Climate Coup or Cop-Out?

World leaders agreed to a final climate agreement at COP26 on Saturday, but what is the final takeaway? U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry said “we are closer than ever to avoiding climate chaos.” Greta Thunberg, on the other hand, called it more “blah, blah, blah.” Both are true.

The U.S. is back – but is still hamstrung at home. President Biden, 13 Cabinet-level officials, and over 40 Members of Congress travelled to Glasgow to demonstrate “America is back” and ready to lead after four years of inaction. But recognizing the delicate political situation in Washington, the U.S. avoided certain commitments—like ending all fossil fuel subsidies—that could anger Senator Joe Manchin and imperil Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. 

Fossil fuels are on their way out – but some of the biggest polluters are dragging their feet. The final COP agreement was the first one to ever mention fossil fuels. An earlier version of the text was stronger, calling for a “phase-out” of coal. But India and China demanded a re-write to “phase-down.” 

1.5° degrees is alive – barely. Countries made a number of new commitments, including ending deforestation and cutting methane emissions, and updated their plans to reach net zero. The good news? If all those pledges were implemented, global temperatures would increase by 1.8°C, very close to the 1.5 °C goal. The bad news? An enormous gap remains between promises and action, and current policies would lead to a disastrous 2.7°C warming.