The UN Climate Conference COP 26 in Glasgow hosted two weeks of intense climate negotiations by diplomats from 200 countries to speed up climate action. Officials said it represents a significant step on a path to a safer future.
UN Secretary-General António Guterre told the delegates at COP26 that recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around. “This is an illusion. The last published report on Nationally Determined Contributions showed that they would still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7°C (36.86°F) increase. Addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: Either we stop it — or it stops us. It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet.”
Alok Sharma, the UK cabinet minister and President of COP 26 acknowledged the scale of the task remaining: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5°C (34.7°F) alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
What is alarming about the Glasgow Climate Pact agreement is its lack of ambition by governments to decarbonise and limit global warming to well below 2°C (35.6°F), ideally 1.5°C (34.7°F) since pre-industrial times as per the Paris Accord goals. The frantic, last-minute compromise inserted by India and China has weakened the agreement’s language on “phasing out” coal before 2030 to merely “phasing down” coal, ensuring global heating would soar to 2.4°C (36.32°F) based on the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analysis of countries’ 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets.
There are six takeaways from COP26:
1. Coal and fossil fuels: The first time this subject has been included in a final COP agreement that asks countries to accelerate efforts towards ”phasing down“ coal, calls for an end to “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, and support for workers in those sectors to find other jobs. Timeline: None. Legally binding: No.
2. Mitigation: Pledges at COP 26 put the world on course for between 2.5°C (36.5°F) and 2.7°C (36.86°F) of warming by the end of the century, far from the Paris climate accord goals. By the end of next year, countries are requested to improve their 2030 national climate targets. Legally binding: No.
3. Loss and Damage: This is a frustrating and bitterly fought-over issue for rich nations with the highest carbon emissions to compensate the vulnerable and poor countries, which did little to cause the climate crisis, to help them cope with the effects of climate change. Rich nations including the US, Europe and Australia rejected the stand alone fund proposed by developing countries to help pay for loss and damage. Instead, “technical assistance” was proposed. Timeline: None. Legally binding: No.
4. Climate Finance: Rich countries missed their 2020 target of providing $100bn a year to help developing countries, and the agreement commits them to raise that amount annually through to 2025. Timeline: None. Legally binding: No.
5. Adaptation: To help developing countries prepare for climate change by 2025, rich nations are asked to “at least double” their support for adaptation measures. Timeline: None. Legally binding: No.
6. Carbon Markets: Rules will create a market for units representing emissions reductions that countries can trade. Many loopholes that concerned climate experts were closed, but some legacy credits created under the Kyoto protocol, are considered to be of dubious environmental integrity, will be permitted in the system for a limited time. Rich nations opposed the move of many developing countries for a mandatory levy on all carbon credits to go towards funding for adaptation, and the final agreement includes a voluntary commitment for countries to contribute to this fund. Timeline: None. Legally binding: No.
COP26 was supposed to be a lifeline for the millions of people that are losing their livelihoods, their homes, their country and their loved ones as a result of climate impacts caused by rich polluting countries and corporations.
There were many disappointments at this most urgent of times. The lack of acceptance by rich nations of their financial or moral responsibility for disasters is disappointing. The lack of accountability for the missing $100bn a year compensation pledged by rich countries nine years ago to help the poor adapt to climate change. The lack of transparency for carbon markets. The lack of Action Plans to “phase down“ coal and “phase out” other fossil fuels.
The large rifts and the huge divide comes down to money, which rich nations have so they make the rules, and poor nations do not.