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COP26: Week 2 - key highlights

COP26: Week 2 - key highlights

Overview

Briefing updated on 16 November 2021
 
As COP26 drew to a close after 2 weeks, and was then extended through the night and into the weekend, the world held its breath to see whether "Glasgow" would be added to "Paris" and "Kyoto" in future conversations about turning points in the fight against climate change.

The Glasgow Climate Pact did finally emerge, but the images of a tearful COP26 President, Alok Sharma, were in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's description of a "game changing agreement". Even Johnson spoke of his reaction to the summit being "tinged with disappointment"; many commentators have not been so kind.

COP26 President Alok Sharma indicated during the final week of the COP that negotiations were tough as ambition was high. Mitigation and finance were identified as two particularly contentious areas, but the very carefully negotiated text differs from earlier drafts in many respects. Despite the draft text not having been fully supported in all aspects by all countries, the final Pact does build on the commitments made under the Paris Agreement and lays the foundations for stronger international action on climate change. This article summarises the week's main developments before providing a more thorough analysis of the COP agreement.

Adaptation and Resilience

Tuvalu's Minister for Justice, Communications & Foreign Affairs, Simon Kofe addressed COP26 on Monday morning from the knee-deep waters of his home nation.

In his speech, Kofe told the conference that the people of Tuvalu are already living with the reality of climate change. Two questions arise out of this. First, how can nations like Tuvalu adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and second, how can developed nations provide finance for this adaptation.  

In order to bolster adaptation to climate risks, 88 countries are now covered by Adaptation Communications or National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), with 38 published in the last year.

In relation to finance initiatives, global leaders have committed to a shift towards locally led adaptation through over 70 endorsements to the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation and over $450 million (£336 million) mobilised for initiatives and programmes enhancing locally led approaches. Locally led approaches are designed to give marginalised communities a voice by involving them in the development strategy. 

A further $232 million (£173 million) has been committed to the Adaptation Fund, which was created in 2001 under the Kyoto Protocol with the mandate to finance concrete adaptation projects in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. The UK also announced £290 million in new funding including £274 million in support of the countries in the Asia Pacific to deal with the impact of global warming.

Gender, Women, and the Climate

On Tuesday, leaders and non-state actors set out gender and climate commitments as COP26 talks coincided with international Gender Day.

Some of the main commitments included:

  • The UK set out how £165 million in funding will address the dual challenges of gender inequality and climate change.

  • Canada will ensure that 80% of its $5.3 billion climate investments over the next five years target gender equality outcomes.

  • Bolivia made dual commitments, to promote the leadership of women and girls, especially indigenous, Afro-Bolivian communities through their involvement in sustainable development projects as well as to reflect gender data in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

  • Germany announced a new Gender Strategy and Nigeria expanded its National Gender and Climate action plan.

These announcements are designed to build momentum internationally and to drive the implementation of the Gender Action Plan agreed at COP25.

The Road to Net Zero Transport

On Wednesday, experts and leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss transport. 'Transport Day' built on the commitments and strategies introduced by the UK in its Net Zero Strategy (published in October 2021), with a focus on how best to accelerate the transition to net zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs).

The headline pledge, made by 30 countries, is to work together to make ZEVs the new normal by making them accessible, affordable, and sustainable in all regions by 2030 or sooner. Several nations also agreed to accelerate the transition to ZEVs in their markets (including India, Rwanda and Kenya), and a new World Bank trust fund was introduced to mobilise upwards of $200 million over the next 10 years to decarbonise road transport in emerging markets and developing economies.

The Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council (ZEVTC), which was formed in November 2020, announced its 2022 action plan. The plan sets out certain key priorities, which include charging infrastructure, fuel efficiency standards and regulations and ensuring the ZEV transition is truly global.

On 'Transport Day', leaders also stressed the need to decarbonise the harder to abate forms of transport, such as shipping and aviation. Nineteen governments, including the UK, Australia and the US stated their intent to support the establishment of ‘green shipping corridors’ – zero-emission shipping routes between two ports – which will require the implementation of new zero-emission vessels technologies.

The International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition was also set up, which, among other things, commits its 18 members, who include the UK, the US, France and Japan, to advance ambitious actions to reduce aviation CO2 emissions at a rate consistent with efforts to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C.

COP26: The Glasgow Climate Pact

Adaptation and adaptation finance

The text reiterates the global goal on adaptation, which is to "enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change", which is increasingly important in view of the IPCC report's recent finding that the world has already warmed to 1.1 degree Celsius. In addition to adaptation, the text envisages support for countries suffering loss and damage (permanent impacts of climate change resulting from a range of natural phenomena from sea level rises to floods), the financial cost of which is expected to roughly triple between 2030 and 2050 for developing countries. The final text did not however commit to any specific funding of activities to avert and minimise the impact of loss and damage, though countries do agree to continue discussions on such funding.

Adaptation finance for vulnerable nations is a difficult subject on which to reach consensus, and leaders of vulnerable nations were vociferous about the need for developed nations to step up throughout COP. For these countries, mitigation alone will not address the key risks that they face from climate change. Countries committed to "at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing countries from 2019 levels by 2025". The draft provisions which would have committed at least half of future finance to adaptation rather than providing the majority for mitigation actions were not agreed in the final text.

Mitigation, temperature increases and fossil fuels

The Pact recognises the imperative to keep global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees and uses the language of the IPCC report to commit the parties to "rapid, deep and sustained reductions". Unlike previous texts, the agreement defines the trajectory for the 1.5 degree goal, namely an interim goal of 45% of 2010 levels by 2030 and net zero by around 2050. Significant focus is placed on the nearer-term target, as not achieving the 2030 target would likely put the 2050 target out of reach. Countries are required to refine their Nationally Determined Contributions during 2022 to ensure that they are aligned with the 2030 goal, rather than waiting for the usual 5 year cycle for updates.

The text goes on to say that the signatories will "establish a work programme to urgently scale-up mitigation ambition and implementation in this critical decade"; again, this and related sections on mitigation represent a change in tone from previous agreements which have more clearly left individual countries to decide how to pursue and implement the agreements' overall goals.

Perhaps the most contentious clause in the entire draft agreement sought commitments from countries to "accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels"; the final text, after pressure from India and China, commits not to a phase out but to "accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies". Alok Sharma called on India and China to "explain themselves… to the most climate vulnerable countries in the world". Though the final text fell short of the ambitious wording in the drafts, the Glasgow Climate Pact is the first international climate agreement to even mention fossil fuels.

Finance

In addition to the provisions on adaptation finance noted above, the text calls for the mobilisation of all sources of finance to not only meet the previous commitment of USD 100 billion per year, but to go beyond it. The draft texts contained a placeholder for provisions relating to a new collective quantified goal on climate finance – draft options included a commitment to a predefined amount (e.g. USD 1.3 trillion per year by 2030), but the final agreement contains a commitment to negotiate a new collective quantified goal after the conclusion of the main agreement. Though on one hand this approach has the benefit of buying time to bring countries on board who may currently resist a higher commitment, if countries are not able to commit when the eyes of the world are on them, they may never do so.

Conclusions

For all its potential shortcomings, there is an urgency in the actions described and the language used in the Glasgow Climate Pact that is a noticeable departure from the messaging in the Paris Agreement. Alok Sharma has repeatedly apologised for the outcome, but an agreement of this nature emerging from the summit was by no means a foregone conclusion. For instance it was said on Wednesday last week that one (unnamed) country asked to delete the entire section on mitigation.  Similarly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the closing days that the 1.5 degree target was "on life support", but the final text kept the target alive. Guterres feared that the agreement would reflect a "lowest common denominator" between the countries' varied positions, and perhaps it does, but ultimately even that is an improvement on the Paris Agreement. The EU was criticised during the conference for not having been more proactive in the negotiations, but at its conclusion, lead negotiator Frans Timmermans attempted to close with a balanced but positive message:

It is my firm belief that the text that has been agreed reflects a balance of the interests of all Parties, and allows us to act with the urgency that is essential for our survival. It is a text that can bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren. It is a text, which keeps alive the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And it is a text which acknowledges the needs of developing countries for climate finance, and sets out a process to deliver on those needs.

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