Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York
Photo: Ercin Top / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
The omens for the most important climate summit since the Paris UN conference six years ago are sobering.
Despite or precisely because of the corona pandemic, there is no real momentum in the negotiations for the world climate agreement, which are to be advanced in Glasgow in November.
For weeks there has been a lack of dynamism, strong coalitions or juicy announcements - it's almost as if the air is out.
The states had almost two years - normally the summit is once a year - to force their way through to higher climate targets.
But experts have been complaining about a standstill for months.
The result is sobering: the interim targets submitted up to 2030 so far are far from being sufficient.
This is also confirmed by a UN report published on Friday.
According to this, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 could even be 16 percent higher than in the comparable year 2010. For the 1.5 degree target, however, a reduction of 45 percent would be necessary.
This huge gap is due to the lack of ambition on the part of governments: many countries have only minimally improved their climate plans or even lowered their ambitions (which actually contradicts the agreement).
Some major greenhouse gas emitters have not yet submitted climate updates, including China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Hardly anything has happened since the last announcement in the spring.
That is why there should now be a »climate booster« for Glasgow: at the »Major Economies Forum« on Friday in New York - a climate meeting between developing and industrialized countries and a kind of debut for the coming UN week - the United States and the United Nations announced EU to launch a »methane initiative«.
This is intended to combine countries into a group that are willing to reduce their methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
New strategy: "Gather friends"
"We believe that our common goal is ambitious and realistic - and we call on everyone to join this promise at the climate conference in Glasgow," said Joe Biden after the virtual meeting, which was attended by UN Secretary General António Guterres and the EU , Mexico, Indonesia and the UK participated.
In the past year, methane emissions had peaked.
Methane is particularly harmful to the climate: over a period of a hundred years it has a 28 times stronger climate effect than CO₂, over 20 years the effect is 86 times stronger.
It arises, for example, in cattle breeding and is released by the digestive process of cows or when fossil fuels are extracted.
The methane initiative has so far been supported by some countries such as Great Britain, whose government is hosting the UN climate conference in Glasgow.
On the other hand, gas importers and producers such as Russia or China would be more important.
But it is a start.
With the methane target, US President Joe Biden and the EU want to get the stalled negotiations in New York moving again.
Traditionally, the UN general debate in New York at the end of September is the last milestone before the climate negotiations that take place at the end of the year.
"With such political deals, the USA and the EU are now trying to flank the ambition debate beyond the contentious issues in the negotiations," says Jennifer Tollmann, climate policy expert at the climate think tank E3G, in an interview with SPIEGEL.
With this change in strategy, the US and Europeans hoped to revive the climate negotiations.
"It's about forging new country coalitions and thus triggering a new dynamic," said Tollmann.
However, this only makes sense if certain key players such as China or India participate.
It is now a matter of "gathering friends" in front of Glasgow.
Global coal moratorium?
During the UN general debate and a small climate summit on Monday, experts suspect further announcements of political deals and country initiatives. The next "booster" for negotiations in November could be a global coal moratorium. Here the diplomats are mainly waiting for the reaction of the Chinese government. China operates around half of all coal-fired power plants worldwide - and is still adding new reactors.
Countries could undertake not to build any new coal-fired power plants or to cut back investments in fossil fuels such as coal or gas. "Everything now depends on which initiatives will be launched in New York next week," says climate policy expert Tollmann. "If the countries don't go along with them now or if alliances fail, the UN climate conference could be a disappointment in six weeks."
According to experts, the EU is currently trying to build such country coalitions, the US is more focused on bilateral negotiations with individual countries.
China, on the other hand, is extremely reluctant to make commitments.
The decisive factor here is whether the US climate commissioner John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua "pull themselves together" before the UN conference.
Initial talks at the beginning of September were overshadowed by political tensions between the two powers.
Everything depends on the money
As is so often the case, success in climate protection depends on money.
In contrast to his predecessor, the new US president is very committed to climate policy and attaches great importance to the leading role of the USA in the UN climate negotiations.
At the same time, however, the USA is still paying far too little into the pot of international climate finance in terms of its economic strength.
More than ten years ago, the industrialized countries promised to pay poor countries at least 100 billion euros a year in climate finance, including money for adaptation to climate change.
That promise has still not been fulfilled.
"Adaptation to climate change in particular is chronically underfunded, especially when measured against the increasing threats from extreme weather," says Jennifer Tollmann.
A report by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC) published this week estimates that around 140 million people have been affected by extreme weather, including floods, droughts or storms, since the corona pandemic began.
The pandemic has made the poor, the elderly and children even more vulnerable.
"In the run-up to the COP26 climate conference, we urge world leaders to take immediate action not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to combat the existing and threatened humanitarian effects of climate change," said IFRC President Francesco Rocca .
"At least 50 percent of the climate finance must go into adapting to climate change, especially in poor countries," says climate expert Tollmann.
Large countries like the USA in particular have not yet released enough funds: "The USA is the big gap in funding," said Tollmann.
The UN general debate next week could therefore be something like the dress rehearsal for Glasgow.
On Monday there is to be a climate meeting with up to 40 heads of state and government in New York.
The decisive factor will be whether the great powers such as China, India and Russia play along.