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EXPLAINED: 'Down' But Not 'Out'. How Glasgow Pact Keeps Alive 1.5-Deg Goal To Fight Climate Change

COP26 President Alok Sharma stressed the need for "keeping 1.5 degrees within reach" through enhanced climate actions

COP26 President Alok Sharma stressed the need for "keeping 1.5 degrees within reach" through enhanced climate actions

It has inspired both hope and dismay among climate experts and activists, but the Glasgow Pact may have come as a crucial stopgap in fighting climate change

It may not be the landmark that was the 2015 Paris Agreement, but the noteworthy achievement of the Glasgow Pact is to “keep alive" the 1.5 degree Celsius (1.5C) goal that countries had aspired to six years back in the French capital. For the first time, fossil fuels, including coal, found a mention in climate commitments while accommodating the concerns of developing countries led by India even as the rich nations were urged to step up on their pledges to make sufficient money available for the world to fight climate change. COP26 President Alok Sharma said that the Pact allows countries to “say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive", but there is still a need to “close the vast gap which remains" between what is needed and that which is being done.

What Does The Glasgow Pact Achieve?

Far from being the conclusive and unequivocal document laying down a clear roadmap to stay the world on course for not exceeding 1.5 degrees of global warming by 2100, the Pact — hammered out after two weeks of intense negotiations by delegates from close to 200 countries — achieved the more modest goal of keeping “1.5C alive", though with its “pulse weak", as COP26 President Alok Sharma said, adding that the 1.5C goal will “only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action".

The UK COP26 presidency said that the Pact will “speed up the pace" of climate action and had all countries agreeing to next year review and strengthen their current emissions targets till 2030, the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

However, it noted that while current policies “would leave us on a path to a devastating temperature rise", the full implementation of the “fresh collective commitments could hold temperature rise to 1.8C", which overshoots the 1.5C target even as experts and activists have stressed on the need to fight for every fraction of degree to protect the climate.

“Even with the action committed both during and before COP26, communities around the world will continue to feel the impact of our changing planet," the UK presidency said.

What Was The Stand On Coal Agreed In The Glasgow Pact?

Emissions are the dirty word of climate change and the loaded term in climate negotiations. The need to drastically reduce emissions and hit a “net zero" target — when the entire amount of greenhouse gases produced is counterbalanced by an equal amount removed from the atmosphere, either through the planting of trees or by using advanced technologies — by 2050 means that countries need to take drastic steps to move away from fossil fuels.

But such a goal has been a bone of contention for developed and developing nations in climate negotiations with the poorer countries saying they would still need to rely on coal power and fossil fuel subsidies as they are faced with the task of providing a better life for their impoverished populations. The advanced nations have spoken about the need to move away from coal and fossil fuels, but developing countries have held out against such goals, so much so that the last major climate deal, the Paris Agreement of 2015, made no mention of coal.

In a small gain at COP26, the final text talks about a “phase down" of coal power after the initial text, which spoke of a “phase out" was amended upon the insistence of India, which has long championed the view held by poorer countries that they should be allowed to pursue their development goals while the advanced nations — responsible for the bulk of historical emissions that have created the climate crisis in the first place — should do their fair bit to mitigate global temperature rise.

Reports said Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav stressed that the amendment reflected the “national circumstances of emerging economies". “We are becoming the voice of the developing countries," he was quoted as telling Reuters, adding that while the Pact zeroed in on coal, it did not mention oil and natural gas. “We made our effort to make a consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice," he said.

But some environmentalists saw the inclusion of a commitment to phase down coal as a win for climate. Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said, “It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters."

What Happens To ‘Net Zero’?

It has been pointed out that pledges made by the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — which meet annually for the COP summits with the one just concluded at Glasgow being the 26th number — collectively would not be enough to limit warming to 1.5C. But the countries agreed at Glasgow to take up a fresh review of their individual commitments, or NDCs, next year at a meet in Egypt, which is to host the 27th COP summit.

Under the Paris Agreement, NDCs were to be subject to five-yarly reviews, but with a need to act urgently to stave off the impacts of climate change, the countries agreed to revisit their commitments on a yearly basis.

Updating their emission cut ambitions, experts say, will accelerate the move to achieving net zero emissions, the target for which has been set for 2050. The UK said that around 90 per cent of the world is now covered with net zero targets as against only 30 per cent till about two years back. Although it was initially seen as being reluctant to commit to a net zero target, India, too, said at Glasgow that it would try to hit such a status by 2070.

What Does The Glasgow Pact Do For Climate Financing?

The Paris Agreement had seen the rich nations commit to providing, by 2020, an amount of USD 100 billion annually to help them embrace clean technologies and adapt to the impacts of climate change, something that they have failed to completely deliver on so far.

The Glasgow Pact, while noting “with deep regret" that the USD 100 billion per year goal had “not yet been met", speaks of the need for “significantly increasing support for developing country parties, beyond USD 100 billion per year". It urges developed countries to “fully deliver on the USD 100 billion goal urgently and through to 2025".

While rich nations have been more favourable to funds for mitigation, which involves the backing of new technologies to check emissions, they have been reluctant to put up money for adaptation and supporting poor countries in recovering from adverse climate events, which are seen to be increasing in frequency as a result of climate change.

Reports said that the poor countries — which are already said to be facing an outsized impact of climate change — had hoped that COP26 would yield a dedicated fund supported by the rich countries for addressing climate-related “loss and damage", but the final text of the Pact presents little headway on the subject.

The Pact notes the “urgency of scaling up action and support… including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, for implementing approaches for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing country parties that are particularly vulnerable to these effects", but failed in getting rich countries on board for starting a dedicated fund.

Why Is Glasgow Meet Outcome Relevant For Paris Agreement?

While the Paris Agreement was signed six years back, the rulebook for its implementation had not been finalised in full thanks to outstanding issues on topics like trade in carbon credits, etc. The rules on the creation of carbon emission markets, covered under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, were finally agreed at Glasgow, where some loopholes in the wording were closed.

The UK COP26 presidency said the adoption of the Paris Rulebook “will allow for the full delivery of the landmark accord, after agreement on a transparency process which will hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets".

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first published:November 15, 2021, 11:10 IST