COP’s cruise in choppy waters since 1995 -Abu Tahir Mustakim
The planet, which was once pristine, cool and highly pleasing, is in the throes of an environmental emergency. Humanity’s continued addiction to fossil fuels and its voracious appetite for natural resources have led to runaway climate change, degraded vital ecosystems, and ushered in the slow swelling of the seas and thus devouring of the islands one after another. Earth’s biosphere is breaking down. Our depredation of the planet has jeopardized our own survival.
The world is warming because of emissions from fossil fuels used by humans, like coal, oil and gas.
Extreme weather events linked to climate change, including heatwaves, floods and forest fires are intensifying. The past decade was the warmest on record and governments agree urgent collective action is needed.
For COP26, held in Glasgow from 31st October to 12th November, 200 countries were asked for their plans to cut emissions by 2030. COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”, and this has been the 26th annual summit and the first COP took place in 1995. Since then the climate conferences have been cruising through choppy and turbulent waters.
Under the Paris Agreement of 2015, countries were asked to make changes to keep global warming “well below” 2C – and to try to aim for 1.5C – in order to prevent a climate catastrophe.
The goal is to keep cutting emissions until they reach net zero in 2050.
l Asking countries to republish their climate action plans, with more ambitious emission reduction targets for 2030, by the end of next year
l Emphasising the need for developed countries to increase the money they give to those already suffering the effects of climate change, beyond the current $100 billion annual target
l But a previously agreed goal to double funds for adaptation to climate change now just refers to an increase
l A commitment to “phase down” coal – the first time this is explicitly mentioned in a climate deal – although this was watered down from a pledge in a previous draft to “phase out” coal
A deal aimed at staving off dangerous climate change has been struck at the COP26 summit in Glasgow after the meeting was stretched in extra time.
The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal — the worst fossil fuel responsible for greenhouse gases.
The deal also presses for more urgent emission cuts and promises more money for developing countries – to help them adapt to climate impacts.
But the pledges don’t go far enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.
A commitment to phase out coal that was included in earlier negotiation drafts led to a dramatic finish after India led opposition to it.
India’s climate minister Bhupender Yadav asked how developing countries could promise to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they “have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication”.
In the end, countries agreed to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal, amid expressions of disappointment by some. COP26 President Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” for how events had unfolded.
But poorer countries had been calling throughout the meeting for funding through the principle of loss and damage – the idea that richer countries should compensate poorer ones for climate change effects they are unable to adapt to.
This was one of the big disappointments of the conference for many delegations. Despite their dissatisfaction, several countries that stood to benefit backed the agreement on the basis that talks on loss and damage would continue.
Delegations pushing for greater progress on the issue included those from countries in Africa, such as Guinea and Kenya, as well as Latin American states, small island territories and nations in Asia such as Bhutan.
Lia Nicholson, delegate for Antigua and Barbuda, and speaking on behalf of small island states, said: “We recognise the presidency’s efforts to try and create a space to find common ground. The final landing zone, however, is not even close to capturing what we had hoped.”
Host UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “There is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years. But Glasgow 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.”
John Kerry, the US envoy for climate, said it was always unlikely that the Glasgow summit would result in a decision that “was somehow going to end the crisis”, but that the “starting pistol” had been fired.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the planet was “hanging by a thread”. “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe… it is time to go into emergency mode – or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”
A fragile win:
COP26 President Alok Sharma has described the deal struck in the Glasgow Climate Pact as a “fragile win” after India and China pushed for the language on coal to change from “phase out” to “phase down”.
The COP26 President said the two countries will have to “justify” their actions to nations that are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
‘Blah, blah, blah’:
Many of the countries immediately affected by climate change are island nations, and some of their representatives have been vocal about their disappointment in the deal reached.
Maldives’ Environment Minister
‘There was a conversation that we were not a part of and it was a real blow… We were told that there would be no further changes to the text, and we had already swallowed some changes that were very difficult to swallow and that came at the end. I think for us, particularly from the very small island states, we come here to speak, to be heard and for that to happen, we need to be in the room.’
Tina Stege Marshall
Islands’ climate envoy
‘Developing countries played the game in order to not stop the process. But let’s say there is a disappointment because of this question of climate finance to help us to adapt. Let’s say, it was forgotten.’
Dr Vahinala Raharinirina
Madagascar’s Environment Minister
Switzerland also expressed “profound disappointment” at the last-minute changes to the wording of the deal on coal. On 13 November, its environment minister said: “The #COP26 is history – but we did not write history in #Glasgow. In view of the expectations, one cannot really be satisfied with the result. But we have achieved something on individual points.”
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai has said COP26 did not live up to climate activists’ expectations. The Pakistani activist took part in the summit virtually and pushed for climate education for children and girls.
Meanwhile, climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the outcome amounted to blah blah blah, but that she would never give up.
Down but not out:
The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C is “definitely still alive”, insists UN executive secretary, Patricia Espinosa. She says the conference resulted in a “very complete package of decisions” that allows the world to say: “Yes, we are still on track for that”.
Many island nations – which are among those countries most immediately affected by climate change – have expressed disappointment in the deal reached.
But Espinosa says it still allows those nations “to be hopeful that we will accelerate the transformation that needs to take place”.
She says: “This decade is absolutely crucial – we need to get to 2030 with at least 45% reductions.”
Asked about the last minute change to commit to “phase down” instead of “phase out”, she emphasises: “The huge step forward in our negotiation was that – for the first time in this context – we mentioned coal and fossil fuels.
“We have to remember there are millions of people who depend on fossil fuel industry.”
But it’s not all bad news, says Richard Black from the Climate Intelligence Unit – coal and fossil fuels did get a mention in the final document.
While the Glasgow Climate Pact is an ambitious attempt to rein in rising temperatures, the last-minute row over coal has undoubtedly cast a shadow over the deal.
India was joined by China in pushing for a watering down of this key commitment, insisting on “phasing down” rather than “phasing out” the fossil.
It was a brazen display of geo-political muscle that left developing countries and island states with little choice but to go along with the changes.
The new pact comes just a few days after another notable Chinese achievement.
November 10, the Xinhua news agency trumpeted the fact that the country produced more coal than ever before on a single day.
Seen in that light, the agreement reached here after extended negotiations looks like a limp sticking-plaster for the deep wound that’s threatening life on this planet.