CoP26: With less than 100 months left for a climate redline, here is a deal that feels laggard

India forces coal and subsidies ‘phase out’ clause to milder and undefined ‘phase down’;;
Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav proposes weakening fossil fuel language from ”phase-out” coal to “phase-down” to CoP26 President Alok Sharma just before CoP26's final plenary is set to start
Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav proposes weakening fossil fuel language from ”phase-out” coal to “phase-down” to CoP26 President Alok Sharma just before CoP26's final plenary is set to start

The 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which overshot its schedule of October 31-November 12, 2021 by a day, finally ended with a deal — named at the last minute as the Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP) — to speed up efforts to fight the global climate crisis.

‘Balance’ and ‘compromise’ were the operative principles that were deployed by 197 countries to seal the GCP in the closing plenary. Alok Sharma, the CoP26 president, asked: “What is enough? Ask yourself.”

A third draft of the GCP was released on the morning of November 13, though the drafts didn’t differ much. After a day of deliberation, country after country — rich and poor — agreed to the deal to move ahead mostly in the name of ‘compromise’ and ‘balance’.

The Costa Rica representative said, “While the draft deal may not be ideal, it is workable. It is not the perfect agreement, but it is one we can live with.” A similar sentiment was expressed by most countries.

The GCP aims at limiting global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2030, as agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement and less than 100 months away to keep the planet livable and to avert major climate catastrophes. This calls for global greenhouse gas emissions to be cut 45 per cent by 2030 and to zero overall by 2050 to achieve the Paris goal.

The final GCP read:

Also recognises that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases.

The world is not on track. Non-profit Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has released its latest assessment which forecasts that the promises made on emission reduction by countries now, will still lead to 2.4°C of global warming. That will be a catastrophic situation according to any scientific analysis.

GCP accepted the slow progress on this:

Notes with serious concern the findings of the synthesis report on nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, according to which the aggregate greenhouse gas emission level, taking into account implementation of all submitted nationally determined contributions, is estimated to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030.

The most contentious issue has been about ‘loss and damage’ being made a mainstream agenda under the UNFCCC. ‘Loss and damage’ has emerged as the ‘third pillar’ of climate action after adaptation and mitigation nearly 20 years after the Alliance of Small Island States demanded a mechanism within the global climate deal to compensate countries affected by sea level rise due to climate change.

The term ‘loss and damage’ is used within the UNFCCC process to refer to the harms caused by anthropogenic climate change. Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage has been a long-standing goal for vulnerable and developing countries such as small island states. But this has been resisted by developed countries.

Loss and damage was not even on the formal agenda for CoP26 to begin with. Negotiators laid out a pathway for addressing the issue for the first time by establishing a dedicated agency in the second draft released at CoP26. Yet the draft stopped short of setting up a fund to compensate climate-linked losses and damage.

The deal, from this stage, did make progress on this issue, even though developing countries made it clear that they were not happy with the draft’s inclusions on loss and damage. They wanted commitment from developed countries to compensate them for the loss and damage caused by climate change.

The G77 + China, representing 130 countries, wanted a ‘loss and damage facility’ to be established for funding under the UNFCCC.

The agreed deal has this to say:

Reiterates the urgency of scaling up action and support, as appropriate, including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, for implementing approaches for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to these effects.

The agreed draft also put the onus on developed countries. It says:

Urges developed country Parties, the operating entities of the Financial Mechanism, United Nations entities and intergovernmental organisations and other bilateral and multilateral institutions, including non-governmental organisations and private sources, to provide enhanced and additional support for activities addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

There would be a ‘dialogue’ process from now on. The deal has this to say:

Decides to establish the [NAME] dialogue between parties, relevant organisations and stakeholders to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change to take place at the first sessional period of the SBI, concluding at its 60th session.

“If you had your house burned by fires or destroyed by sea level rise, the [proposal] the rich world wanted was only going to pay for the expert to assess the damage, but not to pay you to rebuild your house,” Mohammed Adow of non-profit Climate Action Network International, said.

There were hectic deliberations on a specific pathway for ‘loss and damage’ dialogue. There was an agreement that in the next CoP, a finance mechanism would be finalised and put in place.  

The other contentious point was on reducing or doing away with subsidies for fossil fuels and also moving away from coal. The third draft read:

Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognising the need for support towards a just transition.

The Paris Agreement in fact didn’t mention any specific energy source like coal or gas.

India opposed this reference of a specific energy source (coal) and also a deadline for doing away with fossil fuels, citing the national growth trajectory. India has been asking for fair share of the carbon budget and to continue “responsible use” of fossil fuels. Iran, China and South Africa also opposed this reference and deadline.

Bhupender Yadav, Union environment and climate minister, said: “How can anyone expect that developing countries can make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies.”

And he added / proposed to change the draft to replace ‘phase out’ in “phase out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”  with ‘phase-down’, add “according to national situations” and to “keeping in mind the economic interests of the poor.”

At the last minute, despite disagreements from Switzerland and European Union and many other countries to the Indian proposal but as a compromise, the final draft adopted these changes. Alok Varma even apologised for this tone-down but said yes to make possible the package.  

The adaptation fund, as promised by developed countries to developing and poor countries, again came under focus. The GCP, in many deliberations, noted “with deep regret” that the promise of $ 100 billion per year by 2020 had not been met.

The GCP said: “Urges developed country Parties to fully deliver on the $100 billion goal urgently and through to 2025 and emphasises the importance of transparency in the implementation of their pledges.”

But finally, the GCP made a deal that has “urged” the developed countries to “at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025, in the context of achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation in the provision of scaled-up financial resources.”

Other achievements of CoP26

Besides the main deal, CoP26 also made a few other pledges. They are:

To reduce deforestation: In the ‘first’ major outcome of CoP26, 105 countries accounting for 85 per cent of the planet’s forests signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. The Declaration commits the countries to “halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.”

It is a deal to be cherished for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as to sustain forest-based survival of communities, which comprise nearly 25 per cent of the world’s population.

Forests absorb around a third of the global carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels every year. But we are also losing this voracious carbon sink at the rate of an area equivalent to the size of 27 football pitches every minute.

To reduce methane emission: Methane — a short-lived pollutant — has emerged as the latest target for stopping the planet from warming further beyond the pre-industrial levels. Until a few years ago, as carbon emissions got all the attention, methane had not found a place in global negotiations.

On November 2, 2021, CoP26 became the first in recent history to dedicate an event on it.

The same day, 105 countries led by the United States and the European Union signed the voluntary and non-binding Global Methane Pledge. Under this, countries have promised to cut their methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030.

Climate-resilient health systems: A group of 47 countries committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at CoP26.

The commitment was made as part of the CoP26 Health Programme, which is supported by the United Kingdom government as the Presidency of CoP26, the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the UNFCCC Climate Champions.

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