On Saturday, the world witnessed a new development in global climate governance when over 120 world leaders, 197 parties represented by over 40,000 people from governments, civil societies, corporate organisations, and youth movements decided to lend their voices to the climate fight and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.
The conference, otherwise known as COP26, lasted two weeks at the Scottish event campus, Glasgow, Scotland.
According to the new deal, developing countries have been promised financial support by developed nations for them to adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change.
The new COP26 draft text is the most important document that emerged from COP26.
Though the draft won’t be a treaty like the Paris Agreement of 2015, it contains a series of decisions and resolutions that build on the Paris Accord.
The COP decisions have legal force in the context of the Paris agreement.
Therefore, this is a powerful document, and the reason it has to be accepted by the consensus of all 197 parties in attendance. To gain the required general acceptability, much of the language is cautious and some are ambiguous or open to interpretation, to the frustration of the countries who want to move faster.
This analysis is, therefore, set to explain the wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions, and statements that constitute the outcome of COP26 which was the fruit of intense negotiations over the past two weeks, strenuous formal and informal work over many months, and constant engagement both in-person and virtually for nearly two years.
The package adopted on Saturday was a global compromise that reflects a delicate balance between the interests and aspirations of nearly the 200 parties to the core instruments on the international regime that govern global efforts against climate change.
Here are the major things you should know about the decision reached at the Glasgow Climate Summit- COP26.
Cutting emissions within the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees
Before COP26, the planet was on course for a dangerous 2.7°C of global warming but on Saturday, 195 countries set a target to keep average global temperature change below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C.
Experts said if there is no meaningful reduction of emissions in the next decade, the world will have lost forever the possibility to reach 1.5 degrees.
Even though the majority of the countries had announced their Nationally Determined Contributions before the conference after months of consultations and domestic processes, they acknowledged the need to keep warming at 1.5°C with countries such as China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. with weaker commitments expected to make more ambitious emission reduction plans before the next COP.
Alok Sharma, President of COP26 said: “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.”
Also speaking, the executive secretary for the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, said: “The road to climate action doesn’t end in Glasgow. It is imperative to advance more action to reduce emissions and keep global temperature at 1.5°C,” she said.
“Phasing down,” not “phasing out”
For the first time in the history of COP, there was a global decision to reduce coal as a source of energy.
Coal is believed to be the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The burning of coal is responsible for 46 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and accounts for 72 per cent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity sector.
The IMF found the production and burning of coal, oil, and gas was subsidised by $5.9 trillion in 2020.
The language to adopt in the final deal almost became a subject of controversy when China and India objected to the use of a term calling for the ‘phase out’ for coal and proposed that a new phrase; “phase down” of coal be used.
The paragraph initially called for the “phaseout of unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” in what would have been the first explicit call out of polluting fuels in a UN climate agreement.
But India’s climate negotiator, Bhupender Yadav, proposed that the text be changed to call for a “phase-down” of unabated coal, with an added reference to “targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Even though the proposal was approved, many countries said they were disappointed.
COP26 President, Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” for the way the final minutes unfolded and was seen fighting back tears. The decision covers “unabated” coal, meaning an exemption for coal when it is combined with carbon capture and storage.
The $100 billion climate finance
Finance was extensively discussed throughout the session and there was consensus on the need to continue increasing support to developing countries.
In 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, developed countries committed, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilising, jointly, $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.
In this regard, parties specified that the finance would come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.
The climate finance goal was then formally recognised by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties at COP16 in Cancun. At COP21 in Paris, parties extended the $100 billion goals through 2025.
But 11 years later, that promise has not been fulfilled to the disappointment of many.
COP26 was supposed to produce a plan to make sure the $100 billion arrived but it emerged that wealthy countries are not able to deliver that promise until 2023. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently estimated that developed countries only mobilised $79.6 billion in climate finance in 2019.
COP26 also led to a resolution to institute a new negotiation to deliver on a new climate finance goal beyond 2025 – and the rules to make sure rich countries cannot avoid delivering the money.
Loss and damage
At COP 16 in Cancun in 2010, Governments established a work programme in order to consider approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework.
On Saturday, wealthier countries, led by the U.S. and EU, resisted taking any liability for these losses and damages by vetoing the creation of a new “Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility” which was supposed to be a way of supporting vulnerable nations, despite support for the facility by many countries.
The projected economic cost of loss and damage by 2030 alone has been estimated to be USD 400 billion a year by one study and between USD 290 and 580 billion in another in developing countries alone.
By 2050 the economic cost of loss and damage in developing countries is estimated to be between USD 1 to 1.8 trillion according to the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Though COP26 was the first time action would be officially discussed to respond to loss and damage, it failed to establish a dedicated agency to work out a path forward and thus fell short of the expectation of vulnerable countries.
Reacting to the decision on loss and damage, Mohammed Adow of Climate Action Network International, said “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.”
Emissions accountability mechanism, carbon trading, Paris rulebook
One of the most important decisions that was arrived at, at Glasgow was the agreement by countries to submit climate plans on a five-year timeframe against the current five and 10-year plans starting on different dates and using different baselines.
Experts said this new rule on transparency and emissions reporting will make it much easier for experts and activists to compare climate progress across countries over the coming years.
In addition, a key outcome is the conclusion of the so-called Paris rulebook.
An agreement was reached on the fundamental norms related to Article 6 on carbon markets, which will make the Paris Agreement fully operational. This will give certainty and predictability to both market and non-market approaches in support of mitigation as well as adaptation.
Negotiations on the Enhanced Transparency Framework were also concluded, providing for agreed tables and formats to account and report for targets and emissions.
Reacting to the agreement at Glasgow, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, said in a video that; “We did not achieve these goals at this conference, but we have some building blocks for progress.”
In his words: “We must end fossil fuel subsidies, phase out coal, put a price on carbon, protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change and make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.”
The United States said there is more work to be done “as we leave Glasgow to get where science tells us we need to be and it will continue to push for more progress at home and abroad in this decisive decade for climate action.”
A statement released by the White House reads in part; “The text sets out a path to increase the commitments and actions of countries starting next year, outlines new rules of the road for the Paris Agreement that will provide transparency for countries to turn words into actions, and doubles the amount of support that is going to vulnerable countries to enhance their resilience to the crisis. But it is not enough.”