People all over the planet are facing detrimental impacts of 1.1 C global warming, being hit by strong heat waves, cyclones, floods and wildfires. The talks, delayed for a year due to Covid-19, represented the hope to negotiate at a critical crossroads in our fight for climate action.
Over the two weeks and hundreds of conversations in Glasgow at COP26, the public, private, and cross-sector pledges from representatives from nations around the world signalled that the direction of the journey is toward net zero, expecting an acceleration of climate action across the real economy: at the system level, throughout industries, and within organisations.
It began with the submission of new and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from 151 nations, including China, India, Iran and Algeria.
These contributions were to develop a new action plan to keep the goals of the Paris Agreement, i.e., at 1.5 C, with some nations having already set goals to reach net zero emissions – and others were asked to raise their ambitions. The net-zero imperative came from the coalitions of the stakeholders—governments, financial institutions, companies, multilateral organisations, and others—who must participate if systemic problems are going to be solved.
While the new pledges at COP26 showed greater ambitions, the high expectations (to keep 1.5 C alive) were shaved off with the release of the UNEP “gap report” that revealed some of 0.2C off warming, if the pledges and targets are fully implemented.
In addition, the projections of Climate Action Tracker Report found a credibility gap in the talks and actions of governments making pledges where the current policies would still bring up temperatures to 2.7 C by 2100.
Against this backdrop, negotiators fell short of commitments needed to fight climate change, and the impacts on billions of people to be hit by potentially fatal temperatures.
The Climate Action Tracker explains how the pledges made at COP26 have significantly failed to align with the Paris Agreement targets.
Next on the agenda was adopting technical decisions to finalise the Paris “rulebook” and Article 6 on carbon markets, including emission trading gaps and reporting in the newly introduced Glasgow Climate Pact. However, despite agreeing on a new global goal on climate finance by 2025, adaptation and loss and damage finance and deals on methane, the talks became irrelevant when the target action against fossil fuels was explicitly called up as “phasedown of unabated coal” and “phase-out” of “inefficient” fossil-fuel subsidies.
Also, the political move of the joint call of US-China deal on fighting climate crisis, along with oil and gas sector to have not been explicitly raised in the Glasgow climate pact brought along a changing phase of Paris Agreement from rulemaking to the implementation, creating a “multi-dimensional spaghetti” of competing priorities.
On the positive side, the two-week conference ended with new pledges on methane gas pollution, coal financing, deforestation, transport, energy transition and rules on carbon trading. Among these, “nature” has been identified to be the next big thing in the given climate in terms of valuing biodiversity and shift towards nature-positive and net zero transition plans.
With more than 130 world leaders, $19.2 billion for deforestation-linked activities, and commitments from multilateral banks and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), COP26 has recognised the financial institutions, businesses, private and public sectors as having a major role in connecting climate goals and nature with enhanced transparency framework that clearly outlines sustainability disclosures and reporting, technology transfer and capacity building.
The conference has allowed nations to revisit the goals and ambitions in alignment to the Paris Agreement but the emissions continue to rise. While COP26 has been a mitigation-focused conference, COP27 to be held in Sharm-el-Sheikh Egypt, is signalling towards a transformational decade of helping the countries to close the emission and adaptation gaps in fighting climate change to meet the longstanding committed financing of $100 billion with doubled adaptation funds to be made available by 2025.
The deferred items from Glasgow are to be taken forward with the launch of a comprehensive two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme. This global programme on adaptation sets to recognise additional work needed to be done in adapting climate change, strengthening implementation of actions in the developing countries and contributing to Article 7, Paragraph 14, and Article 14 of the Paris Agreement. Also, it is likely to put greater emphasis on loss and damage and redressing the balance between mitigation and adaptation.
What we hope to see is a strengthening of the accountability with a clear set of standards and commitments based on science-based evidence to reach the 1.5 C goal and a robust delivery mechanism.
Let’s just hope that the Egyptian presidency will not face similar challenges next year. It will require strong international cooperation to increase ambition on transition away from fossil fuels.
The writer is a research fellow at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). The views expressed are solely of the author and don’t necessarily represent the opinion of the organisation