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25th Jan 2022

MEPs: too many climate pledges not enough plans at COP26

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MEPs have warned that countries need to move from pledges to plans as the climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) comes to a climax this week.

The International Energy Agency has calculated that with the current pledges, the world will still heat by 1.9 degrees celsius. "There is a momentum growing," Bas Eickhout, Green MEP, told press on Monday (8 October).

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"It is good to calculate these pledges. However, there is a huge difference in the quality of these pledges," he said. "Some countries, like the European Union, have pledges and concrete plans on how to get there. On the other hand, Australia came to Glasgow with not much more than a brochure."

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, nationally-determined contributions which countries were requested to submit ahead of COP26 would reduce emissions only by 7.5 percent by 2030. However, to keep global heating under 1.5 degrees celsius would need a 55-percent drop.

In an editorial, the scientific magazine Nature also warned that many of the individual pledges countries have made do not have a concrete plan to get there.

"Our mission is this week is to make sure countries will uphold their pledges," MEP Pascal Canfin (Renew), chairman of the European Parliament delegation in Glasgow, said.

Under the 2015 Paris Accord, countries must review pledges every five years.

These national goals are not binding, and at the time, many critics slammed this system as too weak and vulnerable to delay, but according to Eickhout, "peer-pressure works" and the "bottom-up" approach has proved successful.

However, a crucial part of this system is its review process, which - according to Eickhout - needs to be accelerated.

"The next moment pledges will be reviewed is 2025. We need to keep the pressure on, and we need to review pledges way more often. This is what I will try to hammer home during this week's negotiations."

COP26's off-setting cop-out?

One item on the delegates' agenda that will likely prove divisive are rules for carbon markets.

Wealthy countries and polluting corporations want to expand carbon-trading, as a way to offset carbon emissions at home.

One of the innovations proposed is a Sustainable Development Mechanism that could allow a wealthy nation to pay a low-income country to set up a wind farm, thereby offsetting its own emissions.

Eickhout said he is critical of these offsetting schemes, saying that "there is no such thing as carbon-free LNG [natural gas]."

But there are currently no rules for carbon-trading in the vaguely-worded Article 6 of the Paris Accord that can account for these schemes.

That is why "strict regulations are essential", both Eickhout and Canfin admitted.

Norway and Singapore are now leading efforts for a deal on carbon markets, while Bolivia wants to block carbon trading entirely - with most low-income countries wanting a guarantee on a share of the revenue.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have proposed a five percent levy on all international transactions, which wealthy countries oppose.

Credible data?

A further challenge to these exacting carbon trading schemes is the lack of credible emission data.

A Washington Post-investigation of the 196 country emission reports showed that many substantially underreport their greenhouse gas emissions, leading to a potential reporting gap of 13.3bn metric tonnes of greenhouse gases, comparable to the annual emissions of 2.89bn cars.

"Glasgow should be all about keeping the 1.5 [degrees celsius] target alive," Eickout said.

On Monday (8 November) the Dutch outgoing government surprised many by unexpectedly joining a group of 22 countries, including Canada and the United States, that have vowed to stop funding fossil-fuel projects abroad - an act that is "consistent with the 1.5°C warming limit".

The plan to meet this target however is based on country data. Bad data may inadvertently lead to an overshoot of the 1.5 celsius target - even if global pledges are increased and met.

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