Glasgow pact sees progress, but not enough to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive

COP26: Climate deal struck at Glasgow with India's coal pushback
Image used for representational purpose. UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) underway in Glasgow. Photo: Reuters/file

Glasgow: The 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is over and the gap to 1.5 degrees Celsius has narrowed with the adoption of Glasgow Climate Pact by 197 countries.

It has also put in place processes for the gap to continue to narrow, and narrow faster in the future, say climate experts and civil society groups.

At the same time, the EU and the US have failed to deliver the promised $100 bn or nail down to $600 bn in climate finance between 2021 and 2025.

After two weeks of negotiations, delegates reached consensus by finalising the rules of carbon trading aiming for a win-win situation for India.

Now India will be able to sell more than a million carbon credits from previous years. India announced a last-minute change, replacing "phasing out coal" with acephasing down coal".

But the developed countries have slipped back to a commitment of $100 bn a year, now in place since 2009 and as yet undelivered, but remains urgent and central to ambitious climate action, they pointed out.

The EU and the US blocked the establishment of even a modest fund to help vulnerable communities around the world with the massive loss and damage they are experiencing at the hands of the climate crisis. As with Covid, those with the least resources have been left to fend for themselves.

The first-ever mention of coal phase down phaseout in an international climate agreement is an important indication of the energy transformation underway. India, with its renewable energy expansion, is well placed to deliver on the scale of change needed.

Despite the watering, down from "phase-out" to "phase down" on coal, the cause of the climate crisis has for the first time since the Kyoto Protocol been called out by the 197 signatories of the Paris Agreement.

The closure of the Paris rules on carbon markets is a move forward, but loopholes still need to be addressed, negotiators told IANS.

Why this COP was pivotal. It was about keeping 1.5 degrees alive. It has, to an extent, reflected the findings of a special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming and International Energy Agency (IEA) net zero report, mandating an acceleration in action and new plans by 2022 in the context of the voluntary, non-binding UN regime.

All major emitters will be compelled to return in 12 months and explain at the UN how their economy-wide policies and plans are aligned to the Paris temperature goals.

While the unprecedented fossil fuels phase out pledge was weakened by a last minute deal between China (the world's largest fossil fuel consumer), the US (the world's largest fossil-fuel producer), the EU and India, it is still there.

The change in language was condemned by small island states, Switzerland, Mexico and -- ironically -- the EU, which decided to support the shift despite slamming it as a "bad economic choice".

But despite progress on future emissions reductions, COP26 failed those most impacted by the climate crisis now. The EU and the US refused to create a fund that the poorest countries could draw on for crisis response -- outraging small islands and many climate vulnerable nations.

As with the COVID pandemic, global solidarity to save lives has not been on display in Glasgow.

The test of COP26 will be delivery: the next 18 months are crucial in determining whether countries take action aligned to 1.5C -- that means cutting emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

Where progress was made in the COP26?

Closing the Paris rulebook means that by 2024 all countries will have to report detailed data on emissions forming the baseline from which future reductions can be assessed.

Agreement on new carbon market rules closes down some of the outrageous loopholes that had been considered and creates a structured trading regime between countries, but language isna¿t clear enough to stop companies gaming the system.

Agreement on 2025 as the date by when developed countries need to double their collective funds for adaptation, based on 2019 pledges. This won't provide the necessary billions for adaptation finance that poorer countries need, but is a major improvement on the state of climate finance: only about a quarter of climate finance currently goes to adaptation, with the majority still being on mitigation.

Sector specific agreements on forests, coal, cars, methane and a $24bn agreement to stop overseas fossil fuel finance have the potential to make significant inroads into cutting emissions, but will require translation from national governments into policies and plans that have to be presented to COP in Egypt next year.

The banks and investors announcements in week one were large in numbers but devoid of substance.

But the major banks have now committed to align their money to net zero in the 2020s and will face scrutiny on how they deliver on their green claims and shed fossil-fuel and other high-carbon assets.

Despite COVID and high costs preventing the participation of many civil society and activist groups, the COP still saw diverse groups come together at the venue all echoing a strong wave of support for climate action.

On November 6, over 100,000 people took to the streets in Glasgow, in one of the biggest demonstrations the city has ever seen, with indigenous groups, frontline health professionals, youth, trade unions, farm workers, and racial justice groups joining on the day.

What was not delivered?

Developing countries wanted a clear plan for a loss and damage funding facility. This did not happen and focus will shift to Egypt next year to deliver this.

African nations spend up to 10 per cent of GDP a year on adaptation while impacts could deliver a 20 per cent hit to GDP in poor nations by 2050, says Christian Aid.

What else was agreed?

Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out as a measure for success for this COP action on coal, cars, cash and trees. There was a tsunami of deals delivered during COP.

Climate Action Tracker found that the methane, coal, forests and transport deals contain additionalA action which would close the emissions gap to a 1.5C path by nine per cent or 2.2 GtCO2e.

COP26 President, Alok Sharma, apologized for the last-minute change, and, holding back tears, that the revision "was vital to protect the package" of decisions, now called the Glasgow Climate Pact.

Responding to COP26's real progress, Ulka Kelkar, Climate Programme Director, WRI India, told IANS: "India will be affected by COP26 asking countries to phase out polluting coal power and withdraw inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

"India will also have to join other countries to escalate emission reduction actions more frequently. This will not be easy for a lower-middle income country that is trying to lift millions of people out of poverty.

"India's battle against climate change will be led by scaling up renewable energy, which will be the foundation of our net zero future; by industry, who will fight to stay competitive in the global economy; and by states and cities, who will need to urbanize with respect for nature.

"Now that COP-26 has finalised the rules of carbon trading, India will be able to sell more than a million carbon credits from previous years, and can also create a domestic market for carbon trading."

Believing that there was nothing much, Manjeev Puri, Distinguished Fellow, TERI, said: "There is no real commitment on part of developed countries to move ahead with serious and urgent domestic action let alone in terms of global collaboration and truly significant climate finance for tackling climate change."

Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends, told IANS: "The COP26 has definitely narrowed the gap for 1.5 and the processes which can be taken for future action. But the failure of the US and the EU to deliver on the promised $100 bn in climate finance remains urgent and central to any ambitious climate action.

"Blocking the establishment of even a modest fund to help vulnerable communities around the world with the massive loss and damage they are experiencing at the hands of the climate crisis is a serious blow.

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