Friday January 21, 2022

COP26: glass half-full or half-empty?

November 23, 2021

The 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) was held in Glasgow, UK with great enthusiasm bringing together nearly 200 countries and 50,000 participants from October 31 to November 12, 2021.

The UK presidency at COP26 was expected to articulate the most important goals for this crucial decade, under the four main themes of mitigation, adaptation, climate finance, and collaboration. Goal 1 was to reach global net-zero emissions by 2050 and keep the 1.5 C target within limit by the end of the century. Goal 2 stressed upon adapting to protect communities and natural ecosystems, followed by Goal 3 to mobilise climate financing. Goal 4 emphasised the critical need for global collaboration since working together is the most important approach to combat the climate crisis.

Before the beginning of COP26, around 154 parties had submitted their Updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These NDCs represented almost 80 percent of the global emissions covering almost 90 percent of the world’s net-zero targets. The updated NDCs of Pakistan proved exceptional in depicting the country’s high priority mitigation initiatives, such as becoming 60 percent zero-carbon in energy generation, and 30 percent electric in transportation. The ongoing Ten Billion Tree Tsunami is said to have sequestered 148.76 MtCO2e by 2030.

The NDC document reports that the government initiatives in Pakistan have already led to an 8.7 percent decrease in emissions during 2015-2018, and that the government plans to reduce overall emission to 50 percent by 2030. Further Pakistan’s adaptation plans include increasing the number of protected areas from 12 percent to 15 percent by 2023, as well as a 20-year programme to reduce flood risk in the Indus-Basin and improve water recharge. The updated NDC document vindicates the determination and resolve of the government of Pakistan in tackling the crisis despite the fact that the country is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The special adviser to the PM on climate change not only actively participated in COP26 but also vehemently presented the case of Pakistan before the world.

More than 100 countries have committed to the 2050 goal of net-zero, though major emitters such as China and Saudi Arabia have committed to net-zero emissions by 2060, while India claims it will reach net zero by 2070. Pakistan has not declared a net-zero year since the energy transition as per the NDCs alone would require $101 billion by 2030 and an additional $65 billion by 2040 to complete the in-progress renewable energy projects, phasing out coal and replacing it with hydropower.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, current global policies and actions will result in 2.6 C to 2.7 C warming by 2100. If countries meet both their conditional and unconditional NDCs established for 2030, the warming by 2100 will be 2.4 C. Even if countries meet their optimistic ‘net-zero’ targets by 2100, we will still have a warming of 1.8 C. Meeting the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 1.5 C is still a hard-to-realise idea.

Negotiators ended the intense two-week-long talks at COP26 making several goals in areas like energy, transport, agriculture, finance, children's rights, and gender equality, with consensus on urgently accelerating climate action.

Some remarkable achievements have emerged out of the negotiations at COP26. The Paris Rulebook has been finalised after six years of strenuous discussions. The most eminent agreement from COP26 is the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed upon by nearly 200 countries to keep the 1.5 C hope alive and report their progress towards more climate ambition next year. However, it is the only deliverable if global commitments are put into rapid action.

Among other encouraging announcements, the most noteworthy was the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use – a pledge by 120 countries to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. These 120 countries represent about 90 percent of the world’s forests.

The Global Methane Pledge was launched by the US and EU, seeking to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. An impressive number of more than 100 countries including Pakistan agreed to cut emissions of this greenhouse gas.

Forty countries including major coal users such as Poland, Vietnam, and Chile pledged to shift away from coal which is one of the biggest generators of CO2 emissions which can also be marked as the major breakthrough in COP26. In another agreement, to halt unabated overseas coal investments, the US and China have joined 19 other signatories including the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. However, China and India propelled last-minute changes to the draft concerning the reduction of coal use. India suggested replacing ‘phasing-down’ with ‘phasing-out’ of coal, which was ultimately agreed upon by all Parties.

What came as a great surprise to the world was a joint pledge between two of the leading global CO2 emitters, the US and China, to boost climate cooperation through 2030 – keeping aside their political differences. In the joint declaration, both countries agreed to accelerate efforts on a range of issues like decarbonisation, methane emissions reductions, and transition to clean energy.

COP26 was especially focused on the financial targets required to boost adaptation capacities in developing countries. The developed world committed $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries. Developed countries were further urged to double their support to developing countries through the Climate Adaptation Fund and agree upon a financial support package by 2024. The UK and Germany have pledged more than GBP55 million and $150 million respectively to help Pakistan tackle climate change.

The private sector showed profoundly strong engagement with nearly 500 global financial service firms agreeing to align $130 trillion – almost 40 percent of the world’s financial assets – with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 C.

The Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans was signed by more than 100 stockholders to promote green and sustainable transport. This agreement will ensure that sales of internal combustion engines end in leading markets by 2035, and worldwide by 2040. At least 13 countries also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered heavy-duty vehicles by 2040.

Other smaller but equally inspiring initiatives include the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) launched by 11 countries. Twenty-three countries, including Pakistan, have made national climate education pledges, such as net-zero schools and to include climate education in national curriculums.

Despite the impressive commitments and agreements at COP26, it has failed to achieve a strong declaration on cutting out coal and inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels. It also remained unsuccessful in bringing developed countries to a definite agreement upon loss and damage funds.

The top negotiator from New Zealand concluded: “The text represents the ‘least-worst outcome’” and in a bittersweet speech the top negotiator from the Maldives said that the deal has brought no hope to their hearts since “it will be too late for the Maldives.” The UN chief emphasised the urgency of implementation of the agreements made at the conference concluding that it is time to go “into emergency mode.”

The human race is going through its biggest crisis calling for urgent, unprecedented and transformative actions or it will be too late as the poet, Yrsa Daley-Ward has rightly said “Anything less than your best is too much to pay. Anything later than now, too little, too late. Nothing will change without you.”

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