The US has joined the High Ambition Coalition and has signed up to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2100, halving global emissions by 2030 and making good on the promise of $100bn per year of climate finance for poor nations.
US President Joe Biden joined the body, which combines both industrial nations in Europe and Asia with some of the world’s smallest and most climate-vulnerable countries such as Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands.
The firmer commitment to meeting the 1.5°C dominated headlines on November, but was just one of a number of conference breakthroughs that fostered widespread global consensus on dealing with climate change.
However, consensus was not universal, with Russia not signing up to any of the major agreements, and China choosing to support some initiatives while not getting involved in others.
The High Ambition Coalition called on all countries to improve their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to provide more detail on how they will deliver net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions goals by 2050.
The High Ambition Coalition is the group of countries that really delivered the Paris Agreement back in 2015, and has set out in its latest Leaders' Statement ambitious goals for a potential Glasgow Package of measures that aims to keep the world on course for 1.5°C.
The group also called for a halt to investment in new unabated coal-fired power plants, the phasing out of unabated coal-fired power plants in line with the requirements for a 1.5°C trajectory and a halt in public support for all overseas unabated coal projects.
Crucially, it also called for a halt to inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, but did not specify a date, only referring to “as soon as possible.”
This means that Biden has placed the US firmly behind the climate goals of the UN, representing a major turnaround in US policy since the presidency of Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, in what have been termed the “Glasgow Breakthroughs,” China, the EU and the US have committed themselves to scaling up existing clean technology by introducing worldwide standards and policies.
“We will endeavour to work together in each sector, including through public-private collaboration and by mobilising finance at scale, to make the global transition to a clean economy faster, lower cost and easier for all, while making solutions to adaptation more affordable and inclusive,” read a statement signed by China, the US and a range of African, Asian and European states.
The countries said this would create certainty and a global set of regulations in a bit to give investors certainty that global markets will be created for low-carbon, or even zero-carbon, technologies.
These Glasgow Breakthroughs would act as “global goals that aim to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030,” read the statement.
With tighter and more uniform regulations, the aim is to raise trillions of dollars in private finance for cutting emissions.
Crucially, this will extend beyond the energy sector, and include areas that until have been labelled “difficult to decarbonise.” The five areas are: steel, road transport, agriculture, hydrogen and electricity.
The agreement also mandates the signing governments to meet regularly in future to review progress, and to bring in such bodies as the International Energy Agency (IEA), IRENA and the United Nations High Level Climate Action Champions.
As well as extending green electricity and electric vehicles (EVs), perhaps the key breakthrough is in the steel sector, with governments agreeing to make near-zero emission steel the preferred choice in global markets, with efficient use and near-zero emission steel production established and growing in every region by 2030.
Hydrogen is also included, and again the target is to make affordable renewable and low-carbon hydrogen globally available by 2030.
Crucially, China did not endorse the steel and transport targets, although it did put its name to hydrogen, while Russia was conspicuous by its absence, potentially lessening the impact in the short term of the Glasgow Breakthroughs.
The third major development on November 2 concerned methane, with global leaders agreeing to the global methane pledge and committing to a cut in emissions of 30% between 2020 and 2030.
This was signed by 80 countries, covering over two-thirds of global GDP and about 46% of global methane emissions. It will help limit up to 0.2°C of warming across the next decade alone.
However, again the absentees were significant. China, Russia, India, Australia, Turkey and South Africa did not sign it, again potentially weakening the impact of any agreement and future efforts.
Canada, for example, has become the first to commit to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 75% by 2030, compared to 2012 levels.
Biden highlighted that methane has been responsible for what scientists believe to be around 0.5C – nearly half – of the warming since the 19th Century, second only to carbon dioxide.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that cutting methane emissions was " one of the most effective things we can do" to limit to 1.5 C the rise in global average temperatures.
"We cannot wait for 2050, we have to cut emissions fast," she says. "It is the lowest hanging fruit."
“We have seen strong calls the past two days from leaders on the need to accelerate action this decade to keep 1.5C in reach. The UN and climate-vulnerable countries have been calling out [for] the need to focus on fossil fuels. The methane pledge could be a start at bringing more specific details on the actions countries are going to take. But we’ll need to see more over this week on how countries will phase down the use of fossil fuels,” said Alex Scott, Climate and Diplomacy lead at green think-tank E3G.
Major sources of methane include agriculture, and leaks from oil and gas production and landfills.
Other agreements reached on November 2, the second and final day that is set to be dominated by world leaders, included a commitment to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, which was also supported by Brazil, and a major $8.5bn commitment to help South Africa move away from coal through a Just Energy Transition Partnership.
Finally, the US, the UK and the EU also raised the issue of climate finance, and endorsed a new paradigm of climate finance – spanning both public and private sources – (that) is required to mobilise the trillions needed to meet net-zero by 2050 and keep 1.5°C within reach.”
They said that this would require a mobilisation of capital that requires a collaborative effort from governments, the private sector and development finance institutions (DFIs).