Our Burning Planet

COP26

The Glasgow Climate Pact: A global compromise that barely keeps the goal of 1.5°C alive

From left: South African Minister of Forestry,Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele) | US President Joe Biden. (Photo: Ian Forsyth / Getty Images) | Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: Phil Noble / Pool / Getty Images) | UN Secretary-General António Guterres. (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

The latest climate agreement is not a step-change or species-level civilisational transformation, but rather a pact that promises to do better next year. Though the climate crisis has not definitively been averted, some significant moves were made.

After all the intrigue that two weeks of diplomatic back and forth could muster, the result is what has come to be referred to as the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The halls of the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, filled only a fortnight ago with diplomats, heads of state, business people and celebrities, are now virtually empty. The world now has the Glasgow Climate Pact, described as a “global compromise that reflects a delicate balance between the interests and aspirations of nearly 200 parties”.

The pact is not a step-change or species-level civilisational transformation, but rather a pact that promises to do better next year. Though the climate crisis has not definitively been averted, there were some significant moves made, as reflected in the final text.

A press release by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) explains that “the wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions and statements that constitute the outcome of COP26 is the fruit of intense negotiations over the past two weeks, strenuous formal and informal work over many months, and constant engagement both in-person and virtually for nearly two years”.

It reads: “The package adopted today is a global compromise that reflects a delicate balance between the interests and aspirations of nearly 200 parties to the core instruments of the international regime that governs global efforts against climate change.”

The statement continues that “finance was extensively discussed throughout the session and there was consensus on the need to continue increasing support to developing countries. The call to at least double finance for adaptation was welcomed by the parties.

“The duty to fulfil the pledge of providing 100 billion dollars annually from developed to developing countries was also reaffirmed. And a process to define the new global goal on finance was launched.”

On finance, the text “stresses the urgency of enhancing ambition and action in relation to mitigation adaptation and finance in this critical decade to address gaps between current efforts and pathways in pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention and its long-term global goal”, and “notes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country parties”.

Daily Maverick has previously reported that only three of the world’s developed countries are meeting their climate finance obligations, according to a study by the independent think tank, Overseas Development Institute.

South Africa, however, was the beneficiary of what has been described as a “watershed” climate finance deal. Daily Maverick reported that the European Union, Germany, France, the UK and the US have partnered to support South Africa’s climate action goals by helping finance the move from its heavy reliance on coal to cleaner and renewable energy sources.

The countries pledged R131-billion to SA over the next three to five years in the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments, including mobilising private sector funding.

Just prior to the adoption of the outcome text, what was going to be a momentous moment in global climate negotiations was watered down somewhat, with the Indian delegation announcing a last-minute change, replacing the words “phasing out coal” with “phasing down coal”. COP26 president, Britain’s Alok Sharma, apologised and conceded that the revision was “vital to protect the package” of decisions.

The final text reads that the Glasgow Climate Pact “calls upon parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition”.

Notably in agreement with the revision was Iran, Nigeria and the most coal-reliant country in the G20 — South Africa.

Despite this, the pact was adopted by 197 countries. Sharma would go on to tell delegates that although they could say “with credibility” that they have kept 1.5 degrees within reach, “its pulse is weak.  And it will only survive if we keep our promises.”

Progress on other fronts, however, was lukewarm. More than 100 countries agreed to cut their methane emissions. Methane also made its first appearance in the pact. Though nonbinding, it is a step in the right direction to throttling the impacts of a greenhouse gas many orders of magnitude worse than carbon dioxide.

One of the side deals of the conference was a pact on deforestation. The outlook, however, is bleak as the pact is essentially a rehash of a similar pact made in 2014 to end deforestation, that yielded little in the way of results.

Also new was the adoption of rules that allow for greater scrutiny of emissions reporting. On the geopolitical front, the world’s largest two emitters — China and the United States — agreed to work together to tackle climate change and reduce emissions this decade despite the two countries being involved in a broader diplomatic and geostrategic standoff.

In his closing speech, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of the Glasgow Climate Pact that “the approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately, the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions”.

He said “we must accelerate action to keep the 1.5 degree goal alive. Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.

“I reaffirm my conviction that we must end fossil fuel subsidies. Phase out coal. Put a price on carbon. Build resilience of vulnerable communities against the here-and-now impacts of climate change. And make good on the $100-billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress.”

Detailing these building blocks, the UN chief noted the commitments to end deforestation, drastically reduce methane emissions and mobilise private finance around net zero.

Of the texts, he said “… for the first time, they encourage international financial institutions to consider climate vulnerabilities in concessional financial and other forms of support, including Special Drawing Rights. And finally, close the Paris rule book with agreement on carbon markets and transparency.”

Guterres said coalitions of nations are essential to tackling the climate crisis.

“To help lower emissions in many other emerging economies, we need to build coalitions of support, including developed countries, financial institutions, those with the technical know-how. This is crucial to help each of those emerging countries speed the transition from coal and accelerate the greening of their economies.

“The partnership with South Africa announced a few days ago is a model for doing just that,” he said.

Sunny Morgan, a social entrepreneur and environmental activist, told Daily Maverick that “COP26 had two clear winners… the fossil fuel industry and the global petrol-state countries.

“The final deal agreed favoured the fossil fuel companies who have been given a licence to continue with business as usual. The final text reveals the power that that industry wields. They have successfully lobbied governments and politicians so that the text was watered down so much that, for all intents and purposes, it is useless.”

Morgan argued that “the most affected peoples and areas have been left to their devices and any hope of 1.5 degrees have gone the way of the dodo.

“Island nations and indigenous peoples’ pleas have been ignored and will now lead to untold hardships for tens of millions of people. If the final deal was an equitable deal, why would the president of COP26 have to apologise for how the negotiations turned out? The SG of the UN has acknowledged that the COP did not achieve its objectives.

“Africa,” Morgan said, is “one of the areas least responsible for the crisis that will suffer some of the most extreme impacts, yet our own government is dead set on perpetuating the status quo when alternatives exist.

“The Karpowership deal and Gwede Mantashe’s comments about rejecting the recently announced energy transition fund are just two cases in point. The impacts of the transition are real and there are solutions to lessen its impact, but as with the COP, our government and politicians are tied at the hip to the fossil fuel industry and its dirty and polluting value chain.

“What is now needed is the largest mobilisation ever assembled, with tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of activists who are prepared to do the work that politicians are clearly not able to do.

“The future is already looking bleak and if we are to have any hope of surviving the new normal, we must get on with the transition, isolating and breaking the chokehold of the fossil fuel companies.

“We have to accept that pain and hardship is coming our way, so we must teach our people how to be resilient with regard to work, food, water, energy and health… these are a few of the main areas that will be impacted.

“To say nothing of sea levels rising, ocean acidification and mass migrations that will lead to climate refugees. The Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the COP negotiations have revealed that health apartheid and climate apartheid exists, and our response needs to be the same as it was in fighting the evil of political apartheid.”

Thandile Chinyavanhu, an environmental and social activist who works as a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa, told Daily Maverick that “while the Glasgow Climate Pact has made significant inroads with the inclusion of the text suggesting a ‘fossil fuel phase-down plan’, the efforts by decision-makers to weaken this text is concerning and represents an intention to prolong the lifespan of the fossil fuel industry.

“Our leaders need to recognise the urgency of this situation… we no longer have the luxury of gradualism when it comes to climate action.”

Asked what she felt was missing and what needed to be done, Chinyavanhu said “the signatories have been implored to present stronger commitments at the upcoming COP27 to be held in Egypt. To be considered robust, the Glasgow Climate Pact requires text that features a decisive “phase-out” of fossil fuels — without this, the 1.5°C goal remains tenuous”.

She had a message for South Africans, saying that “not only is a just transition necessary to safeguard our labourers and communities in regional economies built around extractive industries, but it is necessary to avoid massive socio-economic disruptions to the lives of South Africans.

“Without the necessary intervention, extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires and floods will become the norm, bringing devastation to our families, our livelihoods and economic prospects. Our odds improve significantly under a 1.5°C scenario.” OBP/DM

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