COP26: Glasgow ends with pact to phase down coal and keep 1.5°C target alive

COP26: Glasgow ends with pact to phase down coal and keep 1.5°C target alive
Credit: Belga

Delegates from some 200 countries meeting in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) ended two weeks of intense negotiations with a pact to reduce the use of coal as an energy source and step up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Among other things, the Glasgow Climate Pact, adopted on Saturday evening, calls on countries to speed up their efforts to reduce the use of coal (without carbon capture) and end “inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” Belga News Agency reports.

However, the final wording on coal and fossil fuels, although unprecedented in the series of summits held in the aftermath of the 2015 Conference, was gradually watered down as the negotiations progressed.

For some, the Glasgow Pact was a “big step forward.”

“There is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday after the summit, “but today’s agreement is a big step forward and, critically, we have the first ever international agreement to phase down coal and a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.”

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The Glasgow Pact calls on all parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change to review upward their commitments by the end of 2022 and align them, where necessary, to the agreement’s targets, including keeping global warming under +2°C and, if possible, under +1.5°C, while taking differing national circumstances into consideration.

The text calls for a doubling of international climate finance aimed at helping developing countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change. Where climate finance in general is concerned, no targets have been set for the period after 2025, while developed countries have failed to deliver on promises to contribute 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, to the dismay of some developing countries.

On the issue of the often irreversible damage caused by climate change, the Pact does not include a mechanism for technical and financial assistance, which developing countries had called for. Instead, it provides for financing for the “Santiago Network,” set up at COP 25 in Madrid, which aims to help affected countries face the irreparable impacts of climate change.

The Glasgow conference also reached agreement on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and rules governing carbon markets, which the Katowice (2018) and Madrid (2019) conferences of parties had failed to do. These mechanisms, which are very technical but have the potential to derail the Paris Agreement if poorly worked out, represented the last major outstanding piece of the Paris Agreement puzzle. This will enable “full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement,” COP26 President Alok Sharma said.

While the results of the conference are substantial, they do not provide enough of a response to the climate emergency, according to international NGOs present in Glasgow. The radical change of tack they had expected did not materialize.

Climate march in Brussels, 2019. Credit: Belga

The text was “far from perfect,” according to the World Wildlife Fund, which acknowledged, however, that it was “a step in the right direction.”

For Greenpeace, the final agreement was “weak” and “fragile” and offered no response to an already threatening climate crisis.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg was even more categorical. “COP26 is over,” she tweeted. “Here is a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these walls. And we will never give up. Never.”

In the eyes of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, the outcome of the summit “is an important step, but it’s not enough,”

“It is a compromise, reflecting the interests, contradictions and state of political will in the world today,” he said in a reaction on Twitter. “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread”, he warned, adding, “we are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

Anuna De Wever at COP26 in Glasgow. De Wever views COP26 as a disappointment, saying Belgium should not leave the summit feeling victorious, but rather ashamed. 

The UN Secretary-General mentioned that the conference had failed to meet some of its objectives , such ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal use and financial assistance for the world’s poorest countries.

Postponed by a year due to the pandemic, COP26 had been presented as crucial to placing humanity back on track towards the 1.5°C target. However, commitments made so far by countries would lead to global warming in excess of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with current estimates ranging between 2.4°C and 2.7°C, observers noted.

Organising such a mega event and bringing together tens of thousands of people from all over the world in the midst of a pandemic was no sinecure. From overpriced lodging to difficulty in gaining access to vaccines for delegates from developing countries, the Glasgow meeting was described by NGOs as one of the least inclusive of all climate COPs.

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