Updated: November 16, 2021 7:30:04 am
After two weeks of hard negotiations with governments squabbling over provisions on phasing out coal, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and providing money to the poor world, the annual climate change summit came to an end on Saturday night with the adoption of a weaker-than-expected agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact.
While most countries insisted that the agreement was an important, though small, step in keeping alive the hopes of achieving the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature goal, observers and civil society groups saw it as a missed opportunity to enhance global climate action.
The Glasgow meeting was the 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP26. These meetings are held every year to construct a global response to climate change. Each of these meetings produce a set of decisions which are given different names. In the current case, this has been called the Glasgow Climate Pact.
Earlier, these meetings have also delivered two treaty-like international agreements, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015, which form the global architecture for actions to be taken to tackle climate change. While the Kyoto Protocol expired last year, the Paris Agreement is now the active instrument to fight climate change.
The main task for COP26 was to finalise the rules and procedures for implementation of the Paris Agreement. Most of these rules had been finalized by 2018, but a few provisions, like the one relating to creation of new carbon markets, had remained unresolved. However, due to clear evidence of worsening of the climate crisis in the six years since the Paris Agreement was finalized, host country United Kingdom was keen to ensure that Glasgow, instead of becoming merely a “procedural” COP, was a turning point in enhancing climate actions. The effort was to push for an agreement that could put the world on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway, instead of the 2 degree Celsius trajectory which is the main objective of the Paris Agreement.
Hence, more than 100 heads of states and governments were invited to attend the meeting and lend their political weight behind the process. So many leaders have assembled on only two earlier occasions, at the climate meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015. On both those occasions, the COPs were aiming to deliver a major agreement. Copenhagen had failed in that, but Paris had succeeded.
Glasgow did benefit from the presence as many of them also announced new and enhanced climate actions. However, the final agreement was a mixed bag, as most such pacts invariably are.
What was achieved
Mitigation: The Glasgow agreement has emphasised that stronger action in the current decade was most critical to achieving the 1.5-degree target. Accordingly, it has:
- Asked countries to strengthen their 2030 climate action plans, or NDCs (nationally-determined contributions), by next year
- Established a work programme to urgently scale-up mitigation ambition and implementation
- Decided to convene an annual meeting of ministers to raise ambition of 2030 climate actions
- Called for an annual synthesis report on what countries were doing
- Requested the UN Secretary General to convene a meeting of world leaders in 2023 to scale-up ambition of climate action
- Asked countries to make efforts to reduce usage of coal as a source of fuel, and abolish “inefficient” subsidies on fossil fuels
- Has called for a phase-down of coal, and phase-out of fossil fuels. This is the first time that coal has been explicitly mentioned in any COP decision. It also led to big fracas at the end, with a group of countries led by India and China forcing an amendment to the word “phase-out” in relation to coal changed to “phase-down”. The initial language on this provision was much more direct. It called on all parties to accelerate phase-out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. It was watered down in subsequent drafts to read phase-out of “unabated” coal power and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. But even this was not liking to the developing countries who then got it changed to “phase down unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support to the poorest and the most vulnerable in line with national circumstances…”. Despite the dilution, the inclusion of language on reduction of coal power is being seen as a significant movement forward.
Adaptation: Most of the countries, especially the smaller and poorer ones, and the small island states, consider adaptation to be the most important component of climate action. These countries, due to their lower capacities, are already facing the worst impacts of climate change, and require immediate money, technology and capacity building for their adaptation activities. As such, the Glasgow Climate Pact has:
- Asked the developed countries to at least double the money being provided for adaptation by 2025 from the 2019 levels. In 2019, about $15 billion was made available for adaptation that was less than 20 per cent of the total climate finance flows. Developing countries have been demanding that at least half of all climate finance should be directed towards adaptation efforts.
- Created a two-year work programme to define a global goal on adaptation. The Paris Agreement has a global goal on mitigation — reduce greenhouse gas emissions deep enough to keep the temperature rise within 2 degree Celsius of pre-industrial times. A similar global goal on adaptation has been missing, primarily because of the difficulty in defining such a target. Unlike mitigation efforts that bring global benefits, the benefits from adaptation are local or regional. There are no uniform global criteria against which adaptation targets can be set and measured. However, this has been a long-pending demand of developing countries and the Paris Agreement also asks for defining such a goal.
Finance: Every climate action has financial implications. It is now estimated that trillions of dollars are required every year to fund all the actions necessary to achieve the climate targets. But, money has been in short supply. Developed countries are under an obligation, due to their historical responsibility in emitting greenhouse gases, to provide finance and technology to the developing nations to help them deal with climate change. In 2009, developed countries had promised to mobilise at least $100 billion every year from 2020. This promise was reaffirmed during the Paris Agreement, which also asked the developed countries to scale up this amount from 2025. The 2020 deadline has long passed but the $100 billion promise has not been fulfilled. The developed nations have now said that they will arrange this amount by 2023.
What does the Glasgow Agreement say?
A deal aimed at staving off dangerous climate change has been struck at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The pact has:
- Expressed “deep regrets” over the failure of the developed countries to deliver on their $100 billion promise. It has asked them to arrange this money urgently and in every year till 2025
- Initiated discussions on setting the new target for climate finance, beyond $100 billion for the post-2025 period
- Asked the developed countries to provide transparent information about the money they plan to provide
Loss and Damage: The frequency of climate disasters has been rising rapidly, and many of these cause largescale devastation. The worst affected are the poor and small countries, and the island states. There is no institutional mechanism to compensate these nations for the losses, or provide them help in the form of relief and rehabilitation. The loss and damage provision in the Paris Agreement seeks to address that.
Introduced eight years ago in Warsaw, the provision hasn’t received much attention at the COPs, mainly because it was seen as an effort requiring huge sums of money. However, the affected countries have been demanding some meaningful action on this front. Thanks to a push from many nations, substantive discussions on loss and damage could take place in Glasgow. One of the earlier drafts included a provision for setting up of a facility to coordinate loss and damage activities. However, the final agreement, which has acknowledged the problem and dealt with the subject at substantial length, has only established a “dialogue” to discuss arrangements for funding of such activities. This is being seen as a major let-down.
Carbon Markets: Carbon markets facilitate the trading of emission reductions. Such a market allows countries, or industries, to earn carbon credits for the emission reductions they make in excess of their targets. These carbon credits can be traded to the highest bidder in exchange of money. The buyers of carbon credits can show the emission reductions as their own and use them to meet their reduction targets. Carbon markets are considered a very important and effective instrument to reduce overall emissions.
A carbon market existed under Kyoto Protocol but is no longer there because the Protocol itself expired last year. A new market under Paris Agreement is yet to become functional. Developing countries like India, China or Brazil have large amounts of carbon credits left over because of the lack of demand as many countries abandoned their emission reduction targets. The developing countries wanted their unused carbon credits to be transitioned to the new market, something that the developed nations had been opposing on the grounds that the quality of these credits — the question whether these credits represent actual emission reductions — was a suspect. A deadlock over this had been holding up the finalisation of the rules and procedures of the Paris Agreement.
The Glasgow Pact has offered some reprieve to the developing nations. It has allowed these carbon credits to be used in meeting countries’ first NDC targets. These cannot be used for meeting targets in subsequent NDCs. That means, if a developed country wants to buy these credits to meet its own emission reduction targets, it can do so till 2025. Most countries have presented climate targets for 2025 in their first NDCs.
The resolution of the deadlock over carbon markets represents one of the major successes of COP26.
A lot of substantial action in Glasgow happened in parallel processes that were not a part of the official COP discussions. The announcements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about increased climate action from India fall in this category. These do not form part of the final agreed outcome, but Glasgow can certainly claim credit for facilitating these actions.
- India announced a Panchamitra (a mixture of five elements) of climate actions. It raised the targets for two of its existing climate targets, announced two new ones, and also promised to turn net-zero by the year 2070. India’s new commitments created the maximum buzz on the first two days of the Glasgow meeting.
- Several other countries also announced enhanced climate actions. Brazil, for example, said it would advance its net-zero target year from 2060 to 2050. China promised to come out with a detailed roadmap for its commitment to let emissions peak in 2030, and also for its 2060 net-zero target. Israel announced a net zero target for 2050.
- Over 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from present levels by 2030. Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential nearly 80 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period. This pledge, if achieved, is estimated to avoid about 0.2 degree Celsius temperature rise by the middle of the century. The methane pledge is being seen as one of the biggest successes at COP26.
- Another set of over 100 countries promised to arrest and reverse deforestation by 2030.
- Over 30 countries signed on to a declaration promising to work towards a transition to 100 per cent zero-emission cars by the year 2040, at least in the leading car markets of the world.
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