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COP26 Glasgow: 'Breakthroughs,’ 'Disappointments,' and 'Frustrations'

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

The two-week climate conference in the UK ended with a final declaration which continues and strengthens the Paris Agreement, however, not everyone was happy with the final outcome. Many feel the agreed measures in the climate pact are not enough to stop climate change.

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The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), held in Glasgow, UK, culminated in the Glasgow Climate Pact, moving nearly 200 countries closer to maintaining a global rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Parties promised to increase financial assistance to poor and developing countries to combat the adverse effects of climate change, including adaptation and loss and damage.

Nevertheless, the world leaders left Glasgow without undertaking higher commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The summit was full of hope, energy and touching statements, yet, there was no unity in national and private interests. The Summit ended late Saturday night on November 13th, with mixed feelings and “deep disappointment” with the last minute changes.

There were four main objectives on the official agenda of the summit:

  1. Setting ambitious emission reduction targets for 2030 and becoming net-zero or carbon-neutral by the middle of this century, to maintain the PA target of 1.5 degrees;

  2. Protecting vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change and restoring ecosystems;

  3. Financial mobilization for the implementation of these goals (developed countries had to allocate $100 billion to developing countries by 2020);

  4. Reaching an agreement in the negotiations, including agreeing on a reporting procedure for the implementation of the Paris Agreement (Paris Rulebook).

State Updates European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called on governments to increase the price of carbon because the planet "nature cannot pay." (selling Nature to save it, Ms. von der Leyen?) While the French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the wealthiest countries to be an example to others, as they are the biggest polluters.

Heads of four major nation-states were absent from the summit: Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Russian, Turkish, and Brazilian Presidents, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Jair Bolsonaro.

Xi Jinping published a written statement, where he called on wealthy countries to “provide support to help developing countries do better,” but did not voice any new goals. China is the largest polluter in the world, and therefore one of the key participants in COP26. However, they did not attend the conference.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, India, has pledged to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2070. This will contribute to the global efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5C; albeit, this is a very long-term goal and lacks specifics on how it will be achieved. India has announced their goal of achieving net-zero by 2070, Vietnam and Australia - by 2050, Thailand - by 2065. It is critical to pay close attention to the delay of the needed urgent action, as well as keep in mind the major differences between "net-zero" and carbon-neutrality.

President Putin announced that Russia, the fourth-largest polluter, aims to reach “net-zero” by 2060. During the summit, the delegation mentioned that this target might be reached before 2060. However, this goal is vague: Russia did not make any ambitious goals regarding transitioning to renewable energy, and resisted to drastically lowering their emissions by 2030, despite the political and civil pressure.

Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, announced that the country will increase its emission reduction target to 50% by 2030 (up from 2005 levels) and reach carbon neutrality by 2050 (from the previous date of 2060). Alas, this goal is not specific and not ambitious enough either.

South Africa has signed a $ 8.5 billion deal with the US, UK and the EU in concessional financing and grants to “phase-out” of coal and “transition to a clean energy economy” within five years.

Multilateral Environmental Agreements: Outcomes of the COP26

The final outcome of the summit was the Glasgow Climate Pact. The countries agreed on the document on November 13 - a day later than the scheduled end of the forum, with softer wording than expected, and mixed emotions.

The document maintains the goal of keeping the average temperature rise within 1.5°C (at the moment the temperature has already increased by 1.1°C), but it is noted that it will be achieved "only with concerted and immediate global efforts." It must be noted that this is the first time in history when the term “fossil fuels” were at all mentioned in an international climate agreement. Nevertheless, it says to “phase down” only/specifically of “unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” In other words, countries ended up agreeing to “step up efforts” to “phase-down” energy consumption based on “unabated coal,” that is coal mined without carbon capture technologies, and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies; no definitions were provided. The draft document used the phrase "phase-out", but at the last moment India and China (the world's first and third importers of coal), insisted on its replacement by "gradual reduction." We can and should point fingers and blame these two states, however there is much skepticism about Russia’s and US’ politics. How is Russia “not minding” such an agreement in the case when Russia neither signed the coal agreement nor the methane agreement? Furthermore, Russian coal production is expected to grow 6 percent in 2021. Additional growth is planned over the next years partly because of mining in the Arctic.” Similarly, the USA, one of the biggest burners of coal, did not sign the coal agreement either, but apparently “did not mind” to “phase-out” of them. This is very sketchy and contradictory. Considering International Relations Theory, this could be an example of false positives (a state shows its commitment to the principles of a treaty but nonetheless fails to ratify) and false negatives (a state ratifies the treaty but does not have an ambitious commitment to the contents of the treaty) . US and Russia artfully disagreed with the draft decision but remained silent to avoid public criticism which India and China are facing now.

Coal: The coal agreement was signed by 40 countries (among them those who are significantly dependent on coal: Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine and Vietnam), as well as representatives of business and financial institutions. The agreement was not signed by China (the leader in the use of coal), Russia, the USA, India and Australia. The signatories pledged to permanently abandon coal energy. Richer countries are encouraged to choose an end date in the 2030s, and poorer countries in the 2040s. The UK has pledged to phase out coal by 2024.

US-China Joint Agreement: The world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, accounting for about a third of the world's total, the United States and China unexpectedly issued a joint declaration on scaling up climate action in the 2020s. In a joint agreement, the two biggest GHG emitters pledged to intensify efforts to reduce emissions this decade. China has pledged for the first time to develop a plan to reduce methane emissions. Although China has not entered the methane agreement, it has promised to develop a "comprehensive and ambitious national action plan" to limit its emissions.

China confirmed that it will gradually phase out coal consumption starting in 2026, which Xi Jinping announced in April. The parties reaffirmed their commitments to keep the rise in the average temperature of the Earth's surface at a level “significantly below” 2˚С, and ideally not higher than 1.5˚С compared to the pre-industrial levels. The United States and China have pledged to join forces in scientific research, carbon-free energy policies, banning illegal deforestation, and reducing methane emissions. The pact between the two largest polluters surprised the world. Nevertheless, again, there are no specific details in the agreement on what will be done, when, and/or how.

Deforestation: Leaders in more than 100 countries, which account for about 85% of the world's forests, have pledged to stop deforestation by 2030. Governments in 11 countries and the EU have pledged $12 billion and around 30 private companies pledged $7 billion to protect and restore forests. In 2014, in the New York Declaration on Forests, 35 countries agreed to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and strive to end it by 2030. This goal failed. This year we have more actors, 110, (especially key countries – Brazil, China and Russia that did not sign the agreement last time), more funding, and more ambition since the new aim takes the old 2014 goal to another level, by adding “reversing of deforestation by 2030” which was not part of the previous agreement.

A celebration of multilateralism, the deforestation negotiations offer more financial support from both public and private funds, and gives us hope because now we are not just ending deforestation, but also reversing its levels by 2030. It is also important to keep in mind that this is already a victory because it is almost impossible to know what deforestation rates would have been without these pledges.

On the other hand, the New York Agreement - the previous deforestation agreement - did not ensure that we cut in half the levels of deforestation by 2020. Conversely, on average, the rates of forest loss have been 41% higher in the years since the New York Agreement was signed, plus, the global greenhouse gas emissions have risen since the Paris Agreement. How can we hope to end deforestation in nine years if we have not cut it down by at least half by now? How can we expect to reverse deforestation if our actions continue increasing forest loss? Furthermore, possibly, the 2030 goal might be too late itself. We might lose more forests considering the alarming rates of climate change, and we might have less and less forests by 2030, or not have enough carbon sinks to help us mitigate climate change, considering the current levels of mitigation. As Greenpeace activists described this agreement, we are giving a green light to ‘another decade of deforestation.’”

Moreover, it is unclear how the agreement will be monitored. The offspring agreement of COP26 is skipping an important step, which was included in the 2014 one: cutting deforestation levels in half. Only after that we might be able to/we can try to end deforestation and reverse it.

Methane: More than 100 countries have agreed to cut emissions of methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases, by “at least” 30% by the end of this decade. China, Russia and India - the largest emitters of this gas - did not support/sign the declaration.

Transport Agreement: 33 countries signed the agreement (“Austria, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Ghana, India, Kenya, Secretariat of Economy, Mexico, Morocco, Paraguay, Rwanda, Turkey and Uruguay.”), hundreds of city and regional governments (including London, New York, Washington, California, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires) and companies (including Daimler, Ford, General Motors, China BYD and Mercedes-Benz) have pledged to ban internal combustion engines in "leading markets" by 2035 and globally by 2040. Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo Cars' plans are also on track. Uber has pledged to bring its entire fleet of vehicles to zero emissions by 2030. However, some of the world's largest automakers - Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, the Renault-Nissan and Hyundai-Kia alliance - have not signed the agreement. Some key countries did not support this initiative: China, the United States and Germany.

Glasgow Climate Pact: In the Glasgow Climate Pact the parties agreed to “revise and strengthen” their national plans (NDCs) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and discuss them again in a year, that is, in 2022, in Egypt. Significantly, The pact “invited” countries to submit more ambitious national plans every year, rather than every five years. The parties also reaffirmed the implementation of one of the rules of the Paris Agreement, which means that by 2024 all countries will have to provide detailed data on their greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Conventions Indiex ???????

Mobilizing financial resources The Glasgow agreement notes with "deep regret" that rich countries have not met their 2020 target of allocating $100 billion a year to help developing countries with climate finance, and obliges them to collect this amount annually until 2023 and “at least double” climate financing for developing countries to adapt to climate change by 2025.

A coalition of a large number of finance companies and investors, The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, whose members hold nearly $130 trillion in assets, have pledged to reduce their portfolio-related emissions to net zero by mid-century.

Climate change adaptation and loss & damage were key issues that came up on the Glasgow agenda. This time, developed countries agreed that they should double their adaptation funding to about $40 billion a year by 2025, and develop a new global target in future negotiations.

Alas, neither a policing mechanism, nor a mechanism for the funding were established in the agreement. These resources would provide financial support and technical assistance to countries suffering from increasingly severe storms, floods and droughts caused by the greenhouse gas emissions that rich countries have spewed into the atmosphere for decades.

Money remains one of the most controversial issues. Many important questions remain unanswered: Will the funds reach those who need it? Will the transfer of money be monitored? How will the money be used? The lack of a clear definition of “climate finance” is also complicating the situation. It seems that most of the climate finance will take the form of loans, while the money can be spent on purposes that are not directly related to the reduction of CO2 emissions. These combined with the lack of legal obligations and accountability creates a uncertain future for the effect and effectiveness of this climate finance.

COP26 Falls Short

After rounds of negotiations, the delegates finalized the Glasgow Climate Pact, but the document turned out to be much softer than originally planned. India and China made a dramatic change to the declaration, at the last moment, calling for a change from "phase-out" to "phase-down" of coal energy - the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Summit Chairman Alok Sharma was brought to tears by the intractability of the delegates (as was the case with the head of the Dutch office at the Bali summit in 2007), he hesitated and apologized for the process that led at the last minute to re-formulate the future of the coal industry. Ultimately, the pact calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies without a timeline.

So, in the bottom line: the decisions and promises made (even if they are fully fulfilled) do not allow keeping the global temperature rise at a level below even 2˚С. According to the estimates of the independent scientific organization Climate Action Tracker, the results of COP26 will limit global warming to only 2.4°C by the end of the century.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres, diplomatically assessing the success as an important but insufficient step, added shortly but emphatically, "It's time to go into emergency mode."

Yet, there are also experts (the International Energy Agency (IEA)), who believe that the agreements reached so far will limit warming to 1.8°C. The goal of the Paris Agreement, in any case, remains an increase in the range of 1.5°C, and for this, not enough has been achieved at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow.

Closing Thoughts

The scenario that humanity choses from now on will determine the future of our planet. After this COP there is progress, which must be welcomed, but we are rather moving like a sloth, in the case when we need to run like a cheetah. There was no collective desire to really give up coal, really phase-out from oil and gas. Thus, this is yet another agreement with very vague and non-legally-binding unclear formulations.

Shockingly, the representatives of the fossil industry turned out to be the largest group - even larger than any national delegation. And they defended their interests under the guise of promises to offset emissions, develop carbon capture, switch to hydrogen, while not abandoning their core business, fossil fuel extraction. They were openly greenwashing and giving false solutions that distract us from our path to 1.5C in order to maintain the status quo. Greenwashing must be illegal.Fossil fuel companies do not deserve a seat at the table.⁠

Let us be clear, in order to achieve the goal of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5°C, the main agreement should be the complete and immediate abandonment of fossil fuels. Maybe we specifically need a "fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty?" The question is, would the countries sign such an ambitious agreement, or is our limit to “gradually phase-down”?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called

the summit a historic achievement, but admitted that his "delight with this progress is tinged with disappointment."

“Those for whom climate change is already a matter of life and death – who can only stand by as their islands are submerged, their farmland turned to desert, their homes battered by storms – they demanded a high level of ambition for this Summit. Unfortunately, this is the nature of diplomacy. We can lobby, we can persuade, we can encourage, but we cannot force sovereign countries to do what they don’t want to do,” said Mr. Johnson at the opening ceremony.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg compared the results of the summit to idle chatter: “The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever,” she stressed.

"Many protesters were pushing the message that fine words butter no parsnips." Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Non-governmental actors must stay informed and take part in the process. It is necessary to demand from our local and national governments, as well as private companies and delegations of other countries to be more ambitious, strive for international cooperation and the realization of the set goals - so that these agreements do not turn into empty promises, which has been happening over the past decades. Our planet can afford no more failures.

In 2022, the UN Climate Summit (COP27) will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Perhaps more serious and more ambitious shifts towards reducing emissions will take place there, but much depends on civil society.

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