After some last-minute changes, countries agreed on a deal to tackle global warming at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. While the agreement keeps alive the hope of avoiding a temperature increase of over 1.5ºC, it’s starting to look more like a dream than actual hope — and many of the 200 national delegations and civil society activists expressed their disappointment at the result.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the approved text is a “compromise” that reflects the “interests, conditions contradictions and the state of political will” in the world. He argued that “important steps” were taken at the COP26 climate summit but said the collective will wasn’t strong enough to overcome countries’ different positions.
“The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”
“As I said at the opening, we must accelerate action to keep the 1.5-degree goal alive. Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” he added.
Coal is still on the table
For two weeks, the small city Glasgow became the hub of global climate politics. Presidents and ministers flew into the UN conference to agree on how to best implement the Paris Agreement, a climate deal signed by virtually every country in 2015 in Paris to prevent global average temperatures from increasing more than 1.5ºC (above pre-industrial levels).
The Glasgow Climate Pact, the name given to the text approved yesterday, calls on countries to accelerate emissions reductions by presenting new national climate plans by 2022, three years earlier than agreed in Paris. It was also the first climate agreement to acknowledge the role of fossil fuels as a driver of climate change.
But overall, the pact lacks teeth.
It doesn’t mention any clear financial mechanisms through which to address the loss and damage that climate change is causing in the developing world. Following resistance from rich countries such as the United States and the European Union, the Glasgow Climate Pact only promises a future “dialogue” on this — the same type of delay that got us here in the first place.
The text was also watered down in the last minutes of the conference after lobbying from India and China, both coal-dependent countries. While the reference to fossil fuels was welcomed by climate activists, the text initially called for the “phase out” of coal-fired power in countries and finally ended up reading “phase down” of coal use.
Negotiations had to end on Friday but were delayed as countries struggled to agree on the rules for carbon markets, something that has been unresolved for six years since the Paris agreement was signed. Now, the Glasgow Climate Pact will be the reference point for the trading of carbon credits between developed and developing countries.
“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5C alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action,” Alok Sharma, the UK cabinet minister who presided COP26, said in tears at the ending plenary. “We have responded. History has been made here in Glasgow.”
A bittersweet agreement
For civil society, the goal the UK had set for the conference to “keep alive” the Paris Agreement 1.5ºC target was too modest. Global temperatures have already increased 1.1ºC and are on a growing trend amid a lack of ambition by countries. With their current pledges, the world would face a 2.4ºC warming by the end of the century.
“Leaders came to Glasgow with some real progress but also the realization this was not enough to keep their citizens safe. By agreeing this emergency package they have responded to rising climate damage with an action plan to keep 1.5C within reach. But the real task begins now,” Nick Mabey, head of the thinktank E3G, said in a statement.
The agreement struck in Glasgow was acknowledged by the UK as “imperfect” — and that’s as harsh a language as we can expect from career diplomats. The pact pushes much of the hard work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions for next year, just like previous COPs delayed it for this year. Developing nations said it’s an unbalanced agreement that weighs heavily towards emissions reduction and doesn’t concentrate much on adapting to the consequences.
The text notes with “deep regret” that rich countries failed to provide the annual amount of US$100 billion to poor nations that they had promised a decade ago, committing them to pay up “urgently and through 2025.” Developed nations also promised to increase two times the money to adapt to the rising temperatures by the same date.
Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and of the architects of the Paris Agreement, said the agreement in Glasgow accelerates actions and responds to the scientists’ call to close the gap towards 1.5ºC. Still, a lot remains to be done, she added, as countries will now have to deliver on all the commitments made at COP26.
Among them, over 100 countries agreed in the first week of the summit to stop deforestation by 2030. However, many doubt the validity of this pact, especially as it includes Brazil — a country that in recent years has become known for its lack of environmental policies and disregard for the Amazon. A similar group of countries committed to tackling methane emissions, while about a dozen governments also vowed to stop investing in fossils. Do countries really intend to respect these? Who knows. Even if they do, how will they do it? Again, who knows — no clear plan or roadmap was presented.
“We gathered in the middle of a pandemic expecting our leaders to take responsibility in tackling the climate crisis and demonstrating a renewed sense of solidarity but what we witnessed was rich countries bullying and blocking funding for the most vulnerable people,” Tasneem Essop, head of the Climate Action Network, said in a statement.
The UK government described the conference as the “most inclusive COP” ever organized, but for civil society, this was far from the case. Delegates from developing countries struggled to get to the UK amid travel restrictions and constantly changing rules, facing long quarantines at their arrival that most of them couldn’t afford.
During the two weeks, access to the plenaries, press conferences, and side events at COP26 was highly limited, with the UK arguing that more people couldn’t get in because of the pandemic. The role of civil society and media as observers at climate summits is essential, preventing governments to take on their actual responsibilities.
“Over the next 12 months, we must stand together to call on our governments to take ambitious action on climate change that puts people and human rights at its centre. If we do not put our hearts and minds into solving this existential threat to humanity, we lose everything.” Agnès Callamard, Secretary Genera of Amnesty International, said in a statement.