COP26 outcomes are a mixed bag

25 Nov 2021

The Glasgow Climate Pact has been reached after much struggle. It is a mixed bag of partial successes and missed opportunities.

Two areas where COP26 completed its work with a reasonable degree of efficiency are related to finalising the carbon market mechanisms under Article 6, and completing the residual transparency arrangements under Article 13 of the Paris Agreement.

The issue of carbon markets under Article 6 has been pending since Katowice COP in 2018. But not everything is hunky dory. Given the fact that a lot of environmental and civil society groups look at the carbon markets unkindly, it is difficult to predict the degree of success of market mechanisms in future.

Moreover, only lip service has been paid to the key concerns of countries like India about transition of legacy CDM projects and CERs. The issue of sharing the proceeds of carbon trading has also been left on a weak wicket.

The good thing about the reporting obligations under Article 13 transparency provisions of the Paris Rulebook, however, is that they keep the flexibility provisions for developing countries intact.

With India’s Prime Minister making bold and ambitious announcements about enhancing and advancing energy transition goals along with a commitment to achieve net zero goal by 2070 (on the lines of the US, China and other major G20 countries), there was an expectation that the COP Presidency will train its sights on raising 2030 targets.

The COP26 Presidency did succeed in highlighting the need of stabilising climate at or near 1.5 degrees Celsius, but wasted the momentum by failing to convert it into specific and substantive questions of technology, capacity and equity.

COP26 faltered in addressing the most important of its tasks - enhancing the Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to meet the goal of climate stabilisation at 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. It simply deferred the challenge to the next year.

The only thing it did was to formally recognise the need for reducing global emissions to the extent of 45% over 2010 by 2030. But, COP26 did not spell out how it will be done.

Instead, it spent a lot of time and effort in coaxing a decision on coal phase-out which was not required as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the Paris Agreement. The UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement mandate countries to take ambitious NDCs; the nature and composition of NDCs are left to the countries concerned.

The COP26 Presidency also spent a lot of capital in building opinion on elimination of coal from future energy options. Expectedly, it met with strong resistance from major economies like China and India, and the decision had to be watered down to accommodate their concerns.

In the absence of a clear way forward on availability and utilisation of carbon budgets equitably, forcing a phase-out on those that have no access to alternative energy is impractical.

Incidentally, a paragraph on reducing methane emissions that is part of the decision text and is largely based on the bilateral initiative of the US and China did not evoke criticism or opposition.

One of the major disappointments has been the lack of any decision on predictable and scalable finance for meeting climate impacts and making transitions. Despite specific demand from India and African groups about commitments of 1.3 trillion USD for adaptation and mitigation, COP26 ended simply by calling for efforts to double adaptation finance. The outcome document also mentions the need to mobilise 100 billion USD through to 2025.

The COP26 outcome also sets up an ad-hoc work programme from 2022 to 2024 to look for a new collective quantified goal on climate finance beyond 2025. In a way, the ball has been kicked to the next global stocktake. For long-term finance, biennial high-level ministerial dialogues will be held thrice so the new quantified goal may not be in place in 2026.

While India’s Prime Minister took the lead by setting up IRIS – Infrastructure for Resilient Island States - in the form of technical and data support to Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the demand of SIDS for a payment mechanism or facility for meeting loss and damages was stonewalled by the developed country partners. The SIDS had to make do with a ‘body’ that provides technical assistance and holds ‘dialogue’ on loss and damage.

COP decisions never make everyone happy. Glasgow was no exception. Let us hope that the Egyptians will handle these issues next year with more of the civilizational and historical wisdom that resides in Africa and Asia.

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