Since the Paris Agreement of 2015, the world represented by 196 global leaders made a commitment towards achieving a global zero net emission over the longer term (2050). Zero net emissions refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Human beings increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have the effect of global warming, through gas emissions. We therefore reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.
The amount taken away, does so through natural means. The challenge with global warming is that it impacts climate change.
Evidence shows that the planet has been getting hotter. The warmest 20 years on record have been in the last 22 years according to the World Meteorological Organisation and the warmest four were all very recent: 2015 to 2018. Global average temperatures are now 1° higher than in the pre-industrial era. A degree doesn’t sound like a lot, but the reality is that this incremental warming already appears to be having a negative impact. What’s more, if recent trends continue, this is set to worsen, with predictions of global temperatures increasing by as much as 3-5° by 2100.
Even with this tiny rise in global temperatures we are feeling the effects of climate change, with erratic weather patterns, including: heatwaves; floods and severe storms; loss of polar ice; and, rising sea levels. This will only get worse if global warming intensifies.
Commitments initiated through the Paris Agreement of 2015 towards achieving zero net emissions are against this background.
To achieve the net zero target, countries have to change their production models, consumption behaviour and modes of transportation.
These commitments involve trillions of US dollars in investments particularly in clean energy. Before Paris, in 2010, at a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, rich nations made pledges to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature, but this has come short.
This week, global leaders caucused in Glasgow, UK at the COP26, a climate summit to which Zimbabwe was invited and represented by President Mnangagwa.
It was expected that pledges will be renewed and newer or updated targets for net zero set. The short-term target is that countries would need to limit global warming to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to strive to keep temperatures at 1.5C by the end of the century as part of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.
Science is already clear that the 1.5°C target can be met. But science cannot say whether it will be met.
The outcome depends on two things we cannot know with precision: how sensitive the climate system is to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, and how quickly the world will cut emissions.
Humanity has little sway over climate sensitivity. But on the second issue — what we do about emissions humanity clearly holds the lever of influence.
The recent UN report showed that governments are not pushing that lever on short-term emissions hard enough. Only 40% of countries have so far set a new emission-cutting target for 2030, as they are due to under the Paris Agreement. Collectively, they are pledging to bring emissions down by 1% below 2010 levels rather than the 45% proposed by the IPCC as being compatible with meeting the 1.5°C limit.
Yet, since autumn 2020, China, the EU, the US, Japan and South Korea have all pledged to reach net zero emissions around mid-century. If they follow through, that would halve the gap to the 1.5°C target — and that’s without factoring in the wider effect on global markets, investment and prices that will inevitably follow.
Now to zero in on Zimbabwe.
In the past, Zimbabwe has shown great commitment to addressing climate change issues by being among the first countries to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Yet despite its support for climate issues, the country has failed to reduce the carbon emissions released by coal power stations. Zimbabwe continues to greatly rely on coal-powered thermal stations that emit large amounts of pollution.
The Hwange Power Station is currently under expansion for phase 7 and 8 as the country tries to deal with the power crisis. In order for Zimbabwe to reduce its emissions, the country needs to enact laws that promote the use of cleaner sources of energy, such as solar energy.
The Zimbabwean government needs to quickly push for a reduction in carbon emissions so as to foster a post-fossil-fuel society and introduce policies that allow for acclimatisation to environmental changes.
At Glasgow, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was battling the effects of climate change which had resulted in severe droughts and cyclone-induced floods. He quipped that the impact of climate change is disproportionately borne by vulnerable communities that have contributed the least to the current stock of atmospheric carbon, further highlighting that vulnerable countries must be capacitated to mitigate, adapt and build resilience to climate change.
These statements together with the reality on the ground in terms of fossil fuel investments, highlight that the country is moving in a different direction to the rest of the world. Hope remains only on wealthier countries, who have committed to injecting funds towards capacitation of less developed countries.
- Equity Axis is a financial media company, specialising in financial research, broadcasting and publishing economic and business updates.