Quotes from Experts

COP26: U.N. climate summit in Glasgow

SciLine reaches out to our network of scientific experts and poses commonly asked questions about newsworthy topics. Reporters can use the video clips, audio, and comments below in news stories, with attribution to the scientist who made them.

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November 12, 2021


What’s your primary takeaway from the COP26 climate negotiations now concluding in Glasgow, Scotland?


Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan

“One very positive sign coming out of COP26 has been the global methane pledge. Methane is an important greenhouse gas because it has 28 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide over hundred-year timeframes, and over 80 times the global warming impact over twenty-year timeframes. The global methane pledge now includes over a hundred countries that are pledging to reduce their methane emissions by 30 percent—compared to 2020 levels—by 2030.

“What matters most from here is action in line with that pledge. A positive sign has been that philanthropic organizations have actually committed over $300 million to support this action, which is very positive and provides an optimistic outlook for meeting or exceeding these pledges. But, of course, what matters most right now is how countries act in line with that pledge.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan
Assistant professor, School of Advanced International Studies & Environmental Health and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou

“Now, due to the fact that transport is a big global contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with its share being approximately 14 percent, discussion during COP26 has been focusing on building consensus on the need for prompt transitions to zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles, as well as increasing the diversity of makes, models, and sizes of these vehicles. More attention is paid on the vehicle supply side by encouraging auto manufacturers and setting policies to offer or sell these zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles within the next ten to 20 years. And this is going to be offered to the mass passenger market as well as fleet owners. There are pledges to support strong policy and commitments to greater investments in zero emission transportation systems, as well as support towards equitable and sustainable transitions for developing communities.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou
Assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer

“People expect that somehow the countries were going to come to this meeting and agree to way stronger commitments because countries are not on a path to meet the long-term Paris objective of avoiding a warming of one-and-a-half degrees or two degrees, depending on how you read the language. And because the science has gotten yet stronger about the difference between one-and-a-half and two degrees since 2015, and because many countries, including the United States, have suffered from climate damages that are attributable—that is you can nail it as being the result of climate change—there was a high expectation that countries would come in with some revolutionary new commitments.

“But that was just not going to happen. And the reason is, that it’s really determined largely not by agreements with other countries—and the it being what you do to reduce emissions—that’s determined by domestic politics. And domestic politics is difficult and slow to change, and the differences between 2015 and 2021 are not great enough so the big emitting countries—the U.S., India, China, the E.U., Russia, Japan—were going to come in and make revolutionary new commitments. For these countries, climate is still only one of a handful—however a handful of very important issues—that they have to deal with. And so the domestic politics of all of a sudden making huge new commitments just wasn’t there for these countries. We knew that going in, so the fact that the meeting appears to be ending with nothing revolutionary happening is no surprise, at least to me.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer
Director, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, Princeton University

How do the climate pledges made at COP26 compare to what the evidence says about the changes necessary to achieve only 1.5°C of warming? What about to achieve 2.0°C of warming?


Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan

“Present pledges are known not to be on track towards meeting the Paris goals of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius. This type of pledge can contribute on the order of 0.25 degrees Celsius by 2030—and more if methane emissions are cut by 50 percent. The global methane pledge does fall short of this at 30 percent, so we know that the contribution will be less. But I do want to emphasize that technology goals, such as renewable portfolio standards, and such technology goals as we’re talking about here, can actually be exceeded. They can be exceeded because the technologies are known and in deployment today. So this is a very good sign, and it’s also critical that actions are reciprocated for other greenhouse gas emissions and other sectors, emphasizing the necessary reductions in CO2 towards meeting these goals.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan
Assistant professor, School of Advanced International Studies & Environmental Health and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou

“Transportation decarbonization is an important step towards limiting global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius. Complete transition to electric vehicle technologies can eliminate tailpipe environmental externalities of transportation at a low cost, while also a decarbonized grid, with renewables integration, is essential to maximize the benefits accrued on the road to net zero. Significant investment is needed by governments in charging infrastructure to enable sooner adoption of electric cars by the mass market. Carbon reduction programs should be carefully devised by governments so that they can better manage the transportation system in an efficient way, have better funded and cleaner transit systems, and more facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou
Assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer

“The pledges that countries have made so far are nowhere near enough to avoid one-and-a-half degrees of warming. And if we’re to judge by actually how much has started to be implemented by the major emitter countries, you’re even further behind. We’re better off than we were when we went into the Paris process, at which time a warming of four degrees seemed perfectly plausible. That seems very unlikely at this point, and that’s good news. The bad news is there’s a lot of damage between one-and-a-half degrees and four degrees that we might still be subject to. Two degrees is difficult, one-and-a-half degrees is extremely difficult to achieve, and we may still be in the ballpark where a lot of experts would say they think that, with a little bit of luck, we could avoid a two-degree warming. I think with a one-and-a-half degree warming the story is quite a bit different because we’ve already warmed by over one degree and, in my personal opinion, the chances of avoiding a one-and-a-half degree warming are very small. Not impossible, but very, very difficult.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer
Director, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, Princeton University

What changes in their local communities can Americans expect to result from U.S. climate commitments made in Glasgow?


Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan

“Under the last administration, when there was less federal political support for the Paris agreement, we did see a lot of actions from cities, universities, and companies really moving to the spotlight in terms of America’s support for climate goals. What this indicates to me is that it’s of critical importance that we all realize our own contribution towards these goals at our work, in our universities, in our communities. So what I expect to see coming out of this is greater awareness, in terms of our individual and collective actions towards reducing global emissions.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan
Assistant professor, School of Advanced International Studies & Environmental Health and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou

“Americans should expect provisions to support greater adoption for electric vehicles, since very soon we would expect fossil fuel vehicles to start phasing out. We would expect more investments for climate justice and improving conditions for transportation of minority and low-income communities that have been disproportionally hit by adverse emissions exposure.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou
Assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer

“The goals that have been set up, like electrifying almost everything that we do including driving, say; depending more on transportation modes which don’t waste a lot of energy and are much more efficient; avoiding the use of fuels which pollute the environment in twenty different ways—like coal—and which are therefore bad for our health, putting climate change aside, those are changes people want. The question is, how’s the path for getting there to be built and constructed in a way that it costs an amount that’s affordable, and that so people enjoy the journey rather than hating it and then in the middle of the process deciding they’re against the whole thing.” (Posted November 12, 2021 | Download Video)

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer
Director, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, Princeton University

Photo by UN Climate Change via Flickr


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Dr. Sarah Marie Jordaan, assistant professor, School of Advanced International Studies & Environmental Health and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

None.

Dr. Eleftheria Kontou, assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

None.

Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, director, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, Princeton University

Dr. Oppenheimer serves as a science advisor to the Environmental Defense Fund.