The existential threat of climate change has become increasingly evident as we experience its devastating impacts: wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest, California, and Greece; torrential rains flooding China and Western Europe; droughts and storms damaging America’s food belt. The new IPCC report makes climate risks starkly clear: "human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years…" it goes on to state, “Climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe with human influence contributing to many observed changes in weather and climate extremes.” Scientists are typically conservative in their fact-based assessments but since the previous U.N. assessment, great improvements have been made in the precision of climate science models. In the recent IPCC report, the world’s leading scientists reviewed thousands of research studies and models which indicate severe risks to humanity, including the prospect of facing conditions unknown to modern history if we do not adjust course rapidly. Below are a few notable findings:
“Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
“With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.”
“...ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes, some compound extreme events and warming substantially larger …. cannot be ruled out …”
The Arctic is experiencing the most extreme effects from climate change - it is warming more than 2 times faster than the global average. A recent report by the Climate Crisis Advisory Group - an independent group of scientists who advise on climate change and biodiversity - warns of the significant global impacts of Arctic warming including extremes in sea level rise and alteration to the atmospheric (Jet Stream) and oceanic circulation (Gulf Stream) patterns. These changes to the Arctic can influence global extreme weather beyond expectations. We need to take actions to mitigate the effects of climate change through major emissions reductions, significant removal of greenhouse gases, and the repair and stabilization of the planet. Although climate impacts are inevitable, the extent and severity will depend on how fast the world moves away from fossil fuels.
COP26 in Glasgow presents an opportunity for the world to unite and advance the necessary rapid transition off fossil fuels to achieve a climate secure world. The necessary actions can be accelerated through political and financial support but a major obstacle has been the voluntary nature of previous international commitments. This can be resolved through the formation of a Climate Compact that binds developed nations to a minimum domestic price on carbon to achieve carbon reduction commitments. Economists agree that pricing carbon and other greenhouse gas pollution out of the marketplace is the most effective means of accelerating the transition to clean economies.
Senior economist Dr. Roy Wehrle, expert atmospheric scientist Dr. Don Wuebbles, and Dr. Francine van den Brandeler recommend the following approach for an effective and successful COP26:
- The U.S., with the E.U., China, and others in Glasgow should begin the formation of a Climate Compact. In advance, the U.S. must signal its own commitment to carbon pricing. It is one of only two developed nations in the world without a carbon pricing mechanism; over sixty-five countries, regions and sub-national jurisdictions have adopted one. The U.S. risks losing competitive advantage in global trade while also being left behind in the transition to a clean economy and technologies.
- In addition, member countries of the Compact could adopt a Carbon Surcharge Transfer – a tariff-like fee imposed on all goods imported from nonmember countries. The revenue generated will be substantial, providing funds for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change while transitioning to greener and more prosperous societies. The surcharge would also level the playing field so that exports from Compact nations remain competitive with nations still relying on fossil fuels. It encourages countries to join the Compact, further reducing global emissions.
The combination of a Climate Compact and surcharge transfer payments will usher in a new social contract in which common yet differentiated responsibilities unite countries toward achieving the UN’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050. In Glasgow, President Biden can demonstrate America’s commitment by leading the creation of a Climate Compact and committing the U.S. to carbon pricing at home. It is time to listen to the consensus of experts, both climate scientists and economists, and for policy makers to act.
Read our policy recommendations for COP26 researched and produced by Dr. Francine van den Brandeler with senior economist Dr. Roy Wehrle and expert climate scientist Dr. Don Wuebbles.