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COP26: Glasgow Climate Pact Settled with Compromises

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Jonny Rogers explores the final days of COP26, where a single sentence caused widespread controversy, disagreement and hours of delays.

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Photo by Alin Rusu


A final agreement has finally been singed at COP26 in Glasgow, aiming to reshape the global economy in light of the climate crisis.


Ahead of the conference, the committee listed four goals: securing net zero emissions by 2050, protecting communities and natural habitats, mobilising climate finance and inspiring both national and international collaboration (including finalising the Paris Agreement).


The first week alone saw a number of new commitments and ambitious plans, including a pledge to end deforestation by 2030 (signed by over 100 leaders), an initiative to reduce global methane emissions (signed by over 100 leaders) and a commitment to shift away from coal production (signed by over 40 leaders).

Little Amal – a 3.5-metre puppet of a Syrian refugee girl – travelled nearly 5,000 miles from Turkey to arrive at the conference on Gender Day, calling on conference attendees to recognise the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls, particularly in lower-income nations.



The Home Stretch


Approaching the (intended) final day of the conference, UN Secretary António Guterres claimed that the aims of the Paris Agreement were on ‘life support’, fearing that world leaders will not make the pledges required to sufficiently reduce CO2 emissions. He argued that all bold statements are redundant if governments continue to invest in fossil fuels: “Promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies.”


China and the United States - the world’s two largest carbon emitters - did not agree to the earlier commitment to phase out coal in the coming decades, though both nations did announce a joint commitment to boost co-operation for limiting the rise in post-industrial global temperatures to 1.5°C.


An eight-page draft text outlining the conclusions of the conference was published on the morning of Friday 12 November. The document offered few definitive statements or policies, with the majority of propositions serving to acknowledge the verity of the available scientific evidence (such as the IPCCC Sixth Assessment Report), or to encourage Parties to prioritise appropriate climate action (i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting ecosystems).


Many of the draft revisions were concerned with changing the wording of the text, though there is considerable disagreement about whether these changes strengthen or weaken particular statements.



‘Phase Out’ Controversy

On Saturday 13 November, over 24 hours after the initial deadline, the conference was brought to its conclusion. The delay was primarily a result of disagreements from nations including Iran, China, India and South Africa over the language surrounding coal power and fossil fuel subsidies. In the final few hours, the representatives for China and India proposed changing the “phase-out” of coal to the more lenient “phase-down”, receiving condemnation and declarations of disappointment from other nations.

COP President Alok Sharma emotionally apologised for “the way this process has unfolded”, acknowledging the widespread disappointment at the amendment. However, he conceded that this compromise was “vital to protect this package”, as concluding the conference without establishing a deal would have been catastrophic. The controversy behind the delay concerns paragraph 36 of the final document, marking the first time that fossil fuels have been explicitly mentioned in a UN climate agreement:

“[The Conference of the Parties] 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 down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”


The Glasgow Climate Pact

As the proposals of the Glasgow Pact are not legally binding (and hence cannot legislate any punishment for failure), the text principally serves to establish the global agenda for the coming years and decades, particularly highlighting that effective climate action depends on both regional and international cooperation. Parties have been requested to “revisit and strengthen” their nationally determined contributions to the goals of the Paris Agreement, ahead of the next meeting in November 2022.

In one positive update, the final text continually emphasises the importance of climate finance and technology transfer for developing nations, even urging wealthier Parties to “at least double their collective provision for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025”. Multilateral development banks and other financial institutions are also called upon to ‘enhance’ climate finance to achieve climate plans, and the exploration of “innovative approaches and instruments” from private sources is explicitly encouraged.

While the failure to secure the guarantee the end of coal power is undoubtedly disappointing, the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement still remains a possibility. However, the best outcome of the agreement is projected at 1.8°C, with a more realistic growth being 2.4°C – both potentially disastrous for the planet.

“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive […] But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action. I am grateful to the UNFCCC for working with us to deliver a successful COP26.” – COP President Alok Sharma

The extent to which COP26 can be seen to be a success will be based on the actions of the involved Parties in the months and years to come, and both whether they will stick to their commitments, and whether they are enough in the first place.


Article on a similar topic: COP26 Update: The Midway Point

 

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