Government ministers reached agreement on further steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) after discussions were exceeded by 24 hours.
On November 13, representatives from nearly 200 countries agreed on the final text of the agreement, which promises further measures to limit emissions, more frequent updates on progress and additional funding for low and middle income countries.
Researchers said they were relieved that the meeting failed to reach an agreement, but some left COP26 unhappy with the lack of stronger commitments to reduce emissions and the failure to agree “loss and damage” funding for countries, threatened by climate change.
“COP26 closed the gap, but did not solve the problem,” says Niklas Hoehne, climate researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He adds that countries now need to make more ambitious commitments to tackle climate change, he adds.
The last 11-page document, called the Glasgow Climate Pact, says that greenhouse gas emissions must decrease 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 in order to keep global warming at 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels. It notes that emissions under existing emission reduction commitments will be almost 14% higher by 2030 than in 2010.
Countries recognized the need to reduce emissions more quickly and also agreed to report on progress annually. For the first time, the nations have agreed in a COP text to start reducing electricity generation from coal (without CO2 capture) and to abolish subsidies for other fossil fuels.
However, following objections from China and India, an “exit” from coal promised in earlier draft texts was changed to “exit”.
India’s Climate and Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said at the conference that richer countries shouldn’t expect poorer countries to stop subsidizing fossil fuels like gas. The lowest-income households rely on it to keep energy bills down, he said.
The deal also includes commitments by some countries to end deforestation, reduce methane emissions, and pledge from the financial sector to pour trillions of dollars in investments into companies that are committed to net zero emissions. However, modeling suggests that the promises will still not be enough to limit global warming to 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels, the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
If countries hit their 2030 targets, global temperature will still rise 2.4 ° C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, according to an analysis by Hoehne and colleagues posted on the website Climate protection tracker during the first week of COP26.
“We are aware that the ambitions have fallen short of the commitments made in Paris,” said COP26 President Alok Sharma in a speech shortly before the conclusion of the negotiations at the conference. “We kept 1.5 degrees alive. But her pulse is weak and she will only survive if we keep our promises and turn our promises into swift action. “
Charlie Gardner, a conservation biologist at the University of Kent who participated in off-conference demonstrations with the Scientist Rebellion protest group, says more radical measures are needed, such as ending fossil fuel production faster and shifting the economy away from constant Growth.
Loss and damage
The issue of climate finance – funding from wealthy nations to help low and middle income countries move away from fossil fuels – was discussed intensely during the meeting.
There was great anger that high-income countries failed to deliver on their earlier pledge to provide $ 100 billion in climate finance annually from 2020. “The message of this COP is each country for itself,” says Sara Jane Ahmed, a climate finance researcher who advises the finance ministers of the V20, a group of 20 countries threatened by climate change.
However, the Glasgow Climate Pact includes a commitment to double “adaptation funding” – funding the lowest income countries to improve climate resilience – to $ 40 billion a year in low and middle income countries by 2025.
The deal also pledges to continue work on a definition of climate finance that would be acceptable to all countries. This is essential if trust between developed and developing countries is to be restored, says Clare Shakya of the International Institute of Environment and Development, a London think tank. Currently, different countries define climate finance in different ways. For example, some count development aid (which may include clean water funding or schools) as climate funding. Some countries also count climate finance loans, while others say climate finance should be granted as a grant.
The nations did not agree to set up a “Loss and Damage” fund, a type of insurance policy that compensates climate-endangered countries for damage caused by emissions that they did not cause. But the COP26 deal includes plans for an office affiliated with the United Nations – known as the Technical Assistance Facility – that will explore the idea further.
“It is clear on the ground that countries are suffering losses and damage as a result of climate change, and these costs are being borne disproportionately,” says conservationist Malik Amin Aslam, advisor to the Pakistani COP26 delegation. He is confident that such a fund will be created at some point, but thinks that there will be many more discussions first.
The price of carbon
The COP26 negotiators have also finalized the rules for international cooperation and carbon markets, ending a long debate on the implementation of this part of the Paris Agreement. The new rules create a billing system that is intended to prevent emissions reductions from being double-counted. For example, if one company or country invests in emissions reductions that take place in another, the new framework ensures that the reductions are only recorded once when reporting to the United Nations.
Most scientists and environmentalists welcomed the result. “Basically, it’s as good as you could want it to be,” says Robert Stavins, an economist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A common accounting framework will allow separate trading systems such as those currently operating in Europe, China and parts of the United States to be linked together, creating a more international market.
But although the final text refers to the rights of indigenous peoples who manage large areas of threatened tropical forests, some activists have questioned whether the new rules go far enough. “We will have to closely monitor the implementation of this new carbon system, as the references to the rights of indigenous peoples are relatively weak,” says Jing Corpuz, an Igorot lawyer and chief politician of the Nia Tero organization. “The good news is that we have more protection than we would have had under the rapidly growing voluntary carbon market.”
A recent analysis of the pre-COP26 climate commitments estimates that the world would save around $ 300 billion annually by 2030 if a global carbon market existed. If those savings were reinvested in climate protection, projected annual emissions reductions would more than double in 2030, says Jae Edmonds, climate scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. “The possibilities here are enormous,” says Edmonds.
Although the COP26 led to a final agreement, the meeting criticized the fact that many representatives of various non-governmental groups – including researchers – were prevented from observing the discussions.
There were nearly 12,000 such representatives divided into nine constituencies such as business, young people and researchers. Tracy Bach, environmental lawyer and co-head of the Research and Independent Non-Government Organizations research group, says that only one representative from each constituency was allowed to observe the negotiations in the rooms for much of the conference. Much more observers have been admitted at previous COP summits, she says.
The UK government had previously said that COP26 was the most comprehensive COP summit ever, with around 40,000 people (including government delegates) allowed to attend, compared to 22,000 at COP25 in Madrid. “Most of the observers came to the COP to take part in the negotiation process,” says Bach. “Give badges to more people [to enter the conference centre] without letting them observe the negotiations directly is not a commitment and does not necessarily make this COP more inclusive, ”she adds.
Patricia Espinosa, who heads the UN Climate Convention Secretariat in Geneva, told the meeting that the observers’ experiences at COP26 will be reviewed immediately “to reflect on how we can ensure greater inclusion in the future”.
With additional reporting by Dan Fox Nick Petrić-Howe and Tosin Thompson.
This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on November 14, 2021.