just transition to clean energy.

The United States—which has planned to expand oil and gas production more than any other country between 2019 and 2030—was described by Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, as “the poster child for climate hypocrisy.”

“Together, the Fossil Fuelled 5 account for 25% of global fossil fuel exports,” says the report. “Nations such as Australia, Norway, and the United States continue to export huge amounts of coal, oil, and/or gas, essentially exporting their greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the continued fossil fuel dependence of many countries worldwide.”

The Fossil Fuelled 5 report also proposes solutions.

“Halt the licensing for further exploration and extraction of fossil fuels;

Commit to a timeline for domestic phase-out of fossil fuels in line with 1.5ºC, noting that wealthy countries can and should move first and should therefore exceed the average rates identified in the Production Gap Report of phasing out coal, oil and gas on average by 11%, 4% and 3% respectively each year;

End the support for fossil fuel production through subsidies, tax relief and other mechanisms of government support;

The “Join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) is working with other governments to achieve several goals: to end fossil fuel production and fund a just transition for workers; act as first movers as part of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty; and redirect the vast financial support currently provided to fossil fuel industries towards helping developing countries shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel production and consumption. Such groups have not yet had much of an impact, certainly not when compared to the corporate representatives at COP26.

#5 – 200 countries assemble in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26

The opening statement by Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general

The bad news

Antonio Guterres opened COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, pointing out that the “six years since the Paris Climate Agreement [Dec. 2015] have been the six hottest years on record” and “[o]ur addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink” of a climate catastrophe that will be irreparable (https://unfccc.int/news/un-secretary-general-cop26-must-keep-15-degrees-celsius-goal-alive). There are only two choices: “Either we stop it — or it stops us.” 

Guterres refers to examples of what has already been occurring in the unfolding climate catastrophe. We have been “digging our own graves” by brutalizing biodiversity, killing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning and drilling that intensifies this enormous problem. These activities have already had unprecedented and calamitous effects, as reflected, for example, in melting glaciers, extreme weather events, warming oceans, and where parts of the Amazon Rainforest “now emit more carbon than they absorb.”

Little progress in stemming the increase in global warming

It is illusory, he says, to think we have turned things around. Instead, past pledges by nations to reduce their carbon emissions have not been fulfilled and, indeed, the pledges are inadequate to begin with. If current emission increases continue, the world is headed toward “a calamitous 2.7 degree increase.” “We are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating.”

Some reasons to be hopeful?

Guterres then turns to hopeful examples. He says that we know what we must do, that is, invest “in the net zero, climate resilient economy [that] will create feedback loops of its own — virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs and opportunity.” And, he contends, “We have progress to build upon.” 

  • A number of countries have made credible commitments to net-zero emissions by mid-century.
  • Many have pulled the plug on international financing of coal.
  • Over 700 cities are leading the way to carbon neutrality.
  • The private sector is waking up. 
  • The Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance — the gold standard for credible commitments and transparent targets — is managing $10 trillion in assets and catalyzing change across industries.
  • The climate action army — led by young people — is unstoppable.
  • The science is clear.  We know what to do. First, we must keep the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive
  • This requires greater ambition on mitigation and immediate concrete action to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

What then must be done

Guterres urges “developed countries and emerging economies to build coalitions to create the financial and technological conditions to accelerate the decarbonization of the economy as well as the phase out of coal.” We must, Guterres says, revisit the national climate plans and pledges every year, until the realization of 1.5 degrees is assured, until subsidies to fossil fuels end, until there is a price on carbon, and until coal is phased out. He also says climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure will save jobs and reduce emissions. Developed countries must actually deliver on their $100 billion climate finance commitment in support of developing countries. And there must be more public climate finance, more overseas development aid, more grants, easier access to funding. And

“multilateral development banks must work much more seriously at mobilizing greater investment through blended and private finance.”

Corporate lobbyists are there to protect their fossil fuel interests

Jake Johnson reports on an analysis of a 1,600-page U. N. list of approved COP 26 attendees published by a coalition led by Global Witness (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/08/fossil-fuel-lobbists-have-larger-presence-cop26-any-single-country-report). The analysis documents that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists have been admitted to the summit in Glasgow, Scotland and that they represent the largest group of delegates at the climate conference. They are signed in as delegates from various large nations or business groups. Johnson puts it this way:

“Prominent industry attendees, according to the new analysis, include “delegates from over 100 fossil fuel companies”—such as the oil giants Shell and BP—’who openly stated their affiliation, attending the talks as part of country delegations or with business groups’ like the International Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson continues. “‘For example,’ the analysis notes, ‘one in eight delegates from Russia’s three hundred-strong delegation were from the fossil fuel industry while lobbyists were also included in Canada’s and Brazil’s official delegations. In total, 27 different official country delegations included fossil fuel lobbyists.’”

Why are they participating? Johnson quotes Pascoe Sabido, “a campaigner for Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)—one of the groups behind the new research—[who] said in a statement that /COP26 is being sold as the place to raise ambition, but it’s crawling with fossil fuel lobbyists whose only ambition is to stay in business.’? Sabido added: “The likes of Shell and BP are inside these talks despite openly admitting to upping their production of fossil gas. If we’re serious about raising ambition, then fossil fuel lobbyists should be shut out of the talks and out of our national capitals.”

Demonstrations by environmental activists have little impact at GOP26

While thousands marched in Glasgow demanding the phasing out of fossil fuels, support for renewable energy, and “reparations” to vulnerable nations, Popular Resistance reported on November 8, 2021 that governments at  the COP26 paid little attention to social movements and demonstrations (https://thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/13/21102/cop26—governments-play-deaf-to-social-movements).

Emilio Godoy echoed that message in an article on The Citizen website (https://thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/13/21102/cop26—governments-play-deaf-to-social-movements). Godoy quotes Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a member of the non-governmental organization Youth Advocates for Climate Action from the Philippines, who voiced a common criticism of the UNFCCC for gladly welcoming those who caused the crisis to COP26, while accomplishing too little of substantive import to address the unfolding climate crises. [UNFCC stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For an explanation, go to https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/what-is-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change. It’s another way of referring to the COP summits.]

The COP Coalition, of which Tan is a participant, is made up, as Godoy describes, of a “a motley crew of organizations and movements whose common demand was a real effort to fight the climate crisis through concrete and fair measures and whose 200 events in this Scottish city included workshops, forums, artistic presentations and protests.”

Participants in the coalition included demands of the 196 Parties to the UNFCCC to abandon fossil fuels, reject cosmetic solutions to the climate emergency, support a just transition to a lower carbon economy, and the call for reparations and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and the global South.

“One of the most unanimous and loudest criticisms from non-governmental social and environmental organizations focused on the exclusion of civil society groups from Latin America, Africa and Asia, due to the UK host government’s decision to modify the admission criteria according to the level of contagion in each country and the extent of vaccination.” They also complained about the “strict hurdles imposed by the COP26…to the presence of NGO observers at the official negotiating tables, which undermined the transparency of the Glasgow process.”

One of the key initiatives from the civil society groups “was for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty aimed at moving towards the end of the era of coal, gas and oil, the consumption of which is primarily responsible for the growing planetary climate emergency,” as well as “a fair phase-out and a just energy transition.” They also want an end to deforestation and investment in forest protection and expansion.

The Coalition’s demands have “so far received the support of some 750 organizations, 12 cities, more than 2,500 scientists, academics, parliamentarians from around the world, and religious leaders, indigenous movements and more than 100 Nobel Prize winners.”

#6 – The contradictions in the U.S. policies toward fossil fuels

U.S. claims to be the world’s climate champion – it is not

In an article for The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard, the environmental correspondent and investigative editor at large at The Nation, author, and a co-founder of Covering Climate Now, refutes the deeply entrenched notion in U.S. political and media circles that the U.S. is, or has been, the world’s greatest climate champion and “US leadership is essential to global climate progress” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/11/10/who-worlds-greatest-champion-hint-not-united-states). 

That laudatory message, Hertsgaard writes, was “repeated Tuesday [Nov. 9] at the United Nations climate conference COP26 as Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of 16 fellow congressional Democrats congratulated themselves and US president Joe Biden for the ‘Build Back Better’ climate legislation they are trying to pass in the United States Congress,” which contains about $500 billion for climate-related programs. Of course, the big question is whether the U.S. Senate will ever pass the legislation.

The evidence contradicts what U.S leaders boast

Here is Hertsgaard’s extended argument.

“Never mind that the United States, under Democrats and Republicans alike, has arguably been the single biggest obstacle to global climate action since the 1992 Earth Summit that set in motion the negotiations whose latest installment is now unfolding in Glasgow. Former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement is only the most obvious recent example of that obstructionism. Indeed, the main reason the Paris Agreement, which was signed under President Barack Obama, is only an agreement rather than a treaty regarded as legally binding is that then–Secretary of State John Kerry and his international counterparts knew full well that the US Senate would never ratify a treaty that committed countries to keeping global temperature rise ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius. The United States was even more hostile to climate action during George W. Bush’s eight years in the White House. And in 1997, when the world’s governments approved the Kyoto Protocol, Bill Clinton’s administration did not bother submitting it to the Senate because, according to then–Vice President Al Gore, not even 10 senators were likely to approve it.”

Back to the present, Hertsgaard returns to Pelosi’s press conference at the Glasgow summit and how she bragged about alleged U.S. climate leadership, focusing again on the pending Build Back Better bill. She said:

“the $250 billion that the Build Back Better budget bill allocates to ‘clean energy tax credits’ and its $222 billion for “environmental justice.,’ praising the yet-to-be-passed bill’s “$150 billion for ‘climate-smart agriculture and nature-based climate solutions.” She also “emphasized the hundreds of billions of dollars for family medical leave, universal pre-K, and other social welfare programs that will ‘enable everyone to participate in the economic prosperity that will flow from this’ bill—because, she added, ‘this is all about the children, leaving them a world where they can be healthy and more secure.’”

After other people spoke, Pelosi fielded too two questions from the press.

“The first asked whether Pelosi still intended the House to pass the Build Back Better Act the week of November 15. The speaker confirmed that she did. The second question was rather less predictable and came from Abby Martin of The Empire Files, who made a comment and then asked a question.

“Speaker Pelosi, you just presided over a large increase in the Pentagon budget,” Martin said. Pointing out that the Pentagon budget “is already massive” and “the Pentagon is a larger polluter than 140 countries combined,” Martin asked Pelosi, “How can we possibly talk about net zero if there is this bipartisan consensus to constantly expand this large contributor to climate change?”

“Veteran politicians are skilled at not answering questions they don’t want to answer,” Hertsgaard points out. “Pelosi invited John Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, to respond. He said the military knows that climate change is a national security issue, ‘so I don’t see…increasing the defense budget as being something that’s inconsistent with climate action.’ Likewise avoiding the subject of the Pentagon’s bountiful budget, Pelosi added that reducing the military’s use of fossil fuels would help ‘stop’ climate change, so ‘that is something we’re very focused on.’”

The hidden U.S. military’s harmful contributions to global warming

Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez interviewed on November 9 three guests on Democracy Now, including Ramon Mejia, “an anti-militarism national organizer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Iraq War veteran,” Erik Edstrom, “a former U.S. Army infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan and author of Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War,” and Neta Crawford, “co-founder and director of the Costs of War project at Brown University.” They pick up on the issue of the U.S. military’s enormous carbon emissions and how have never been included in the U.N. COP carbon emissions’ estimates

(https://democracynow.org/2011/11/09/cop26_militaty_emissions_and_climate_change).

Goodman opens with these facts.

“The Costs of War project estimates the military produced around 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, with nearly a third coming from U.S. wars overseas. But military carbon emissions have largely been exempted from international climate treaties dating back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol after lobbying from the United States.” Here are examples of what the guests had to say.

“RAMÓN MEJÍA: When I was in the military, there wasn’t any discussion about the chaos that we were creating. I conducted resupply convoys throughout the country, delivering munitions, delivering tanks, delivering repair parts. And in that process, I saw nothing but waste being left. You know, even our own units were burying munitions and disposable trash into the middle of the desert. We were burning trash, creating toxic fumes that have impacted veterans, but not only veterans, but the Iraqi people and those adjacent to those toxic burn pits.”

“So,” Mejia adds, “the U.S. military, while emissions is important to discuss, and it’s important that within these climate conversations that we address how the militaries are excluded and don’t have to reduce or report emissions, we also have to discuss the violence that the militaries wage on our communities, on the climate, on the environment.” He gives the following example of how they affect communities in the U.S.

“One of our delegates from New Mexico, from the Southwest Organizing Project, spoke to how millions and millions of jet fuel have spilled in Kirtland Air Force Base. More fuel has spilled and leached into the aquifers of neighboring communities than the Exxon Valdez, and yet those conversations aren’t being had.

And we have another delegate from Puerto Rico and Vieques, who tell the officials at COP26 how munitions tests and chemical weapons tests have plagued the island, and while the U.S. Navy is no longer there, cancer still is strickening the population.”

The solution: “it’s important that we discuss it, but greening the military is also not the solution. We have to address the violence that the military wages and the catastrophic effects it has on our world.”

Amy Goodman next introduced Erik Edstrom, “Afghan War vet, went on to study climate at Oxford and write the book Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War.” He basically echoed Mejia, stating this: “the journey to climate activism, I think, started when I was in Afghanistan and realized that we were solving the wrong problem the wrong way. We were missing the upstream issues underpinning foreign policy around the world, which is the disruption caused by climate change, which endangers other communities.” After he left the military, he went on to study this issue in college. He agrees now that it is intellectually dishonest, irresponsible, and dangerous to exclude the carbon emissions stemming from the U.S. Military at home and abroad. 

Finally, Amy turns to Neta Crawford, who emphasizes three points.

“First, there are emissions from installations. The United States has about 750 military installations abroad, overseas, and it has about 400 in the U.S. And most of those installations abroad, we don’t know what their emissions are. And that is because of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude those emissions or have them count for the country that the bases are located in.”

Second: “There’s also something known as — called bunker fuels, which are the fuels used on planes and aircraft — I’m sorry, aircraft and ships in international waters. Most of the United States Navy’s operations are in international waters, so we don’t know those emissions. Those are excluded. Now, the reason for that was, in 1997, the DOD sent a memo to the White House saying that if missions were included, then the U.S. military might have to reduce its operations. And they said in their memo, a 10% reduction in emissions would lead to a lack of readiness. And that lack of readiness would mean that the United States would not be prepared to do two things. One is be militarily superior and wage war anytime, anywhere, and then, secondly, not be able to respond to what they saw as the climate crisis that we would face. And why were they so aware in 1997? Because they had been studying the climate crisis since the 1950s and 1960s, and they were aware of the effects of greenhouse gases. So, that’s what’s included and what’s excluded.”

Third, there is another large category of emissions we don’t know about, which are the emissions from the military-industrial complex. “All of the equipment that we use has to be produced somewhere. Much of it comes from large military-industrial corporations in the United States. Some of those corporations acknowledge their, what are known as direct and somewhat indirect emissions, but we don’t know the entire supply chain. So, I have an estimate that the top military-industrial companies have emitted about the same amount of fossil fuel emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, as the military itself in any one year.”

Crawford adds: “we’re not counting Department of Homeland Security emissions — I haven’t counted them yet — and those should be included, as well.

#7 – Guterres’ concluding assessment of COP26: Not enough was accomplished but there is hope

Here are key points from the UN’s Secretary-General’s Statement on November 13 at the Conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, (https://unfaccc.int/news/secretary-general-s-statement-on-the-conclusion-of-the-un-climate-change-conference-cop26).

Secretary-general Guterres acknowledges that “the approved texts are a compromise” and “reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.” They do not ensure that pledges will “keep the 1.5 degree goal alive.” The nations of the world, particularly the richer nations, have not promised to go into an “emergency mode,” or “agree to phase out coal, “put a price on carbon” [a dubious, market-based idea that doesn’t curtail emissions from corporations],” build “resilience of vulnerable communities, or “make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.” 

At the same time, Guterres maintains that some positive steps were taken, involving commitments to end deforestation, reduce methane emissions, and “encourage International Financial Institutions to consider climate vulnerabilities in concessional financial and other forms of support, including Special Drawing Rights.”

But they alone will not let us achieve “a 45% cut by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.” As it stands now, the commitments by nations, even if fully implemented, “will clearly lead us to well above 2 degrees by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.” Furthermore, the Guterres said, richer nations have not met their pledge to deliver “on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries.” 

He wants national climate plans to be updated every year and pledges to reduce CO2 emissions raised.

Having said all that, Guterres closed “with a message of hope and resolve to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, all those leading the climate action army,” quoting “the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson’ who said:

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” He continued: “We have many more seeds to plant along the path.” He then expressed confidence about what can be accomplished.   

“We won’t reach our destination in one day or one conference. But I know we can get there….Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward. I will be with you all the way.” 

A bit of good news

In an article for Euro News, Rosie Frost reports on an “ambitious alliance to phase out oil and gas” launched on the sidelines of COP26 by Denmark and Costa Rica, and joined by France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and Wales. California and New Zealand joined as associate members, as Italy expressed support. The name of this effort is the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (https://euronews.com/green/2021/11/11/cop26-denmark-and-costa-rica-launch-ambitious-alliance-to-phase-out-oil-and-gas).

The representatives from 10 of the 11 countries in the alliance have committed to “ending new licensing rounds for oil and gas exploration and production” and setting an ‘end date for oil and gas production and exploration that is aligned with Paris Agreement objectives.” Of course, there are pledges and it remains to be seen whether they are achieved by the end of the decade.

#8 – After COP26, US President Under Fire for ‘Failing to Act on Fossil Fuels’

What Biden and his administration are doing and not doing

Jessica Corbett points to criticisms of President Biden for not acting or doing too little to support policies at COP26 and domestically to reduce carbon emissions (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/13/after-cop26-us-president-under-fire-failing-act-fossil-fuels). For example, Mitch Jones, policy director at Food and Water Watch, emphasized in a statement “this White House should fulfill its campaign promise to stop oil and gas drilling on public lands, put an end to oil and gas exports, and stop approving new dirty energy power plants and pipelines.”

And Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, is quoted: “We’re in a five-alarm fire, but Biden refuses to use a firehose. President Biden can use his unique set of executive powers to stop fossil fuel project approvals and declare a climate emergency, but he isn’t. Failing to act on fossil fuels is beyond climate denial, it’s climate atrocity.”

Su further said that by declaring a national emergency, the president would have the opportunity “to reinstate the crude oil export ban and use military funds to deploy just and distributed energy systems in the communities most harmed by the fossil-fueled energy system.” To his credit, Biden “is backing global efforts to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane, end public financing of fossil fuels, and halt deforestation, but he has not supported “a pledge to phase out coal-fired power plants.”

With respect to support for vulnerable nations, the “United States also joined with the European Union and the United Kingdom—which hosted the conference—to quash the proposed creation of a new mechanism to make rich nations pay for the devastating climate impacts that global frontline communities are already enduring.”

Further contradictions in Biden’s climate-related policies

Mike Ludwig reports for Truthout on November 12 that the Biden administration is about to hold the US’s largest offshore drilling auction just days after COP26

(https://truthout.org/articles/after-cop26-biden-administration-to-auction-off-gulf-mexico-for-offshore-drilli).

The administration, he writes, “is preparing to auction off more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling companies less than a week after the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland…” The lease is “planned for November 17 in New Orleans [and] is the largest federal offshore drilling auction in United States history and comes just months after Hurricane Ida unleashed dozens of oil spills and petrochemical leaks from aging fossil fuel infrastructure near the Louisiana coast. On October 1, a ruptured underwater pipeline off the coast of California spilled an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude oil across ocean waters and beaches, the latest disaster to raise fears about the dangers of offshore drilling.”

The administration did not initiate the upcoming leases, but seems willing to allow them to go forward. Ludwig describes the complicated situation as follows.

“After campaigning on a pledge to ban new oil and gas leases on public lands and ocean waters, President Biden in January issued an executive order placing a moratorium on new federal leases while his administration conducts an environmental review that has yet to materialize. The moratorium was expected to have little immediate impact on drilling companies, which have already secured leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters for years to come. Still, Louisiana and a dozen other fossil fuel-producing states filed suit, and in June a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the ‘pause’ on leasing.”

“The Biden administration is appealing the decision, but the Department of Interior is moving ahead with plans to lease 734,000 acres of public lands in western states and millions of acres across the Gulf despite objections filed by environmental groups. John Filostrat, a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), said the federal agency is conducting the Gulf of Mexico lease sale in compliance with the court order.”

Nonetheless, if it wanted to, the “administration has more than sufficient authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to cancel this lease sale,” according to Ludwig’s investigation.

Meanwhile, the pending lease is being opposed by “[m]ore than 250 environmental, social justice and Indigenous groups,” who have sent “a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday [Nov. 10] with an ‘urgent plea’ to cancel the lease sale as the U.S. and other major polluters hammer out their latest pledges at the UN climate conference.” They contend, supported by the relevant science, that the fossil fuels “produced in the Gulf would contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate crisis… and feed onshore refineries and petrochemical plants that pollute low-income communities and neighborhoods of color.

Ludwig adds: “Fossil fuels produced from public lands and waters are responsible for about 24 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to federal researchers. If oil and gas leasing on public lands came to a halt, researchers estimate that carbon dioxide emissions would fall by 280 million tons by 2030, a sizeable reduction compared to other proposed climate policies.” Additionally, “environmental attorneys have filed a lawsuit, arguing the analysis used by federal regulators to estimate the environmental impacts of the lease sale is outdated and insufficient.”

Kristen Monsell, an oceans defense attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, informed Ludwig via an email that “advances in climate science in recent years tell us that burning this amount of oil and gas will absolutely contribute to the climate crisis.” And she points out, “The administration has more than sufficient authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to cancel this lease sale. It’s incredibly disappointing to see them not doing so and instead casting their lot with the fossil fuel industry and worsening the climate emergency.”

At the same time, the Biden administration is moving to curb emissions and, Ludwig reports, is “committed to cutting U.S. emissions by 50 percent under 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.” Ludwig points out, furthermore, that “the administration is focusing on new methane regulations and investments in cleaner technology and renewable energy, along with updates to infrastructure included in two bills Democrats are pushing through Congress.”  Biden signed the first [infrastructure] package on Monday [Nov. 15], which passed with support from a handful of Republicans.”

However, the bottom line for climate advocates is that “the legislation will not result in serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and are urging Democrats to pass their broader spending package with a ban on offshore drilling for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

#9 – A critical assessment of COP26

Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman consider the final agreement reached at the end of COP26, reporting that diplomats “from nearly 200 countries on Saturday [November 13] struck a major agreement aimed at intensifying global efforts to fight climate change by calling on governments to return next year with stronger plans to curb their planet-warming emissions and urging wealthy nations to ‘at least double’ funding to protect poor nations from the hazards of a hotter planet”

 (https://nytimes.com/2021/11/13/climate/cop26-glasgow-climate-agreement.html).

However, they also point out that the “Top of FormnewBottom of Form deal will not, on its own, solve global warming, despite the urgent demands of many of the thousands of politicians, environmentalists and protesters who gathered at the Glasgow climate summit. Its success or failure will hinge on whether world leaders now follow through with new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to keep the earth’s average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius or lower compared to what it was at the onset of industrialization in the early 19th Century. The earth’s average temperature has already reached 1.1 degrees Celsius.

The agreement watered down its statement on fossil fuels. Plumer and Friedman write: “In the final hours of talks Saturday night [Nov. 13], negotiators clashed over wording that would have called on countries to ‘phase out’ coal power and government subsidies for oil and gas. Fossil fuels have never been explicitly mentioned in a global climate agreement before, even though they are the dominant cause of global warming. In the end, at the urging of India, which argued that fossil fuels were still needed for its development, ‘phase out’ was changed to ‘phase down.’”

“Switzerland’s representative, Simonetta Sommaruga, assailed the change: ‘We do not need to phase down, but to phase out.’”

There are also pledges to curb deforestation. However, the “detailed plans that governments have made to curb fossil-fuel emissions and deforestation between now and 2030 would put the world on pace to warm by roughly 2.4 degrees Celsius this century, according to analysts at Climate Action Tracker, a research group.” In the absence of sufficient compliance with pledges, temperatures could rise to 2.7 degrees or even higher. [See Mark Lynas’ book, Our Final Warning, on the effects of each addition rise in the earth’s temperature.]

Nonetheless, leaders at COP26 heralded that the agreement establishes “a clear consensus that all nations must do much more, immediately, to prevent a harrowing rise in global temperatures. And it set up transparency rules to hold countries accountable for the progress they make or fail to make.” But, in the final analysis, the agreement is based on unenforceable pledges about phasing down coal, oil, and gas and in fostering wind, solar, and controversially nuclear power.

The chief organizer of the U.N. COP 26, Alok Sharma, the British politician who led the United Nations summit, called the meeting’s final pact a “fragile win.”

In the new agreement, countries are asked “to come back by the end of next year with stronger pledges to cut emissions by 2030. Though the agreement states clearly that, on average, all nations will need to slash their carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half this decade to hold warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it leaves unresolved the question of exactly how the burden of those cuts will be shared among nations.”

Plumer and Friedman report: “A number of swiftly industrializing countries, such as India and Indonesia, have said they would be willing to accelerate a shift away from coal power if they received financial help from richer countries. But so far, that help has been slow to arrive.”

“A decade ago,” Plumer and Friedman remind us, “the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020. But they are still falling short by tens of billions of dollars per year.” And “only a small fraction of that aid to date has gone toward measures to help poorer countries cope with the hazards of a hotter planet, such as sea walls or early-warning systems for floods and droughts. According to one recent study, some African nations are spending up to 9 percent of their gross domestic product on adaptation, while still only addressing about one-fifth of their needs.”

Negotiators at COP26 also announced “a major deal on how to regulate the fast-growing global market in carbon offsets, in which one company or country compensates for its own emissions by paying someone else to reduce theirs. One of the thorniest technical issues is how to properly account for these global trades so that any reductions in emissions aren’t overestimated or double-counted.” It is a measure that leaves major emitters the opportunity to forego reducing their own emissions.

Meanwhile, “clusters of countries announced pledges they were undertaking on their own. More than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, by 30 percent this decade. Another 130 countries vowed to halt deforestation by 2030 and commit billions of dollars toward the effort. Dozens of other countries vowed to phase out their coal plants and sales of gasoline-powered vehicles over the next few decades.”

“The United States and European Union said they would do so by 2050, China by 2060. At Glasgow, India joined the chorus, saying it would reach net zero by 2070.”

Concluding thoughts

The experience of COP26 and the continuing dominance of fossil fuels in the energy systems of the U.S. and other rich countries bodes poorly for the future stability of all nations and the existence of all people.

In the U.S., there is an additional obstacle stemming from the climate denying and dismissive Trump-dominated Republican Party and a massive electoral base that follows Trump’s lead. They want to maximize fossil fuel production and exports and disregard or minimize the relevant science. If Republicans win back the presidency and U.S. Congress over the next few years, then there is virtually no hope that the climate crisis will be ameliorated. For analysis of Trump’s environmental legacy, check out the following: https://latimes.com/opinion/story/2019/12/27/trump-bad-year-review-climate-change; https://washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/10/trump-world-climate-change; and https://nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-change.html.

While Biden’s policies during the first ten months of his administration are contradictory, there are elements of his infrastructure legislation and the possible passage of the Bring Back Better Bill that will provide major resources directed toward the support of renewable and efficiency measures, with assurances of their equitable distribution. Biden is already in favor of phasing out coal and methane gas from fracking. If the Democrats can hold onto their control of the presidency and congress, there is reason to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

However, whatever they do, the outcome will critically depend on the scope of such policies and how long it will take to implement them. In an article for Scientific American, Mark Fischetti writes “there’s still time to fix climate – about 11 years” (https://scientificamerican.com/article/theres-still-time-to-fix-climate-about-11-years). Whatever the U.S does, the climate crisis requires effective and timely international cooperation. There is no doubt based on the best scientific evidence that the unfolding climate crisis poses an existential threat to humanity.

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