- Keeping alive the aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise has become the unofficial motto of the Glasgow climate summit, but negotiators are hard pressed to deliver as talks head into the second week.
- There have been plenty of announcements at the conference, including India’s surprise announcement on achieving net zero by 2070, and agreements on enhancing forest cover and limiting methane emissions, but developing world diplomats and activists say not enough has been achieved.
- The success of the summit, also known as COP26, will hinge on whether there are specific actions on climate finance and loss and damage that helps poorer nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Glasgow exploded in a riot of colourful posters, enthusiastic singing and sloganeering as tens of thousands of protestors marched peacefully on Friday and Saturday, urging politicians, business leaders and negotiators gathered at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow (Glasgow Conference of Parties or COP26) to do more to avoid catastrophic climate change. Whether they will be heeded will become clearer as the conference heads into its second and last week of negotiations.
There have been abundant announcements from world leaders in the first week of the summit, but the protestors maintain that not enough was being done to avoid an unrestrained rise in global warming. Most negotiators from the developing world agree.
The climate summit, also known as COP26, got off to a promising start as new national commitments made during the conference and in the run up to it could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by nine million tonnes each year till 2030, according to an analysis in the middle of the negotiations by Energy Transition Commission. The world needs to cut another 13 billion tonnes a year so that average global temperatures could be limited to 1.5 degrees compared with pre-industrial times, the coalition of rich country experts said.
The highlight of the new emission curbs was India’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2070, a surprise announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that grabbed headlines in the first week of the summit. The wealthy nations need to invest at least USD one trillion so that efforts can be intensified to tackle the climate crisis, Modi demanded, shining a spotlight on climate finance.
“India has demonstrated leadership at COP26 by committing to higher ambition despite our need for economic growth to remove poverty,” said a senior official of the environment ministry. “Countries with ample financial resources now need to step up.”
Agreements on forests and methane
New commitments to cut emissions were not the only positive outcomes of the climate conference so far. A large group of 133 nations on November 5 promised to work collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.
Although the aims forest agreement was aligned with India’s efforts in this regard, it opted out of the pact as it linked trade in forest produce with sustainable practices that the country felt was tantamount to setting up non-tariff barriers. India has always opposed trade barriers linked to environment in global forums.
The United Nations also touted the initiative to reduce the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas tens of times more harmful than carbon dioxide, by 30 percent by 2030 as a major achievement of the Glasgow COP. “Cutting methane emissions is the best way to slow climate change over the next 25 years,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in a statement.
Although more than 100 countries signed up to the global methane pledge spearheaded by the United States and the European Union, major emitters like China, Russia and India stayed out of it. Livestock farming is a key cause of methane emissions. India is the third-largest emitter, mainly because of its huge rural economy that hosts the world’s largest population of cattle.
The country has invested heavily in a national strategy to increase biogas production and reduce methane emission, according to the ministry of new and renewable energy. Committing to the methane pledge has the potential to endanger the livelihoods of millions of farmers, Indian negotiators said.
The other major agreement at COP26 to end the use of coal, signed by at least 23 countries, ran into trouble almost from the moment it was announced on November 4. Indonesia, one of the signatories, said its commitment to phase out thermal power plants would depend on the “right” financing mechanism. Another signatory Poland said it should be treated as a developing country and be allowed to phase out fossil fuel by 2040 instead of 2030.
In the run up to the summit, COP26 President Alok Sharma has set an aim to “consign coal to history.” The tepid response is bound to disappoint since major coal producers and users like the United States, China, Australia, and India stayed out of the anti-coal pact. Efforts to end the use of coal, one of the major emitters of carbon dioxide, will have to wait until after COP26 is long gone.
Struggle for climate finance at the Glasgow COP
Business leaders present in force at the Glasgow summit have been on a publicity overdrive, showcasing the many initiatives of private capital that would supposedly help in restraining global warming. Banks and asset managers representing as much as 40 percent of the world’s financial assets have pledged to decarbonize their investments.
Over USD 130 trillion of private capital is committed to transforming the economy for net-zero, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero said. These commitments, from over 450 firms across 45 countries, can deliver the estimated USD 100 trillion of finance needed for net zero over the next three decades, the alliance said in a progress report on November 3.
Despite the big number, there are concerns about the sincerity of the financial sector to tackle climate change. Since the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement, international lenders have channelled more than USD 4 trillion into oil, gas and coal, with about half a trillion of it allocated in 2021 alone, according to Bloomberg data.
As far as the success of Glasgow COP is concerned, the real roadblock is agreeing on a mechanism on carbon trading, which has been moving at a glacial pace. Negotiators are yet to decide on common standards on the mechanism that could unlock USD 1 trillion in financing to developing countries, according to the latest report by the International Emissions Trading Association, a lobby group.
It is too early to say whether talks on carbon emissions trading will be fruitful, according to a negotiator from a European country. “A breakthrough in a global carbon market deal will be a real achievement in COP26,” the climate diplomat said, requesting anonymity.
Experts from the developing world do not necessarily agree. “There is no official agenda in the Glasgow COP on loss and damage,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development based in Bangladesh. “People are already suffering from the effects of the climate crisis. This must be addressed urgently.”
Unless rich nations commit to providing adequate finance to the developing countries that are more vulnerable to climate change, the talks at the summit will not achieve anything much in real terms, said India’s environment official cited earlier.
The views of experts from developing countries find resonance in the outcry of many protestors demonstrating at the Scottish city of Glasgow for stronger climate action.
That sentiment was captured aptly by climate activist Greta Thunberg at the Youth4Climate conference held in Milan earlier in September, where she said all talk of climate action was “blah, blah, blah.”
“Words, words that sound great but so far has led to no action,” Thunberg said. “Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”
Thunberg and tens of thousands of young people in Glasgow and around the world are watching keenly whether leaders and negotiators will make good on their promises to avert and address the climate emergency. If they do not, the Glasgow COP will then be just another talk shop.
Banner image: Protesters demonstrating outside the COP26 venue in Glasgow. Photo by Soumya Sarkar/Mongabay.