By Huma Baqai
COP26 CLIMATE CONFERENCE: A POOR COMPROMISE
COP is the world’s major annual climate conference, where hundreds of world leaders meet to negotiate and agree on plans for tackling climate change. This year’s conference took place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021.
This was categorized as perhaps the most important meeting since COP21, where nearly 200 world leaders signed the Paris Climate Agreement.
COP26 took place in 2021, however it’s called COP26 because it’s the 26th meeting of its kind. COP26 was spread over two weeks and was kick-started by a two-day World Leaders Summit, instead of the usual technical negotiations, a clear indication of the rising importance attributed to climate issue.
The climate negotiations were also extended by a day. The agreement reached in the conference, although is not legally binding, but it sets the global agenda on climate change for the next decade.
The outcome document has disappointed many. According to the UN Secretary General it” reflects the interest, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.”
Largely, the post-summit sentiment is reflected in statements that say, “We must accelerate climate action” and “go into emergency mode”, which includes ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities and delivering the $100 billion-dollar, climate finance commitment. None of the goals stated were achieved at the conference.
In the final stocktaking plenary, many countries lamented that the package of agreed decisions was not enough, some even called it disappointing. The text represents the “least-worst” outcome, was the comment of the lead negotiator from New Zealand.
Greta Thunberg, the best-known and the youngest environmentalist campaigner’s frustration was evident from her blunt assessment, where she tweeted, “the #COP26 is over, here is a brief summary: blah, blah, blah.” The 18-year-old environmentalist has also called the climate summit a “failure” and a “PR exercise”.
But the real work continues outside these halls, and we will never give up ever. Here is where some hope lies, where even the more diplomats say, “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread”, and that “we are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe”.
China, India, and Australia’s romance with fossil fuel continues and despite being long on words, they were short on commitment.
Air quality monitoring stations in Beijing, New Delhi and now in Pakistan displayed readings far exceeding the threshold for the highest category hazardous level.
Lahore has emerged as one of the most populated cities of the world with US Air quality index (AQI) ratings of 246.
Data shows that the provincial capital is ranked as the third most polluted city in the world, the other two are Delhi in India and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. The infamous Glasgow Compromise of coal phasing down and not phasing out is a sad commentary on the slow progress, and the impasse.
Phasing out coal is technically impossible at the moment. None of the scenarios can project India having zero dependencies on coal by 2050 said Samrat Sengupta, Director for Climate Change and Energy at the Centre for Science and Environment think tank.
He also added that India needed enough carbon space in the atmosphere for its developmental needs to coexist with the global ambition of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. This is true for many developing countries.
In November 2021,the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the country would aim to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070, two decades after the US and at least 10 years later than China.
China had relatively subdued presence this year but did not hesitate to throw in its weight around the final agreement.
It was squarely on the side of developing countries, who are seeking financing to adapt to the damaging impact of the historical emissions produced by the US and Europe. Though China itself is not in need of it. China supported the weakened language on coal, and for good reason.
In 2020 China alone consumed more than 50% of the world’s coal and it built about one new coal plant a week. As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases China is a closely watched country in the climate circles. The Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not attend the meeting.
Not only that China had sent a smaller than usual delegation to the COP26 and was not very proactive during the first week of the summit. However, it did commit to the deforestation pledge to reverse deforestation by 2030.
The last time this deal was tabled in 2014, China did not take part. In October this year, China had also announced that it will cut funding for new coal plants overseas.
Despite all the concerns, some progress was undoubtedly made.
Some of the key COP26 achievements include the introduction of UNEP-led Cool Coalition that aims to reduce the climate impact of the cooling industry, launching of the International Methane Emissions Observatory to drive action on reducing methane emissions, the UNEP’s Gap Reports of 2021 outlined actions needed to adapt to the growing impact of climate change, and lastly the conference brought together about 50,000 online and in-person participants to share innovative ideas and solutions for tackling climate change.
Other key commitments were, boosting nature-based solutions, over 1000 universities pledging to net-zero emissions by 2050, and world leaders promised to end deforestation as well as protecting peat lands ecosystems.
COP26 has the massive wildfires in Siberia, unprecedented flooding in Germany and Belgium, to famine in Madagascar and the record-shattering heat in the American West as its backdrop.
According to IEA, China is ahead of all others in clean energy investment followed by the US, Germany, Japan and the UK.
Renewable energy investments need to triple over the next decade in order to come to the committed goal of zero emissions by 2050 with 70% of those funds to be spent in the developing world.
All is not lost.
The two global superpowers largely seen in confrontation with each other did announce a bilateral Glasgow Declaration. The announcement which promised to enhance ambition was unexpected.
Reactions are tepidly positive. An analysis by Carbon Brief estimates that the new announcements made in the run-up to and during COP26 might shave 0.1 Celsius of warming from the global trajectory expected from commitments through 2030. Whether COP26 was a success, only time can tell.
The challenge is a transition from promise on paper, to reality on the ground. Interestingly, even promises on the paper are not very forthcoming.
—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.