COP26: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

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The UN Climate Change Conference took place in Glasgow from the 1st till the 12th of November, 2021. The conference was made even more important in light and hindsight of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, COP26 was all about building a zero-carbon future which is sustainable and resilient, and one in which non-state actors will share a key role.
The world signed off on a new climate change agreement that is once again wrought with promises and ambitious targets. After heated and intense negotiations and compromises behind closed doors, some countries took on more ambitious targets to reduce world carbon emissions and some took on a lot less responsibility than expected. Still, experts believe that a lot depends on whether the world leaders follow through on their word to keep global greenhouse gas emissions under control. The situation is dire. In order to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5% by year 2100, the world needs to make a collective effort to reduce gas emissions by 45% in the next 9 years – a mammoth task.

 

A welcome addition was that of the United States of America, a country that rejoined the Paris Agreement after four years of absence during former President Donald Trump’s office. The US not only urged other nations to take on more ambitious targets but also tried to ensure its presence at the center stage of the talks. One of the more pleasant surprises from the summit came in the form of a US-China partnership – a collaborative effort, if you will, from the giant emitters to cooperate and speed things along for climate positive action, and thereby, play a catalyst to the big reduction.
Major polluter countries and those with large populations upped their targets of reducing their carbon footprint as well. India, for instance, a densely populated country heavily reliant on coal power agreed to become a zero-carbon state by the year 2070. Saudi Arabia pledged the same but intends to achieve their target by 2060, a decade earlier, and Brazil, by 2050, hoping to precede both India and Saudi Arabia. China stuck to its plan of letting emission rise until the year 2030 before a drastic, 30-year decline to net-zero emission state. Similarly, a coalition of more than 100 countries have agreed to reduce methane emissions by 30% by the year 2030 and another alliance of countries, including the heavily forested Brazil and Russia, pledged to put a stop to deforestation by 2030 altogether.
Since the Paris agreement, the Glasgow summit marked the first time that all the participating countries updated their plans. As time is critical and many of the developing countries are hanging by threads while developed carbon emitting nations grapple with policy reforms and delayed implementation of the climate plans, envoys from least developed countries (LDC) came down hard on their stronger counterparts, urging them to revisit their pledges every year and go for more rigorous measures to curb emissions. The summit agreed that speeding up the process was important and urged developed nations to try and revise their plans by the next year, 2022, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. This announcement came as a response to governments not backing up their words with actions in the past, and hopes to inject some accountability onto the liable parties.
The COP26, like other world leader meetings since the 1990s, has skirted around the topic of calling out the world for using fossil fuels. While it mentioned and encouraged the use of cleaner energy, it beat around the bush when it came to asking countries, especially those producing oil and coal like Saudi Arabia and Australia, to put a permanent stop to it. While 1.5% or even 1.8% is an ambitious goal, even as a collective effort, scientists have warned countries strongly on the grave consequences of continuing to use fossil fuel. They mentioned that if the targeted percentage of emission reductions is to be met, up to 90% of coal reserves and 60% of oil and gas reserves must lie beneath the ground by the year 2050. While early COP26 drafts spoke highly about phasing out coal and other fossil fuel usage, the term was made murkier when they mentioned ‘unabated’ coal power and ‘inefficient’ subsidies, which invariably allowed some coal and fossil fuel power to be sneaked in. Some countries like China, Iran, South Africa, India and Nigeria continued to oppose it, emphasizing on the right of developing nations to use cheaper fossil fuel as the developed countries before them had. They implored that developing nations already have pressured development and poverty eradication agendas to deal with, without adding costlier power to their plate. At the last minute, India further watered down the term ‘phase out’ to ‘phase down’, adding to the disappointment of experts worldwide. The term was accepted, albeit rather despondently.
The Glasgow talks and the plans that ensued will affect countries based on where they are situated. Island and deltaic nations will suffer the most as sea levels rise and the developed nations alarmingly fall short of their pledges every meet. The affected nations made a unanimous plea for climatic justice as droughts, hurricanes and floods wreak damage. They argue that what has happened is not due to their doing but their people are among the world’s most affected. They proposed a ‘loss and damage’ fund from wealthier countries as compensation. While Scotland was game, not many other countries supported the notion. In a final act of compromise, it was agreed that the discussions known as the Glasgow Dialogue will begin between countries to work out a plan for how this compensation deal may work. Developed nations also offered technical support for affected countries that would offer advice and guidance on how to proceed in the wake of all the climatic disasters they face.

Major polluter countries and those with large populations upped their targets of reducing their carbon footprint. India, for instance, a densely populated country heavily reliant on coal power agreed to reach a zero-carbon state by the year 2070.

More than a decade ago, developed nations such as the United States had agreed to provide $100 billion as ‘climate finance’ which will help towards funding lesser developed nations set up and adopt cleaner, renewable energy as well as cushion the impacted countries as they suffer the worst of the climatic hazards. The funding was supposed to be done annually through a mix of public and private funding by the year 2020. By 2019, there was only $80 billion in the reserves and most of it was in the form of loans instead of grants, putting further pressure on the LDCs. Affected nations have also complained that the funding leans towards mitigating the effects of climate change driven hazards and not enough towards making the countries more resilient and adaptive to these harsh changes. Finally, the twelve-year-old budget of $100 billion now falls short in the face of compounded climate change effects as more than five to ten times the amount is required now for climate adaptation only. It was finally agreed that developed nations will double the climate adaptation bit of the spending by the year 2025 and countries are to work on a two-year plan to figure out other ways to escalate the climate funding for the most vulnerable countries around the globe. Ani Dasgupta, President of the World Resources Institute mentioned, “It is inexcusable that developed countries failed to meet their commitment to deliver $100 billion annually starting in 2020, even as they provide hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels each year.” Ani’s words ring dejected as the U.N. Environment Programme ominously estimates that budgets for climate adaptation will need to go up to at least $280 billion in less than a decade. Whatever the developed nations offer will be far shorter than what is realistically required.
The entire deal was disappointing, especially to the LDCs as COP26 ended without any solid plans for their reimbursement or support and they mostly left with airy promises of being heard in the future. To quote Aminath Shauna, Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology of the Maldives, “For us, this is a matter of survival. Please do us the courtesy to acknowledge that it does not bring hope to our hearts but serves as yet another conversation where we put our homes on the line, while those who have other options decide how quickly they want to act to save those who don’t.”

While early COP26 drafts spoke highly about phasing out coal and other fossil fuel usage, the term was made murkier when they mentioned ‘unabated’ coal power and ‘inefficient’ subsidies, which invariably allowed some coal and fossil fuel power to be sneaked in.

The trajectory of global warming is set at a terrifying 2.9 based on what the countries are doing on ground this minute and will bring with it some severe consequences. India’s pledge to lower carbon emissions by 50% by the year 2030 and go zero by 2070 has pulled this trajectory down to a 2.4% which is still a far cry from the coveted 1.5%. Even in aggregate, the pledges will fall short of reaching targets agreed in the Paris climate talks, at least with respect to time. 1.8%, the more attainable target according to an analysis from the International Energy Agency, is still a compromise but it is something of an improvement that will only come if the nations follow through on their promises.

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