Monday’s warning by the United Nations is as stern as it is relevant for the world at large. Indeed, it forms a template for the next climate change conference in Glasgow, which is aimed at averting dangerous levels of warming.
The nub of the matter must be that that greenhouse gas concentrations have hit a record high and the world is what the UN calls “way off track” on capping burgeoning temperatures that have almost incredibly affected even the Arctic.
It is a measure of the environmental pollution generally that the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has mentioned that carbon dioxide levels ballooned to 413.2 parts per million in 2020. This is more than the average rate over the past decade despite a drop ~ it has turned out to be temporary ~ in emissions during the almost worldwide lockdowns in the wake of Covid-19.
The SecretaryGeneral of WMO has made it explicit that the current rate of increase in “heat-trapping gases” would result in rise in temperature far in excess of the 2015 Paris target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average.
“We are way off track,” he said. “We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems.” He has called for a dramatic increase in commitments at the COP26 conference beginning on Sunday. In point of fact, the pow-wow at the high table in the Scottish city of Glasgow may be an appropriate opportunity to cap global warming at the 1.5 degree Celsius upper limit, as recommended in Paris six years ago. Yet the target is easier suggested than accomplished. Red herrings across the trail there will be. Which arguably explains the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s cynicism ~ “it is going to be very very tough this summit. It might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need.”
The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, will travel to Glasgow to participate, though she is going through the wrapup motions of her place at the helm. The stakes for the summit are high, not least the impact on livelihoods the world over and the stability of the global financial system.
Given the parameters, a positive conduct of the summit can be expected to yield results for the “greatest good of the greatest number”, as Jeremy Bentham had once observed in another context. And as Mr Johnson has remarked, “It is touch and go. Though it is difficult, I think it can be done”.
As the world struggles to curb the damage to the environment, President Joe Biden has made an earnest effort to jettison Donald Trump’s impervious matrix. There may be hope yet in that Saudi Arabia pledged last weekend to reach “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gas, produced in the main by burning fossil fuel, by 2060.