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Daily briefing: Global CO2 emissions might have been flat for a decade

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Narendra Modi gestures while standing at a podium.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Scientists cheer India’s climate goal

India, the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, pledged on Monday to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. Scientists welcomed the ambitious commitment, although it puts India 20 years behind the 2050 date promised by the United States and Europe, and 10 years behind China. And it will require the nation to juggle steep emissions cuts with lifting a significant proportion of its population out of poverty.

Nature | 7 min read

Emissions rebound after COVID shutdowns

The abrupt decline in global carbon-dioxide emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by government-mandated lockdowns, will be all but erased by the end of this year. A consortium of scientists predicts that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels will rise to 36.4 billion tonnes — an increase of 4.9% — in 2021 compared with last year. The tentatively hopeful news: a reassessment of emissions from the conversion of land to cropland suggests that overall global CO2 output might have been effectively flat over the past decade. However, researchers caution that uncertainties in land-use trends are fairly high, and the estimate remains to be confirmed.

Nature | 5 min read & CarbonBrief | 13 min read

Reference: Global Carbon Project report

PANDEMIC REBOUND. Graphic plotting historical CO2 emissions. Researchers predict rates will rebound in 2021.

Source: Global Carbon Project

Pledge to stop funding (other people’s) coal

Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are among 20 countries that have promised to stop public funding of fossil-fuel power outside their borders by the end of next year. Last month, China’s government also committed to stop financing coal power abroad. However, these pledges don’t preclude public funding of domestic projects. The COP26 agreement focuses on encouraging clean-energy alternatives — but allows for “limited” exceptions that are “consistent with a 1.5 °C warming limit”.

New Scientist | 5 min read

Read more: China’s pledge on overseas coal — by the numbers (Nature | 4 min read)

Reference: COP26 statement

A week of breakthroughs and bombast

At the end of the first week of COP26, Glasgow has filled with residents, activists and delegates — and countless police officers — as demonstrators take to the streets.

Many chant what has become one of week’s motifs: activist Greta Thunberg’s assertion that the event is nothing more than “blah blah blah”.

The key to separating the blah from the bottom line will be attention to detail, says Nature journalist Ehsan Masood.

“There have been big announcements every day, leading to a lot of hope,” he says. The hope is valid, but the volley of ‘good-news’ stories is overwhelming, to some extent, our ability to properly analyse each one before another comes along. “There’s clearly a media strategy to rush out a new account every day to influence the news agenda,” says Masood.

“It’s like an onion — when you start to peel back the layers, an announcement to, say, end deforestation, or shift trillions of dollars in investments to net-zero projects, is not quite what it appears.”

“Remember, these announcements are press releases, not scientific reports — we need researchers and science journalists to interrogate them,” he says. “That’s what Nature’s team at COP26 will be doing over the days and weeks ahead. We’re going to bring our readers a reality check.”

We are gathering our coverage of COP26 in this collection, including what scientists think about the COP26 climate pledges so far (7 min read).

Onboard the climate train to COP26

Last weekend, hundreds of young people boarded a specially chartered train in Amsterdam to travel to Glasgow for COP26. Among them were scientists, activists and policymakers. The Nature Podcast boarded the train to catch up with some of them — to talk about their science, their motivations and their message.

Nature Podcast | 20 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Features & opinion

Futures: science fiction from Nature

In this week’s helping of short stories for Nature’s Futures series:

• A day feeding the ducks (and the stray robopets) is at the heart of ‘My first pet’.

• An artificial intelligence becomes the voice of a saboteur’s conscience in ‘Eight reasons you are alone’.

Five best science books this week

Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the power of poo, and what to expect from robots.

Nature | 3 min read

Podcast series

Hope lies in dreams

The final episodes of Nature Biotechnology’s ten-part podcast series about the astonishing life and work of biotech researcher Stan Crooke focus on the people who benefit from his company’s pioneering drug. Spinraza is the first treatment for a devastating childhood degenerative disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The majority of children with SMA, if untreated, die before their second birthday. Now, for some kids regularly receiving Spinraza from birth, the treatment can look like a cure. “We didn’t think he’d have the opportunity to run around and play with his brothers like he does,” says the father of four-year-old Gabriel Peters. “It’s just amazing to see it.”

Nature Biotechnology | 47 min listen

BACKSTORY: FROM THE REPORTER’S PERSPECTIVE

The 2016 approval of Spinraza was hailed as a “miracle” by some neurologists and people with SMA. Of course it wasn’t — it was the direct result of more than a decade of work by two remarkable scientists, and nearly 30 years perfecting a brand new drug modality called antisense. But because the disease had been killing children for more than 100 years before the approval, it’s easy to understand why some likened the Spinraza approval to divine intervention. Spinraza also helped put a capstone on Stan Crooke’s career, and validated his decades of dogged belief in antisense. The entire podcast series can be found here, and wherever you get your podcasts.

Brady Huggett, Senior editor

Quote of the day

“Results like this show the power of science.”

Cervical cancer has been almost eliminated in young women in the United Kingdom who received the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as young teenagers. (The Guardian | 3 min read)Reference: Lancet paper

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-03083-4

Today, Leif Penguinson is refreshing body and spirit in the lush rainforest of Masoala National Park in Madagascar. Can you find the penguin?

The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.

I can’t promise that Leif will join us in Glasgow on Wednesday evening for our first in-person event for Briefing readers — or whether Leif will be present and just hiding. But I’ll be there, as will fellow Nature journalists. If you can, please join us — there will be snacks. Please register in advance because places are limited.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by John Pickrell

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