TL;DR: The Glasgow Climate Pact was signed last Saturday, with a handful of key wins and some outcomes that were major disappointments to climate activists. The key wins include: coal and fossil fuels being mentioned and addressed for the first time, a commitment (somewhat outside of formal COP26 dialogs) to phase out gasoline powered cars by 2040, and the door now being open to global carbon markets to help bring private sector investment into developing countries.
For the last two weeks, many of us have been closely tracking the updates coming out of COP26, the 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
These meetings are held every year to construct a global response to climate change. While the main objective of COP26 was to finalize the rules and procedures for implementation of the Paris Agreement; however, given the clear evidence of how rapidly the climate crisis has worsened in the six years since the Paris Agreement was signed, COP26 was approached with far more urgency, with the hope that it could serve as a turning point in accelerating climate actions that would enable the world to truly achieve the goal of reducing global warming to no more than 1.5C.
COP26 resulted in the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact. Since this was signed on Saturday November 13th, much has been written about whether or not it was a success or failure. The reality is somewhere in between, which is what we would expect from any process that requires the consensus of 197 vastly different countries.
Certainly, the planet would be better off if the Glasgow Climate Pact was more aggressive. However, there were some notable wins. Here, we share the overarching agreements reached in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
1.5C Kept Within Reach, But Just Barely
Current pledges, if fulfilled, are estimated to keep global warming to about 2.4 degrees celsius. Scientists and world leaders, however, recognize the importance of achieving the target of warming the planet no more than 1.5 degrees celsius.
As such, the Glasgow Pact requires that countries will meet next year to pledge further major carbon cuts with the aim of reaching the 1.5C goal. Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to review their climate plans every five years. Glasgow has accelerated this process. Under the new pact, countries are asked to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 climate plans by the end of 2022 to align with the Paris temperature goals, “taking into account different national circumstances”.
In concluding the talks, COP26 President, Alok Sharma, expressed that the 1.5C guardrail agreed in Paris is still within reach, but that “its pulse remains weak” and that a a 2C warming would be a “death sentence.” Mary Robinson, former UN commissioner for human rights and chair of The Elders group of leaders and former statespeople, said, more harshly and directly “Cop26 has made some progress, but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster. While millions around the world are already in crisis, not enough leaders came to Glasgow with a crisis mindset. People will see this as a historically shameful dereliction of duty. Leaders have extended by a year this window of opportunity to avert the worst of the climate crisis. The world urgently needs them to step up more decisively next year.”
Fossil Fuels Explicitly Called Out (Especially Coal)
For the first time ever, countries committed to reducing their reliance on coal and rolling back fossil fuel subsidies, targeting energy sources that scientists say are the primary drivers of climate change and making way for clean energy to become the norm.
The originally proposed wording requested that countries “phase out” unabated coal. At the 11th hour, however, India requested that the wording be changed to “phase down”, a change that triggered much debate, angst and frustration. While the final deal included “phasing down” rather than “phasing out” - disappointing many nations and climate activists - the fact that coal and fossil fuels are targeted so clearly is a major step forward.
Tension and Competing Interests Between Developing and Developed Nations - Some Progress, Some Setbacks
The following two quotes reflects the tense, and mixed, views of how successfully COP26 addressed the competing needs and demands of developed and developing nations.
- Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, representing the High Ambition Coalition of developed and developing countries, said: “This package is not perfect. The coal change and a weak outcome on loss and damage are blows. But it is real progress and elements of [it] are a lifeline for my country. We must not discount the crucial wins covered in this package.”
- Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based thinktank Power Shift Africa, took a harsher view: “The needs of the world’s vulnerable people have been sacrificed on the altar of the rich world’s selfishness. The outcome here reflects a Cop held in the rich world and the outcome contains the priorities of the rich world.”
The issue is rooted in funding for three specific areas - Loss & Damage, Adaptation, and Mitigation Funding.
Loss and damage: Loss and damage was the main topic driving contention and disappointment. Vulnerable and poor countries, which did little to cause the climate crisis, are committed to receiving payments from richer nations to compensate them for the significant loss and damages they are already seeing - through rising seawater, droughts, loss of crops, and more. For the first time, the cover section of the document included "loss and damage." But the progres stopped there. Instead, the final pact agrees to boost “technical assistance” to affected countries, but rather than committing to a dedicated funding level, it calls for more dialogue, suggesting any real payments are still years away.
Adaptation and mitigation funding: COP26 also showed the world that little progress has been made in achieving the financial commitments made by wealthier nations 10 years ago to transfer $100 billion per year to developing countries to help them adapt to the effects of the climate crisis and transform their societies into low-carbon economies. Adaptation measures can involve things like moving communities away from the coast and retrofitting structures to better withstand climate disasters. Mitigation measures involve clean energy investments or transitions to less fossil fuel dependent agricultural processes. The Glasgow Climate Pact includes a doubling of money for adaptation by 2025, from 2019 levels and puts developed countries on the hook to report on their progress towards the $100 billion goal.
Rules for Global Carbon Markets
Originally, finalizing rules for the carbon markets agreed upon as part of the Paris Agreement was meant to be one of the main objectives of COP26. The results on this front (in our minds anyway) one of its more clear and undiluted wins. The agreements made on “Article 6” provide the rules needed for transparent and accountable carbon markets to get established worldwide, opening up more opportunity for private capital to flow into developing countries to support climate mitigation. The final agreement successfully eliminates double counting for compliance markets and establishes a fairly strong framework to account for voluntary carbon markets. It was also decided that bilateral trades between countries will not be taxed to help fund climate adaptation.
Parallel Deals Made
Outside the main COP26, parallel “side deals” were also made.
The United States and China, the world's two biggest carbon emitters, announced a joint declaration to cooperate on climate change measures.
The United States and the European Union spearheaded a global methane cutting initiative in which around 100 countries committed to reducing methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.
Twenty-four countries and a group of leading car manufacturers have committed to ending the era of fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2040. Companies and investors also made voluntary pledges to protect forests, increase sustainable investing and carbon neutralize air travel.
While much debate will continue about the merits of the pledges being made, I think most of the world (including us at EcoEnclose) are looking forward to the most important outcome - how successfully do nations execute on their commitments, and how do these action steps fuel progress in the private sector and in the habits of their citizens. Hopefully when leaders reconvene for COP27 in Egypt next year, the world can be celebrating major accomplishments that have been made, even as they continue to make more aggressive pledges.