30th Nov 2021


'Blah blah blah'?: Five takeaways from Glasgow's COP26

  • Language on the 'phase-out' of coal-fired power and fossil fuel subsidies was weakened at the last minute (Photo: Tim Dennell)
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Experts have been assessing whether the weekend's outcome of the UN climate negotiations in Glasgow over the last two weeks can be considered a success or a failure.

Many have slammed the deal for delaying action, while others called it a "step in the right direction".

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But despite the general relief that the meeting did not fail to reach an agreement, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among campaigners and climate-vulnerable countries.

The UN secretary-general António Guterres said that the outcome of the negotiations, a 11-page document called the Glasgow Climate Pact, was a compromise that reflected "the interests, the contradictions, and the state of political will in the world today".

"Unfortunately, the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions," he said.

For her part, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg said that COP26 was a two-week exercise of "business as usual and blah blah blah".

So where was progress made? Here's what happened.

Window to avoid catastrophe closing

As part of the climate pact, almost 200 countries reaffirmed the need "to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels".

However, according to an analysis of NGO Climate Action Tracker, the word is currently heading to a 2.4 degrees of warming this century - despite countries' new pledges and updated climate targets.

While more than 140 countries have announced net-zero climate goals, covering 90 percent of the global emissions, researchers believe there is a gap of credibility, as long as 2030 targets are twice as high as they should to be compatible with the 1.5-degrees scenario.

Meanwhile, the agreement over carbon-market rules represents one of the major successes of COP26, but many fear weak provisions can lead to double-counting.

This carbon-markets system would allow nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and convert those emissions reductions into tradable credits.

Weasel wording reveals lack of political will

A preliminary draft of the COP26 conclusions called on countries to "accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels".

But the historic pledge to phase out coal power was weakened in the very last minute by China and India, who successfully pushed to replace the "phase-out" of coal power for "phase-down" in the final text.

COP26 president Alok Sharma, a British Conservative MP, apologised about the last-minute changes, and holding back tears, he said that this concession was vital to protect the agreement.

Finally, the language of the outcome COP26 text sees countries agreeing to move away "unabated coal" and "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies.

Despite the weasel wording, this is considered a success since the Glasgow Climate Pacts is the first-ever UN climate resolution that explicitly refers to the need to reduce reliance on coal.

According to a report of the International Monetary Fund, the fossil-fuel industry received $5.9 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies last year.

Rich countries failed on 'loss and damage'

The final text also notes with "deep regret" that rich countries have not delivered on the longstanding commitment to give $100bn (€85bn) a year in climate financing to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

But it includes a commitment to double payments by 2025, pointing out the need to enhance transparency in these pledges.

Rich countries, meanwhile, failed to agree to create a "loss and damage" fund to compensate poorer countries for historic emissions. Instead, they called for a "dialogue" on this issue – expected to be at the top of the agenda at the next COP27.

"For some, loss and damage may be the beginning of conversation and dialogue, but for us this is a matter of survival," said Maldives' environment minister Aminath Shauna.

All eyes on 2022

Under the 2015 Paris agreement, countries agreed to update their climate plans (their Nationally Determined Contributions, or "NDCs") every five years.

But the Glasgow Climate Pact calls on countries to submit new emissions-reduction targets within the next 12 months and in time for COP27 - to be hosted by Egypt next year.

These pledges will have to be backed with specific plans to "collectively fulfil 50-percent emissions-reductions by 2030…with a 1.5°C goal in mind," noted Pulgar Vidal from WWF.

What else was agreed?

During COP26, there were several alliances and deals reached on coal, deforestation and transport – which would help reduce the so-called emission gap by nine percent or 2.2 gigatonnes of CO2, according to recent analysis.

More than 100 countries pledged to end and reverse deforestation over the next decade - although most commitments are considered voluntary.

Under the Global Methane Pledge, over 100 global leaders pledged to reduce methane emission by 30 percent by 2030. But the deal only covers around 45 percent of total methane-emissions.

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a group of 450 banks and insurers, also committed $130 trillion [€112 trillion] to tackle climate change by 2050.

In addition, more than 20 countries – including the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Finland - and development institutions like the European Investment Bank and the East African Development Bank, pledged to stop public financing for new fossil-fuel projects abroad by the end of next year.

The tsunami of separate deals reached at COP26 also includes a pledge from some of the world's largest car-manufacturers, who have committed to only selling zero-emission cars by 2035.


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