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How COP26 broke trust and downed global south

India had suggested that it will address all fossil fuels in an equitable manner, but that would place most of the burden squarely on the US and rich countries.

November 15, 2021 / 01:12 PM IST
Shilo Shiv Suleman of India, an artist with the Fearless Collective, painted a mural depicting indigenous leaders of unrecognised lands as protests continued during COP26 in Glasgow.

Shilo Shiv Suleman of India, an artist with the Fearless Collective, painted a mural depicting indigenous leaders of unrecognised lands as protests continued during COP26 in Glasgow.

Two weeks ago, a host of delegates from the global south arrived at Glasgow, UK, with the hope to seal a lasting solution to the climate crisis. But, once again, they returned disappointed, angry and helpless.

The 26th Conference of Parties of UNFCCC, commonly referred to as COP26, turned out to be an “epic fail” and a “greenwash drama” hijacked by “fossil fuel interests” and controlled by “pale, male and stale” people, and did nothing to reflect “the emergency, the urgency and the impacts of global temperatures going beyond 1.5-degree Celsius.”

Much of the anger was directed towards the COP presidency of the UK that overplayed the expectations from this summit, already delayed by a year because of the COVID pandemic. All those phrases of “last hope for climate” and “the most inclusive COP” and the assurance of “finishing well within time on Friday, 12 November, 2021” seemed to be mere statements made for writing press releases and making public posturing.

As it turned out, COP26 was the most “unequal COP” where civil society observers were kept out of negotiation halls even as many from the global south were unable to attend due to “vaccine inequity”. Until Saturday afternoon, 24 hours past COP26 president Alok Sharma’s self-proclaimed deadline, the negotiators were still haggling over whether to “phase out fossil fuels” or “phase down coal” and once again hope was mummified for the next COP to be held in Egypt.

“We are in fact closer than we have ever been before to avoiding climate chaos, this is the beginning of something, we always knew Glasgow was not the finish line, we have raised ambition here,” said John Kerry, the US climate envoy and a habitual defender of all bad decisions at COPs.

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“Tell that to people of Chennai in India who, as we speak, are already facing the impacts of climate chaos due to unprecedented rains and flooding or to the people’s small atoll island nations whose countries are sinking faster than even what IPCC predicted. The truth is that the climate is not going to wait for political decisions, climate crisis is here and now and only going to get worse,” said Ashwini Prabha from Fiji.

There were many optimists who are celebrating the minuscule progress made at the COP26 like the finalisation of Paris Rulebook, which means that by 2024 all countries will have to report detailed data on emissions forming the baseline from which future reductions can be assessed.

The negotiators also pointed out to sector-specific agreements on forests, coal, cars, methane and a $24-billion agreement to stop overseas fossil fuel finance for its potential to significantly reduce emissions. All of which is really a clear case of “too little, too late”.

The fact is that the emission reduction pledges made at Glasgow collectively fall short of delivering on the Paris Agreement goals, putting the world on track for a temperature increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2050 that will lead to significant, even irreversible, climate impacts.

On climate finance, the only fruitful outcome was that the rich countries need to “at least double” their funds for adaptation, which now stands at 25 percent of all financial flows. This is a major improvement as majority of climate finances are marked for mitigation.

The “unbalanced outcome” scuttled a  proposed Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility to channel additional funds from rich nations to compensate for the costs their emissions have caused in the global south. It was blocked by countries like the US, Australia and the European Union.

On the controversial Article 6 on carbon markets which allows rich countries to buy offsets (by planting trees and such) to avoid the cost of reducing emissions themselves, the Glasgow Pact on new carbon market rules aims to create a structured trading regime between countries, but no one is confident that with all the loopholes still present, it will stop companies “gaming the system”.

On fossil fuels, much will be said and written about India’s last-minute intervention to change “phase out” the use of coal to “phase down” but the text targets only “unabated coal power and inefficient fuel subsidies” that leaves out oil and gas entirely and opens room for as-yet-unknown “carbon capture and storage” technologies.

“The problem is not India; the problem is the US and rich countries refusing to couch fossil fuel phase out in the context of global equity. India had suggested that it will address all fossil fuels in an equitable manner, but an equitable fossil fuel phase-out would place most of the burden squarely on the US and rich countries, which is unacceptable to the Biden administration,” Brandon Wu of Action Aid USA summarised. “When India calls out this inequity, they are portrayed as obstructionists. This is bad victim-blaming that serves US interests.”
Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba. Views are personal.
first published: Nov 15, 2021 12:12 pm
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