Context: The annual climate change summit came to an end with the adoption of a weaker-than-expected agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact.
- The Glasgow meeting was the 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP26.
- Earlier, these meetings have also delivered two treaty-like international agreements, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015.
- While the Kyoto Protocol expired last year, the Paris Agreement is now the active instrument to fight climate change.
Objective of COP 26:
- The main task for COP26 was to finalise the rules and procedures for implementation of the Paris Agreement.
- The effort was to push for an agreement that could put the world on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway, instead of the 2 degree Celsius trajectory which is the main objective of the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement
- The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change.
- It was adopted by 196 countries in Paris on December 12, 2015 and entered into force on November 4, 2016.
- It seeks to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and endeavour to limit the increase to 1.5°C.
- The agreement, which entered into force on 4 November 2016, currently has 188 parties.
National Determined Goals:All parties to it are expected to undertake ambitious efforts to support the agreement’s goals and communicate their related intentions every five years in the form of National Determined Goals (NDCs).
- As per the Agreement, each successive NDC must represent a progression beyond the country’s previous NDC and reflect its highest possible ambition.
- The U.N. Secretary-General has been urging parties to submit enhanced NDCs as early as possible and well before COP 26.
UNFCCC: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- The UNFCCC, signed in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development also known as the Earth Summit, the Rio Summit or the Rio Conference
- Objectives: Stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous consequences.
- Functions: UNFCCC provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called “protocols”) that aim to set binding limits on greenhouse gases.
- Treaty is considered legally non-binding.
Key takeaways of the Glasgow agreement
Carbon Markets: A carbon market existed under the Kyoto Protocol but is no longer there because the Protocol itself expired last year. A new market under Paris Agreement is yet to become functional.
- The Glasgow Pact has allowed these leftover carbon credits (of developing nations) to be used in meeting countries’ first NDC targets.
- These cannot be used for meeting targets in subsequent NDCs. That means, if a developed country wants to buy these credits to meet its own emission reduction targets, it can do so till 2025.
- The resolution of the deadlock over carbon markets represents one of the major successes of COP26.
Issue of Carbon markets
- These markets facilitate the trading of emission reductions.
- Such a market allows countries, or industries, to earn carbon credits for the emission reductions they make in excess of their targets.
- These carbon credits can be traded to the highest bidder in exchange for money.
- The buyers of carbon credits can show the emission reductions as their own and use them to meet their reduction targets.
- Carbon markets are considered a very important and effective instrument to reduce overall emissions.
- Developing countries like India, China or Brazil have large amounts of carbon credits left over because of the lack of demand as many countries abandoned their emission reduction targets.
- The developing countries wanted their unused carbon credits to be transitioned to the new market.
- The developed nations had been opposing on the grounds that the quality of these credits — the question whether these credits represent actual emission reductions — was suspect.
- Asked the developed countries to at least double the money being provided for adaptation by 2025 from the 2019 levels.
- In 2019, about $15 billion was made available for adaptation that was less than 20 per cent of the total climate finance flows.
- Created a two-year work programme to define a global goal on adaptation.
- The Paris Agreement has a global goal on mitigation — reduce greenhouse gas emissions deep enough to keep the temperature rise within 2 degree Celsius of pre-industrial times.
- A similar global goal on adaptation has been missing, primarily because of the difficulty in defining such a target.
- Unlike mitigation efforts that bring global benefits, the benefits from adaptation are local or regional.
- There are no uniform global criteria against which adaptation targets can be set and measured.
Mitigation: The Glasgow Agreement has:
- Asked countries to strengthen their 2030 climate action plans, or NDCs (nationally-determined contributions), by next year
- Established a work programme to urgently scale-up mitigation ambition and implementation
- Decided to convene an annual meeting of ministers to raise ambition of 2030 climate actions
- Called for an annual synthesis report on what countries were doing
- Requested the UN Secretary General to convene a meeting of world leaders in 2023 to scale-up ambition of climate action
- Asked countries to make efforts to reduce usage of coal as a source of fuel, and abolish “inefficient” subsidies on fossil fuels
- Has called for a phase-down of coal, and phase-out of fossil fuels. This is the first time that coal has been explicitly mentioned in any COP decision.
Finance: Developed countries are under an obligation, due to their historical responsibility in emitting greenhouse gases, to provide finance and technology to the developing nations to help them deal with climate change.
- In 2009, developed countries had promised to mobilise at least $100 billion every year from 2020. This promise was reaffirmed during the Paris Agreement, which also asked the developed countries to scale up this amount from 2025.
- The 2020 deadline has long passed but the $100 billion promise has not been fulfilled.
- The developed nations have now said that they will arrange this amount by 2023.
- The pact has initiated discussions on setting the new target for climate finance, beyond $100 billion for the post-2025 period
Loss and Damage: The frequency of climate disasters has been rising rapidly, and many of these cause large scale devastation. The worst affected are the poor and small countries, and the island states.
- The loss and damage provision in the Paris Agreement seeks to address that.
- However, the final agreement, which has acknowledged the problem and dealt with the subject at substantial length, has only established a “dialogue” to discuss arrangements for funding of such activities.
Significance of Glasgow pact
- The achievements include a tacit consensus on a target of keeping global temperature rise down to 1.5 degrees Celsius with the Paris Agreement target of 2 degrees being no longer appropriate to the scale of the climate emergency.
- The Pact is the first clear recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels, though the focus was on giving up coal-based power altogether.
- Global Methane Pledge: The most important is an agreement among 100 countries to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. India is not a part of this group.
- Forest Declaration: Another group of 100 countries has agreed to begin to reverse deforestation by 2030.
- The group includes Brazil and Indonesia, which have large areas of forests that are being exploited by legal and illegal logging. There will be progress in conserving Amazon rainforests.
- However, Brazil has subsequently clarified that its commitment only applies to illegal logging.
- India did not join the group due to concerns over a clause on possible trade measures related to forest products.
- Issue of compensation for loss and damage for developing countries who have suffered as a result of climate change for which they have not been responsible.
- This is now part of the multilateral discourse and the US has agreed that it should be examined in working groups.
- US-China Joint Declaration on Climate Change: It implies a shift in China’s hardline position. It appears both countries are moving towards a less confrontational, more cooperative relationship overall. This will have geopolitical implications, including for India, which may find its room for manoeuvre shrinking.
- The Indian PM announced India’s five commitments — all by 2030. He called them the “gift of five elixirs” (panchamrit).
- These are:
- reducing Emissions Intensity (EI), or emissions per unit of GDP, by 45% in 2030 relative to 2005 levels;
- cutting absolute emissions by one billion tonnes, presumably from projected business-as-usual (BAU) 2030 levels;
- 500 GW (1 Gigawatt = 1,000 Megawatts) of non-fossil fuel installed power generation capacity by 2030;
- 50% electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030; and
- net-zero emissions by 2070.
- India launched another international climate initiative called Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS), aimed at providing technical, knowledge and financial assistance to small island nations with the help of developed countries.
- Such an initiative should be undertaken in India too, where coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and urban flooding due to extreme rainfall exacerbated by haphazard urbanisation are acquiring threatening dimensions.
- There is a much bigger methane emergency around the corner as the earth’s permafrost areas in Siberia, Greenland and the Arctic littoral begin to melt due to global warming.
- There are warnings that as the permafrost melts huge volumes of carbon and methane would be generated by the plant and animal material that has lain trapped under the ice.
- The original draft had contained a pledge to “phase out” coal. India introduced an amendment at the last moment to replace this phrase with “phase down” and this played negatively with both the advanced as well as a large constituency of developing countries.
- Inadequate financing: There is a commitment to double the current finance available for this to developing countries. Since this amount is currently only $15 billion, doubling will mean $ 30 billion. This remains grossly inadequate.
- Also in a post-pandemic global economic slowdown, it is unlikely these promises will be met. Ambitious targets must be matched by adequate financing.
- Deferred Updated NDCs: Enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are expected to be announced at a meeting next year and further deliberations are planned on the other pledges related to Adaptation and Finance.
- Meanwhile India raised the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of achieving 450 gigawatt non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatt, among other commitments including reducing carbon emissions.
- There are no compliance procedures, only “name and shame” to encourage delivery on targets.
As in the past, the can has been kicked down the road, except that the climate road is fast approaching a dead-end. What provides a glimmer of light is the incredible and passionate advocacy of urgent action by young people across the world. This is putting enormous pressure on governments and leaders and if sustained, may become irresistible.
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