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COP26 | Climate talks at Glasgow still miss a key element: Fossil fuels

At half time of COP 26, it is increasingly doubtful that the ‘last chance for climate’ summit will deliver on the UK COP presidency’s ambition 

November 10, 2021 / 04:04 PM IST
Climate change in 2021 reshaped life on planet Earth through extreme weather. (Image: AP)

Climate change in 2021 reshaped life on planet Earth through extreme weather. (Image: AP)

It’s half time at COP 26, and the zero draft of the Glasgow final decision text is out. It lists the elements that the negotiators must agree upon, and finalise to inform countries on how to tackle the climate crisis. The negotiators have only five days and “hope is fading fast,” says a negotiator from Bangladesh commenting on the overwhelmingly weak text that has no reference to fossil fuel phase out.

This conspicuous omission is despite the warning from International Energy Agency that if the world is to deliver the goal of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C there can be no new fossil fuel projects. Even after repeated admonishments by the UN Secretary General that the latest climate science must sound a “death knell for fossil fuels” not many countries are interested in ending fossil fuel exploration or production.

No one here is surprised, if COP 26 was a tug-of-war between the fossil fuel industry and developing countries, the former with 503 delegates (with affiliations to coal, oil and gas companies), a bigger group than any country’s national delegation by around two dozen people, is bound to win.

Meanwhile, after the grandiose and bombastic announcements by world leaders in the opening segment of COP 26, negotiations have slowed down with unresolved issues including longstanding bugbears such as common time frame for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), Article 6 that deals with market-based mechanisms, and non-market approaches to emissions reductions, climate finance, and transparency frameworks.

Six years after the Paris Agreement, countries are still unable to find consensus on what common timeframes should be adopted for the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), i.e. how long will it take to meet the commitments made, and how to schedule future updates. The technical negotiation session failed to find a common ground, and currently nine different options have emerged which have been forwarded for further discussion to the ministerial segment of the COP.

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Article 6 was always on shaky grounds, given the failure of previous attempts to monetise and account for offsets of emissions in one part of the world with reduction in others with carbon credits aka certified emission reductions (CERs), as countries openly started double accounting of carbon credits garnered from clean development projects. At half time, there is still no clarity on how the CERs will be adjusted with emissions reductions within and outside country-specific reductions from the NDCs.

Conspicuous by its absence is climate finance, for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, and may well be the deal breaker at COP 26. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked for $1 trillion for developing world while the African Group of Nations are demanding a $1.3tn per year delivery plan by 2030. However, the $100bn per year by 2020 promise is yet to reach developing countries. To add to it, despite a massive push by the civil society organisations (CSOs) here, discussions on how loss and damage due to Climate Change (L&D) should be compensated also remained unresolved.

Rich countries’ refusal to discuss L&D is “diplomatic bullying”, said Bolivia’s chief negotiator, Diego Pacheco Balanza. He said there has been a systematic attempt by developed countries to remove all discussion about compensation, and direct climate finance from the negotiations. There has also been no progress on adaptation finance, and the formulation of a global goal of adaptation that is supposed to mobilise financial flows for adaptation.

Finally, on transparency frameworks, essential for enhancing transparency in the implementation of the Paris Agreement especially for reporting on the NDCs finance and technology, is stuck with no progress due to a number of unresolved issues. Reportedly developing countries have indicated that no package on transparency can be reached unless there is progress on a programme of support and capacity building under Article 13 of the Paris Agreement.

On November 9 evening, the UNEP launched its annual Emissions Gap Report 2021, which shows that new national climate pledges combined with other proposed mitigation measures still puts the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century as many national climate plans have delayed action until after 2030.

At half time of COP 26, it is increasingly doubtful that the ‘last chance for climate’ summit will deliver on the UK COP presidency’s ambition, and we will leave Glasgow with a huge gap between where we are, and where we need to be to halve global emissions this decade to keep temperatures rise well within the required 1.5C.

Update: The COP26 presidency released second detailed  version overnight (on November 10) which includes a first ever reference to Fossil fuels wherein it “Calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels"

(Shailendra Yashwant is currently in Glasgow covering the COP26.) 

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba. Views are personal.
first published: Nov 10, 2021 03:53 pm
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