The United Nations climate summit in Glasgow is projected to have a carbon footprint of roughly double the impact of the last global meetup of its kind in 2019, and international flights are the largest contributor.
The two-week conference, which is meant to hold countries accountable for their pollution, will emit about 102,500 tons of carbon dioxide, according to a report out Friday. CO2 gets trapped in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, intensifying deadly storms, worsening public health and eroding coastlines, scientists say.
Event emissions are the equivalent of the total average annual emissions for more than 8,000 U.K. residents, the report’s creator, a London-based business consulting firm called Arup, said. Arup was brought in by the U.K. government to help calculate the impact and issued an executive summary.
The 2019 COP25 in Madrid, by comparison, emitted an estimated 51,101 tons of carbon dioxide and the 2015 COP21 in Paris emitted an estimated 43,000 tons of carbon dioxide. COP20 in Lima, Peru, in 2014, offset all emissions, according to the U.N. COVID-19 prompted the cancellation of the 2020 summit.
About 60% of the summit emissions are estimated to come from international flights, while other large contributors include hotels and other accommodations for delegates and participants, policing and security, transportation to and from venues, and local energy, water and waste management,
The event, known as Conference of Parties, or COP26, is viewed by some climate change trackers as the most high-stakes effort to curb global warming in years. It drew policy makers and academics from developed and developing nations, private-sector interests who want to advance solar and wind, oil executives facing an uncertain future and crowds of protesters.
About 40,000 people are attending the COP. Brazil has the biggest official team of negotiators according to U.N. data, with 479 delegates. Numbers don’t include demonstrators and other interested observers outside the event.
The U.N. did buy carbon credits to offset some of its emissions and it pushed the use of bicycles and sustainable fuel when available for getting around in Glasgow.
But the high-profile inclusion of celebrities and business VIPs, including former President Barack Obama and Amazon
founder Jeff Bezos, and the power imbalance between the developed world, a huge energy consumer, and the developing world — which gives up its natural resources to wealthy nations and faces greater risk from climate change — remains a key point of contention at such events. Some nonprofits made it their mission to host delegates who might not otherwise afford the conference’s travel demands.
“The meeting in Glasgow is not supposed to be a demonstration of sustainable lifestyles, and it shouldn’t be judged in those terms,” Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace U.K., said in a statement.
“But the failure to reach any meaningful agreement about limiting aviation’s vast carbon emissions — at a conference where 60% of their emissions came from aviation, with a backing chorus of media outrage at the private jet hypocrisy of the elites — really highlights the lack of equity in these talks,” Parr said.
For pandemic and pollution reasons, some observers thought a virtual conference was smarter. But Richard Smith, chair of the U.K. Health Alliance on Climate Change, said despite COVID-19 risks, the in-person summit was seen as critical to getting work done on such major issues.
If countries don’t quickly set stronger emissions-reduction targets, the world will warm 2.7°C by 2100, according to a study released just before the Glasgow conference. The increase will far exceed the goal of keeping warming below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C that was laid out in the voluntary 2015 Paris Agreement signed by all participating countries.
The two-week summit was due to wrap up Friday, but as evening darkened Glasgow, negotiators were still ironing out softer language around cutting fossil fuels. In one instance, the wording calling to cut all subsidies for oil
and gas had been edited to stress “inefficient” subsidies for fossil fuels.