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What will climate ambition look like in 2022?

Ten months from now, Egypt will host the 27th UN climate summit. Expect fossil fuels and climate injustice to be in the hot seat

climate ambition
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

World leaders will likely have a daunting list of New Year’s resolutions for 2022. With less than a year until the next climate summit and eight short years left for governments to slash their emissions in half, leaders must find ways to build on what little momentum was formed at COP26, the UN climate summit held in Glasgow in November.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t progress last year. The conference’s British hosts trumpeted COP26 as a “step forward in global efforts to address climate change.” The summit resulted in some significant pledges by governments around deforestation and methane emissions, as well as by leading financial firms vowing to achieve net-zero in their portfolios by 2050. But as climate disasters escalated in 2021, many were left feeling frustrated that more wasn’t achieved through all the summit’s “blah-blah-blah.” 

“There is much that is good, some bad, some lacking and without a doubt lots still to do to build on in a deal which may yet prove to be a turning-point,” said Mark Campanale, executive chair of the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker in a post-summit statement. “That’s especially true if governments can return next year, and the next, with more ambitious emissions targets.”

At the end of the summit, Climate Action Tracker, an independent analysis that measures country emissions, found that even if leaders achieve all their 2030 and long-term targets, the world is still on track for 2.1°C of warming.

Bold climate action is looking uncertain for the world’s second largest climate polluter, as U.S. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill stalled in late 2021. In December, coal-friendly West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin had delivered what appeared to be a death blow to the bill, telling a Fox News host that he would vote “no” on the US$1.75-trillion package. The bill had carved out a whopping $555 billion to combat climate change, including $300 billion in tax incentives and rebates for clean energy, electric vehicles and greener buildings. Even the United Mine Workers of America, which represents West Virginia’s coal miners, called on the senator to reconsider his opposition to the bill.

There is much that is good, some bad, some lacking and without a doubt lots still to do to build on in a deal which may yet prove to be a turning-point.

-Mark Campanale, executive chair of Carbon Tracker

In his first public comments about the bill in 2022, Manchin said no negotiations were happening at the time. He added, however, that “the climate thing is one that we probably can come to agreement much easier than anything else.” If the bill does survive, its scope likely will be far narrower than what was originally proposed.

There are signs that 2022 may be more constructive, at least in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued mandate letters to his cabinet ministers in December that signalled an unprecedented government-wide effort to tackle the climate crisis. The letters underscored a more robust climate approach, including a zero-emissions-vehicle mandate, a 100% net-zero electricity grid by 2035 and mandatory climate-related financial disclosures for banks, pension funds and others.

Admittedly, Canada has been notorious for not following through on its carbon-trimming resolutions. But Canadian climate activists are hopeful that the government will be more active on the climate file in 2022, given Steven Guilbeault has been appointed to serve as the country’s new minister of environment and climate change. Guilbeault, who was once a director of Greenpeace Quebec, had a long to-do list in his mandate letter and is expected to unveil a new federal climate plan in March.   

Ten months from now, Egypt will host the 27th UN climate summit. Expect fossil fuels and climate injustice to be in the hot seat. The UN had billed COP26 as humanity’s “last best chance” to tackle the climate crisis. Let’s hope the political actions of 2022 will meet the ambitions of 2021.

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