Glasgow climate deal isn’t perfect, but sets course for concrete action in future

The world could not ‘phase out’ coal this time, but it decided to reduce its usage significantly. The focus on harms of methane and pushing countries to set nationally determined contributions by next year were other highlights

As of today, a carbon market is non-existent because the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2020. India, China or Brazil have large amounts of carbon credits pending because there isn’t much demand for it now with several countries terminating their emission reduction targets.

The Glasgow Climate Pact is not strong enough to avoid an imminent climate emergency, but it is definitely a step towards making this world a better place to live in, conclude civil rights activists as the 13-day-long Conference of Parties (COP26) concluded in Glasgow (UK) on November 12 with a plan of action in place for the coming years.

Significance of COP26

The 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, popularly known as COP26, was critical to follow up on the Paris Agreement of 2015 and was expected to take concrete decisions on limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5 degree Celsius.

Climate financing, phasing out coal (countries changed the wording to ‘phased down’) and cutting greenhouse gas emissions were on top of the agenda.

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In fact, the COP26 was aimed at framing the rules and procedures for bringing the landmark Paris Agreement into action. The UK, which hosted the Glasgow summit, wanted this agreement to set the future course of action for the world to follow in achieving the 1.5 degree Celsius target, instead of the 2 degree Celsius mark set under the Paris Agreement.

Did COP26 succeed in its objective?

The president of COP26, Alok Sharma, had tears in his eyes as he apologised for offering a ‘diluted Glasgow pact’ in the face of opposition from China and India, which led to replacing the word ‘phasing out’ of coal and fossil fuels to ‘phase down’ of coal. Sharma said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for how the negotiations had ended.

Sharma, in fact, sounded frustrated at India and China’s stand. “We are on the way to consigning coal to history. This is an agreement we can build on. But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did,” Sharma told Guardian.

All countries also failed to reach a consensus on developing new carbon markets.

On the positive side, the Glasgow pact achieved the following:

  1. Several countries, like India, declared their nationally-determined contributions (NDCs), which is very critical to develop concrete climate action plans in this decade for limiting temperature rise to 1.5C by the mid of century.

2. Agreed to convene meeting of countries each year to take decisive steps towards raising the ambition of 2030 climate actions.

3. Yearly review and reporting of actions taken by nations.

4. Meet in 2023 under the banner of United Nations to scale-up ambition of climate action.

5. Convinced countries to reduce usage of coal as fuel and get rid of “inefficient” subsidies on fossil fuels.

6. To help countries vulnerable to climate change adapt better, developed nations have been urged to provide more assistance (as compared to what they offered in 2019) to the needy countries by 2025. So far, just about 20% of the $15 billion spent on climate action was spent on adaptation. Climate vulnerable countries like Maldives and other island nations want at least 50% funding to be directed towards adaptation.

Also read: Lessons not learned: Environmentalists on Uttarakhand, Kerala tragedies

7. The world now has a global goal on adaptation, which will be reviewed every two years. Earlier, the Paris Agreement gave a global goal on mitigation. For example, a mitigation goal could be to cut greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius of pre-industrial times. Adaptation wasn’t given its due importance because mitigation efforts have a global appeal while adaptation benefits are felt at the local level and could vary from region to region. It is difficult to have one global standard for setting and implementing adaptation targets. The Glasgow Pact has made it happen.

8. In 2009, developed countries had said they will provide at least $100 billion a year, starting 2020, to help developing countries bear the consequences of climate change. The promise has not been fulfilled yet. The Paris Agreement urged the developed countries to not only meet its old promises, but increase this climate finance from the year 2025. The 2020 deadline has long passed but the $100 billion promise remains unfulfilled. The developed nations now say they will start releasing the amount by 2023.

New carbon market yet to see the light of the day

The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, for the first time, established the idea of carbon credits. In simple words, carbon credit is the quota of greenhouse gases (denominated in individual units) that each developed country can emit. These so-called Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) correspond to an allowance to emit one metric tonne of CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gas.

As of today, a carbon market is non-existent because the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2020. India, China or Brazil have large amounts of carbon credits pending because there isn’t much demand for it now with several countries terminating their emission reduction targets. The developing countries, which accommodated a lot of these credits, want them exchanged now but the developed countries aren’t willing to trade them under the new arrangement, which is yet to take shape. Disagreement on this vital issue has been the roadblock in finalising the rules and procedures of the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Under the Glasgow Pact, developing countries will be able to meet their first set of NDC targets, which is valid till the year 2025 only. This is looked upon as one small step towards resolving the deadlock over carbon markets.

Unexpected events and announcements

Several things happened beyond the COP26 agenda. For example: India Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his five-point agenda, called the five ‘amrit tattva’ (nectar elements) or Panchamitra (a mixture of five elements) of climate actions. Becoming net zero emitter by 2070 and meeting 50% of the country’s energy requirements using renewable energy sources by 2030 were among the promises.

Also read: COP26: India under fire after late intervention on fossil fuel

Modi raised the bar for climate financing to developing nations from 100 billion dollars a year at present to 1 trillion dollar. “Justice would truly be served if pressure is put on those countries that have not lived up to their climate finance commitments,” Modi had said at the Glasgow summit on November 1.

Brazil surprised many when it voluntarily advanced its net-zero target year from 2060 to 2050.

China gave a blueprint on how it will achieve net zero by 2060 and that its emissions will peak in 2030.

Israel announced a net zero target for 2050.

Methane pledge, aimed at cutting the emission of this deadly gas by at least 30 per cent from present levels by 2030, received support from at least 100 countries. India refused to sign the pledge though. Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas and has a climate potential nearly 80 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period.

Some 100 countries pledged to reverse deforestation by 2030.

A group of roughly 30 countries promised to achieve 100 per cent compliance with introducing zero-emission cars by 2040.

Did India emerge as a villain for ‘phasing down’ coal?

India was painted as the villain for watering down the pact with Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav proposing the term ‘phase down’ of coal. India and China were among the few countries which refused to commit to ‘phasing out’ coal usage for energy. The fact, however, is that the idea of not seeking a commitment from the world on getting rid of coal was originally China’s and the US too had supported it some years back. Australia too has not come out in support of getting rid of coal.

A section of experts side with India, arguing that the world cannot move forward towards a consensus unless the all-important issue of climate injustice is addressed. It isn’t fair to expect emerging nations to meet the same commitments as wealthy developed countries, who have historically emitted the most and also have access to vast financial resources and alternatives such as natural gas.

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