The Climate Challenge
The Glasgow Pact is characterized by the consensus of the member countries to “phase down” the coal instead of the “phase-out”. The difference in wording represented the clash of interests as major coal-consuming countries such as India, China and South Africa, objected to the term “phase-out,” stating that their economic development will suffer a great deal in the absence of alternative energy sources. Hence, an insistence on reducing the use of coal in a phased manner.
In its present shape, the new climate pact falls short of achieving the target of keeping the temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius but still represents some progress. The very fact that the whole world is now cognizant of the threat posed by climate change is a big victory of science. This turnaround would not have been possible without the relentless campaign of the climate rights activists who literally overcame heaviest of the odds to bring home the criticality of the challenge.
The countries have agreed to present quantifiable targets during the next COP in Egypt as part of the efforts to keep the temperature within the agreed-upon threshold. Despite an “imperfect” agreement, the Glasgow summit still marks a watershed in the mission to turn the tide against climate hazards. British Prime Minister rightly put it when he said:
“There is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years. But today’s agreement is a big step forward and, critically, we have the first-ever international agreement to phase down coal and a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said the planet was “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,” he said.
This major climate summit, after the one held in Paris in 2015, represents the culmination of the disparate but determined efforts made by environmental activists such as Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. These climate crusaders have refused to waver in the face of challenges in their mission to impress upon the world leaders the need for an accelerated global action to avert a catastrophe that is already knocking on humanity’s doors.
Three reports namely Born into the Climate Crisis, Children Climate Risk Index released by Save the Children and Unicef respectively and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report have set the tone for the conference, underlining the gravity of the challenges of climate change vis-à-vis the children and demanding strong political will articulated in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on the part of the member countries.
The executive summaries of these reports highlighted the onerous responsibility on their shoulders. The world is justified in being alarmed at the current pace of rise in the global temperature that seems on track to go well beyond 2 degree Celsius by the end of the current century.
While the macro picture remains grim, it is encouraging to note that the countries are thinking seriously and sharing individual NDCs in terms of reducing their dependence on fossil fuels by 2030 as part of the mid-century net zero mission.
The COP26 was preceded by the first in-person meeting of the G20 countries held in Rome after the pandemic that also featured climate change agenda. Though the communiqué issued at the end of the G20 meeting indicated the need for doubling down on the efforts to achieve the net zero target by 2150, it failed to give a definitive date to end the use of coal.
The failure to agree to the phasing out of coal reflects the slackening of political will on the part of the developed nations that are responsible for about 70% of the global emissions. A strong commitment by the G20 grouping would not only have set a clear direction but could have also provided a new energy to the Glasgow summit. The evasive response by a few countries to commit to the mid-century deadline for de-carbonisation undermines the global consensus and deeply hurts the pledges made as part of the Paris Climate Accord in 2015.
Addressing a press conference at the COP26 climate summit, US President Biden took a swipe at Chinese and Russian Presidents — Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin — for ‘not showing up.’ In a response to a question from CNN’s correspondent, President Biden said: “The rest of the world is going to look to China and say, ‘what value added are they providing?’ And they’ve lost an ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at COP, the same way I would argue with regard to Russia.”
Chinese special envoy for Climate Change, Xie Zhenhua, was quick to remove any doubts created about China’s intention to honour its commitment. He categorically stated, “I do not resist the 1.5 degree target. That is a part of the Paris Agreement goals, actually. Talking about global climate goals needs to be based on rules. Since 1.5 degrees Celsius is a part of the Paris goals, certainly we’re not against this target.”
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on Climate Change, struck a positive note of engagement with China in what was clearly an effort to dilute the harsh tone of his boss. In a conciliatory note, he stated that “What we are trying to do is work with China in a cooperative way … without challenging them in a personal way.”
Climate finance remains a fundamental hindrance in the way of developing countries to transition to green economies by drastically cutting down on their emissions.
Mohamed Nasheed, Maldives’ former president and ambassador of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), highlighted the need for a shared approach to tackle the climate change. His argument revolved around the enhanced vulnerability of all countries, no matter big or small, and the need for meaningful cooperation. CVF brings together 48 countries from the Global South that face disproportionate threats from climate change compared to their contribution to global warming.
Despite the passage of 10 years, the developed countries have failed to honour their commitment of giving $100 billion to the developing world to help them become climate-resilient, green economies. This ‘gap of trust’ between the Global North and South hits at the very root of consensus around the climate agenda, achieved so painstakingly after years of negotiations. With the pledges made so far, it has been estimated that the target will be met in 2023.
Climate finance is the key for the climate adaption and mitigation efforts to succeed. Global South is justified in doubting the commitment of the developed world and there is certainly merit in their contention that the Glasgow Pact represents the interests of the Global North than the entire world.
The failure of the international community, particularly the developed world, to turn the Covid-19 pandemic into an opportunity and the blame-game that followed does not inspire much hope. It looks that every global catastrophe will accentuate the divide and lead to the exchange of recriminations.
To be able to attain the target of 1.5 degree Celsius, the fractured and polarised world order needs a healing touch. As long as the consensus on the rules-based world order continues to be challenged in one way or the other, there is little hope for a unified action against the climate change threat to bear fruit within the stipulated timeline.
A deep, dispassionate contemplation on the state of the world will pave the way for a secure and safe future for our children, which, in turn, demands the world leaders to act like statesmen to produce actions, not words.
Alok Sharma, the UK cabinet minister who was also the chair of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, acknowledged the enormity of the challenge when he said: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5°C alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.
“Before this conference, the world asked: do the parties here in Glasgow have the courage to rise to the scale of the challenge? We have responded. History has been made here in Glasgow,” he added.
The entire proceedings of the fortnightly summit could not have been summed up better.
The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex. He writes regularly for opinion-pages of The News.
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