So this #COP26 thing – what happened? Agreement wasn’t reached until late Saturday evening – and only after a last-minute weakening of the text by India which left COP President Alok Sharma in tears. Here’s a Thread with the highlights (and a few lowlights). I hope helpful.
So how good is this deal? No-one looking at the still-rising curve of global emissions and terrible climate impacts can be happy. All depends on those new emissions pledges next year, and getting larger sums flowing to the global South. But there is still hope. Just.
And all those announcements in the first week – on deforestation, methane, transport, energy and finance – will also contribute to accelerated action. They need to be accountably implemented, but estimates suggest they could close the emissions gap to a 1.5C path by 9%.
More widely, COP26 completed the ‘Paris rulebook’ of detailed rules to implement the Paris Agreement, such as on the transparency of national actions. There are welcome calls to reform the World Bank and use the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights for climate-compatible development.
The text recognises the need for a ‘just transition’ for workers and areas affected – also a first. But there is no mention of oil and gas at all, and only a call to phase out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. Countries always claim theirs are efficient. Strange that.
On fossil fuels, India’s late objection changed the call to ‘phase out’ the use of coal (unless it has carbon capture and storage), to ‘phase down’. Without a date, neither guarantees action. But it is the first time a COP text mentions fossil fuels, which is significant.
But there is only partial cancellation of credits left over from the old Kyoto Protocol, and only a partial cap on new ones. A 5% levy to go to adaptation will cover only some trades. With two different trading systems created it is feared the weaker one will predominate.
On ‘carbon markets’, which allow rich countries to buy ‘offsets’ (such as tree planting) to avoid the cost of reducing emissions themselves, the agreement closes some loopholes. There are slightly higher environmental integrity rules and some protection for indigenous peoples.
Finance for loss and damage is a huge principle for the global South, key to climate justice. Rich countries have always resisted it; they fear it will end in international courts making them liable for $trillions. But the developing countries vowed to continue pursuing this.
But on total finance, developed countries have resisted the demand that they make up their failure to hit $100bn by 2020 by providing more than that in 2024 and 2025. The text sticks at $100bn a year. Beyond 2025 there will be a new process to define how much they should pay.
On finance, developing countries won one demand but not others. The agreement requires rich countries to ‘at least double’ funds for adaptation (ie coping with present climate change). This is what poor countries need the most; presently it’s only 25% of finance flows.
So agreeing to strengthen them over the next year in line with a 1.5c pathway is a big deal – in practice, it is the most COP26 could have done to ‘keep 1.5C alive’. All now depends on how much pressure can be applied on governments in 2022. 1.5C is alive but on life support.
Almost all major countries had already announced their NDCs before COP26, often after difficult domestic political processes. They were not going to revise them here. But they have acknowledged that collectively they are not good enough – they will lead to c2.4C of warming.
On mitigation (cutting emissions), the agreement instructs countries to come back in 2022 with strengthened emissions reduction commitments (‘nationally determined contributions’ or NDCs). Some may have hoped that NDCs would be strengthened here, but that was never possible.
Michael Jacobs is Professor of Political Economy at SPERI, University of Sheffield; Managing Editor, NewEconomyBrief.net; commentator on economic and climate policy.
Twitter: Michael Jacobs@michaelujacobs
See www.michaeljacobs.org for Jacobs’ full biography, career, and publications.