New Glasgow Climate Pact offers some 'breakthroughs' but also 'deep disappointment'

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Watch: COP26 president 'disappointed', but agreement 'historic nevertheless'

The gavel finally came down on the extended COP26 climate summit in Glasgow late Saturday night: A deal was reached – dubbed the Glasgow Climate Pact – which was welcomed by some but criticised by many others for not going far enough.

The much-anticipated two-week COP26 climate conference in Scotland delivered a major victory on Saturday night when it resolved international rules around carbon markets with the belated agreement of the Glasgow Climate Pact, more than 24 hours after the initial COP26 deadline had passed. But it left vulnerable countries in limbo about long-promised financial support from richer nations.

The 10-page deal was struck after both India and China asked for Article 36 of the pact to remove a reference to “phasing out” fossil fuel subsidies and coal. A watered-down version calling instead for “phasing down” coal usage was passed on Saturday night.  

India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, said the revision reflected the “national circumstances of emerging economies”. 

“We made our effort to make a consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice,” he said, alluding to the fact that rich nations historically have emitted the largest share of greenhouse gases. 

“It is still quite historic that fossil fuels are being mentioned in this final version of the COP26 resolution as no COP text has ever mentioned fossil fuels, even though they are responsible for 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Valérie Dekimpe, FRANCE 24 environment editor. 

The essentials of the Glasgow Climate Pact

The pact is not legally binding but it sets the global agenda on climate change for the next decade.

It asks countries to replace their 2030 national climate action targets with more ambitious emission reductions by the end of next year. It also asks them to comply with standards set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, which asked countries to make changes to keep global warming "well below" 2°C and aim for 1.5°C by the end of 2022 to prevent climate catastrophe. 

Before COP26, the world was on track for a 2.7°C rise in temperatures by the end of the century.  

“This is a fragile win. We can now say that we have kept 1.5°C degrees alive. But its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action,” said Alok Sharma, president of COP26. 

More than 40 countries have pledged to phase out coal, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Signatories to the deal include heavy coal users Poland, Ukraine and Vietnam. 

Developed countries said they would phase out coal in the 2030s, with developing countries committing to a later timeline of 2040s. Australia, notably, did not commit to phasing out the use of coal. 

At least 20 countries including Italy, Canada, the US and Denmark along with public financial institutions promised to stop financing overseas fossil fuel industries by the end of 2022, diverting the cash into clean energy instead. 

“European wealth was built on coal, and if we don’t get rid of coal, European death will also be built on coal. If we look at the conclusions drawn today, we are going to work bloody hard on getting rid of coal, and I believe this conclusion will help us work in that direction," said the EU's climate chief Frans Timmermans, speaking at COP26.

“The European community will be strongly committed to that, not just within the European Union but also with our partners worldwide.”

Watch: 5 takeaways from the Glasgow climate change conference

The COP26 deal also saw progress on setting up carbon markets and introducing more transparency on how countries report on their climate goals. 

Countries accounting for 90 percent of the world’s GDP pledged to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. Key among them was India’s promise to reach net-zero emissions by 2070. New Delhi said it would start with a massive expansion of renewable energy in the next 10 years until it accounts for 50 percent of total usage, thereby reducing its emissions in 2030 by 1 billion tonnes (from a current total of around 2.5 billion).

Rapidly developing Nigeria also pledged net-zero emissions by 2060.         

Helping vulnerable nations

The Glasgow deal also agrees to fund the Santiago Network, which will connect vulnerable developing countries with those who can provide the technical assistance, knowledge and resources they will need to address climate risks and avert, minimise and address future losses and damage.

The pact also urged richer countries to "urgently and significantly scale up" their finance strategies to adapt to new situations caused by climate change and to at least double it from 2019 levels by 2025.     

The text underscores that developed countries must increase funding to nations already suffering the effects of climate change beyond the current $100 billion target. It includes measures for vulnerable countries to help them to pursue cleaner energy goals, to cope with the effects of climate change, and to address the dangers they face from climate-related storms, floods, droughts and rising seas.

Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, a US-based thinktank, said in a statement that COP26 had "finally put the critical issue of loss and damage squarely on the main stage". 

But "to meet the needs of vulnerable countries, it is essential that the dialogues established in Glasgow be more than talk and result in recommendations on the scale of funding necessary", he added.

The ‘Glasgow Breakthroughs’

Some 42 world leaders – including from the US, India, Australia, Turkey, the EU and China – whose countries collectively represent 70 percent of global GDP, have agreed on a UK-led plan to speed up affordable and clean technology worldwide by 2030. The first five goals set for 2030 have been called the "Glasgow breakthroughs" and deal with more than 50 percent of global emissions. 

They aim to dramatically accelerate innovation and the deployment of clean technologies in five key sectors of the economy: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.

The Glasgow Breakthroughs aim to make:

  • Clean power the most affordable and reliable option for all countries to meet their power needs efficiently by 2030. 

  • Zero-emission vehicles the new normal. They need to be accessible, affordable and sustainable in all regions by 2030. 

  • Near-zero emission steel the preferred choice in global markets, with efficient use and near-zero emission steel production established and growing in every region by 2030. 

  • Affordable renewable and low carbon hydrogen globally available by 2030. 

  • Climate-smart, sustainable agriculture the most attractive and widely adopted option for farmers everywhere by 2030. 

What does the pact mean for ordinary people?

Not very much in the short term. In the longer term, it keeps alive the possibility of limiting global warming and helping protect people from the worst effects of climate change by preventing the most damaging flooding and storms, coastal erosion, water shortages and heatwaves that rising temperatures will bring. 

In the words of the EU’s Timmermans, it's about "avoiding a future for our children and grandchildren that is unliveable”. 

Thousands took to the streets to put pressure on those taking part in the conference and indeed helped fuel the progress of the pact. There were huge protests in Glasgow, with both the Fridays for Future march and the Global Day of Action on Saturday significantly exceeding expected numbers. But in the end, those hoping for decisive change were disappointed.

“The COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever,” tweeted climate activist Greta Thunberg from Glasgow after the deal was done.

"This commitment on coal had been a bright spot in this package. It hurts deeply to see that bright spot dim. We accept this change with the greatest reluctance," said the envoy for the severely at-risk Marshall Islands, Tina Stege. 

Even the conference organisers acknowledged its shortcomings.

COP26 president Sharma became emotional as he announced the final deal had been done and apologised to delegates for the rushed process. “I apologise for the way this process has unfolded and I’m deeply sorry. I understand the deep disappointment," he said. 

“We witnessed something quite astonishing with COP26 President Alok Sharma, his voice breaking with emotion, apologising to vulnerable nations for how the process unfolded,” said Dekimpe. “They thought a deal had been agreed upon that was stronger on fossil fuels, but then all of a sudden we have India and China saying, ‘Hold on, we want to change the reference to fossil fuels’. It was quite an emotional and dramatic ending to COP26.” 

“It’s a mixed report card,” agreed climatologist Jean Jouzel, the former vice-chair of the Scientific Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), speaking with FRANCE 24. “There have been some important advances, such as the finalisation of the rules of the Paris Agreement with the famous Article 6, which deals with carbon emissions. And there has been some action on forests, metals and fossil fuels. But I think the deal has been tarnished by the last minute change of mind about coal.”

Fanny Petitbon, climate expert at the NGO CARE France, pulled few punches when she spoke with FRANCE 24 on Sunday. “What happened yesterday is a clear betrayal of the millions of people suffering from the climate crisis.” 

“Governments, NGOs, indigenous communities, we all gathered in the middle of a global pandemic expecting world leaders to take responsibility in tackling the climate crisis. But what we witnessed was rich countries bullying and blocking funding for the most vulnerable people in developing countries facing extreme climate catastrophes.”

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