How a delay to COP26 would doom international climate efforts

Welcome to Callaway Climate Insights. Only 54 days until the UN's global climate summit in Glasgow.

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Labor Day: Cal Fire crews from the Camarillo Fire Center get ready to start a two-hour hike Monday into their assigned area to fight California’s Caldor fire. The fire has burned more than 216,358 acres and is about 48% contained.

COP26 was always going to be a hot mess. More than 30,000 people, the majority flying in from overseas, trying to cram into a rainy Scottish city in November along with 100 world leaders, the Queen of England and the Pope, with Covid cases rising daily and protesters at the barricades.

It would be easy to delay, which is why the call from Greenpeace and dozens of climate advocacy groups today for a pushback from the first two weeks of November is getting attention. But arguments that not enough small country delegates can afford to get there, or get vaccinated and quarantined, or have access to the serious talks, have never really held water.

What’s at stake is not their access, but their financial need. Any coordinated, geo-political deal on fighting global warming must include payouts to the countries most affected by the biggest polluters, i.e. China and the U.S. That’s why UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson knows that delaying the summit — for a second time — would crush what’s left of any opportunity for global progress in 2021.

With just over 50 days left until the summit is scheduled to begin, expectations are being taken down daily. China-U.S. talks on a coal deal collapsed over the weekend. Australia is doubling-down on coal despite pleas from the United Nations. President Biden’s infrastructure plans are tied up in Congress.

It must be tempting to walk away and try again next year. But the big nations who know it is up to them to move the needle — including the UK — won’t let it happen. This is not Woodstock, where everyone partied in the rain. People are going to be disappointed no matter what happens at the conference. Climate change won’t be solved in Glasgow. But without it, whatever momentum there has been these past two years would be lost.

More insights below. . . .

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Tuesday’s subscriber insights: Climate setbacks in U.S.-China talks

. . . . The stiff arm China gave John Kerry last week on his pleas for a coal deal for COP26 was stronger than expected, but very much in keeping with China’s playbook on U.S. relations. Combined with dawdling in Congress over President Biden’s infrastructure bill, the collapse of talks sets a downbeat stage in the run-up to the UN’s global climate summit. Read more here. . . .

. . . . Medical journals are usually staid affairs, with dry prose and peer reviews, which is why the call by 220 editors of medical and health journals this weekend in The New England Journal of Medicine for urgent action on climate change was such a rare event. Whether it will be heeded is another story. Read more here. . . .

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Editor’s picks: Australia warned to cut coal, strong hurricanes threaten post-Katrina restoration

Australia warned to cut coal or face climate ‘havoc’

Climate change will “wreak havoc” across the Australian economy if coal is not rapidly phased out, a senior UN official warned on Monday. In a pre-recorded speech to an Australian National University forum, UN Special Adviser on Climate Change Selwin Hart joined calls for Australia’s government to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction goals. Hart reiterated the need for countries of the intergovernmental economic organization OECD, including Australia, to stop using coal by 2030 and by 2040 for all others, according to a report from UN News. Due to its reliance on coal-fired power, Australia is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted committing to a timeline to set a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050.  

Stronger hurricanes could overcome Louisiana coastal defenses

Efforts to save a vanishing Louisiana coast could be hampered by increasingly powerful hurricanes and funding that, with many other shorelines threatened, is spread thin, James Bruggers and Bob Berwyn report for Inside Climate News. They note that since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, authorities have spent billions of dollars on hurricane defenses, and for restoring coastal marshes and barrier islands. While mitigation measures including new flood walls, levees and pumping stations “helped hold back the water and protected New Orleans from flooding as Ida dumped as much as 10 to 18 inches of rain in some areas, knocked out power to millions amid soaring temperatures and humidity, and disabled water and sewer systems.” Ida also delivered the biggest post-Katrina test yet in the battle to save the Louisiana coast. “Ida was and is a severe test on both our restoration projects and our protection projects, designed to protect our communities from just these kinds of events,” said Bren Haase, executive director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, created in the aftermath of Katrina.

EU, U.S. companies unprepared for climate finance challenges

Adapting to the impacts of climate change and moving away from fossil fuels could increase the cost of doing business or lead to stranded assets, according to a recent analysis by the European Investment Bank. Energy Monitor reports that most EU and U.S. firms, the report says, “unaware of the challenges ahead.” According to the report, transition risks can be hard to identify due to uncertainty about future policies and regulations, and the long-term nature of their impacts. Some 43% of firms surveyed cited uncertainty about regulation as the biggest obstacle to making climate-related investments. See the full report from the EIB here.

Today in wildfires

. . . . As of Sept. 7, the Fire Information for Resource Management System reported one new large incident, four large fires contained and 58 uncontained large fires in the U.S. The Southern California area remains among the most active regions in the U.S., with 27 new fires overnight and three uncontained large fires. Across the nation, the National Interagency Coordination Center reports that as of Tuesday morning, more than 23,722 firefighters are battling 68 blazes that have burned 2.87 million acres in the past day. . . .