WHAT COUNTRIES PLEDGED AT
The Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26) has ended but without any significant success. The summit has been slammed as a failure as the diplomats agreed to only ‘do more’ to fight climate change and help vulnerable countries. But the final document avoided uncomfortable questions about who should pay and how much. The conference fell short of achieving the pledges needed to reduce emissions enough to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal on limiting warming. Moreover, China and India, the world’s biggest and third-biggest carbon polluters, respectively, as well as the globe’s top two coal-burning nations, pushed at the last minute to weaken a line about accelerating the coal phase-out in a move that angered vulnerable countries on the frontlines of climate change. Rather than a phase-out of coal, India and China called for its use to be “phased-down.” It was so disappointing that the President of the Conference, Alok Sharma, had no option but to warn that India and China will “have to explain themselves to poor nations” after watering down the Glasgow Climate Pact as their actions had left him “deeply frustrated”. He added: “We are on the way to consigning coal to history. This is an agreement we can build on. But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did.”
The Glasgow Climate Pact was reached at the COP26 summit. It aims to reduce the worst impacts of climate change – but some leaders and campaigners say it does not go far enough. Although the world leaders failed to secure more ambitious commitments to limit global warming, they, nonetheless, endorsed the Pact and made new pledges on deforestation, methane emissions, coal, and more.
Here are some of the notable new commitments by governments, financial institutions and individuals in the form of Glasgow Climate Pact
An Overview of the Pact
The Glasgow Climate Pact sees signatory countries increase climate ambition and action from the Paris Agreement in 2015, and sets out new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including phasing down coal and a global carbon market. But, according to preliminary analyses, it falls short of the decisive breakthrough needed to keep temperature increase to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial era by the end of this century. The pact reached by the end of COP26 urged countries – in a first for a UN climate agreement – to phase down coal and fossil-fuel subsidies. But it did not ask countries to completely phase them out. It just “requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances.”
As of November 12, as many as 141 countries, representing over 90% of the world’s forests, agreed to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030. Notably, Brazil, home to the Amazon Rainforest, signed on. In addition, Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest people, pledged $2 billion to help restore natural habitats and transform food systems.
Through the agreement, the signatory countries vowed to strengthen their shared efforts to:
1. Conserve forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration;
2. Facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development, and sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation;
3. Reduce vulnerability, build resilience and enhance rural livelihoods, including through empowering communities, the development of profitable, sustainable agriculture, and recognition of the multiple values of forests, while recognising the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as local communities, in accordance with relevant national legislation and international instruments, as appropriate;
4. Implement and, if necessary, redesign agricultural policies and programmes to incentivise sustainable agriculture, promote food security, and benefit the environment;
5. Reaffirm international financial commitments and significantly increase finance and investment from a wide variety of public and private sources, while also improving its effectiveness and accessibility, to enable sustainable agriculture, sustainable forest management, forest conservation and restoration, and support for Indigenous Peoples and local communities;
6. Facilitate the alignment of financial flows with international goals to reverse forest loss and degradation, while ensuring robust policies and systems are in place to accelerate the transition to an economy that is resilient and advances forest, sustainable land use, biodiversity and climate goals.
Reduce Methane Emissions
The United States and the European Union spearheaded a global methane cutting initiative in which around 100 countries have promised to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Methane is currently responsible for a third of human-generated warming. The big emitters China, Russia and India haven’t joined – but it’s hoped they will, later.
According to a UN–backed report “Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions,” cutting methane emissions is one of the most cost-effective strategies to rapidly reduce the rate of warming and contribute significantly to global efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. The report says, “Available targeted methane measures, together with additional measures that contribute to priority development goals, can simultaneously reduce human-caused methane emissions by as much as 45%, or 180 million tonnes a year (Mt/yr) by 2030. This will avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s and complement all long-term climate change mitigation efforts. It would also, each year, prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.”
Pakistan also signed the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative of over 100 countries to curb methane emissions, but said it does not “believe in the net-zero concept at the moment”. While concurring with the observation that Pakistan’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), with their “total target of a 50% emissions reductions by 2030,” was ambitious, Minister for Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam stated that this was “conditional on getting $100 billion financing” to facilitate “a clean and just energy transition”.
Targeting Fossil Fuels
Twenty-three countries went further than the Glasgow Climate Pact, making new commitments to phase out coal. Some signed on to an initiative to help developing countries, such as India and South Africa, transition away from coal. Twenty-five countries and five financial institutions committed to stop public financing for most fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. And a handful of countries joined an alliance that aims to halt new drilling for oil and gas.
The pact, for the first time, includes language that asks countries to reduce their reliance on coal and roll back fossil fuel subsidies, moves that would target the energy sources that scientists say are the primary drivers of manmade climate change. The wording was contentious, though.
Just before the Glasgow deal was adopted, India requested that the deal call on countries to “phase down”, instead of “phase out” unabated coal. That minor word change triggered a lot of angst in the plenary hall, but delegations agreed to the request to save the deal. The deal’s wording on “inefficient subsidies”, meanwhile, kept the “phase out” phrasing.
Questions remain about how to define “unabated” and “inefficient”.
The United States and China, the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, agreed to boost cooperation on combating climate change over the next decade. They said they will work together on increasing the use of renewable energy, developing regulatory frameworks, and deploying technologies such as carbon capture. As per the agreement, the two sides intend to cooperate on:
a. regulatory frameworks and environmental standards related to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the 2020s;
b. maximizing the societal benefits of the clean energy transition;
c. policies to encourage decarbonization and electrification of end-use sectors;
d. key areas related to the circular economy, such as green design and renewable resource utilization; and
e. deployment and application of technology such as CCUS and direct air capture.
In the Glasgow Climate Pact, governments agreed to set up a mechanism to help countries already suffering loss and damage due to climate change, though they did not work out the details. The pact also urged developed countries to double their collective amount of funding by 2025 to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change. During COP26, a few countries made such commitments. Among them, Japan pledged an additional $2 billion per year for the next five years, and Italy pledged an extra $1.4 billion per year.
The funding shortfall has fuelled mistrust among nations like Pakistan that have negligible historical emissions but are disproportionately vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Many developing nations have made their climate pledges contingent on receiving external support.
More than thirty countries, dozens of states and cities, and several automotive companies agreed to work to guarantee that new cars and vans sold are zero-emission by 2035 in leading markets and 2040 globally.
Firms’ Net-Zero Pledges
More than 450 banks, insurers, pension funds, and other firms that collectively manage $130 trillion committed to use their funds to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Four Big Takeaways for South Asia
The World Bank has enumerated the following takeaways:
1. India’s net zero announcements are significant, but a lot of work lies ahead: India announced not just a 2070 net-zero target but also, perhaps even more significantly, nearer-term targets of 500 GW non-fossil fuel energy, 50% of the country’s installed capacity through renewables, 45% reduction in the carbon intensity of its economy, and a reduction of 1 billion tonnes carbon emissions by 2030. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) landmark India Energy Outlook 2021 projects India to experience the most significant increase in energy demand of any country worldwide over the next 20 years. India has less than half of the world’s average per capita emissions. India’s development pathway in this decade will be much more critical than its distant net-zero target. This pathway will need to include sectoral green transition strategies for energy, transport, agriculture, water and urban development with detailed investment plans to be implemented in the next decade. Taking a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to climate change will be essential so that every government agency and ministry acts on and “owns” the risks and opportunities from climate change.
2. Progress was made on coal and fossil fuel subsidies: The final Glasgow Climate Pact calls to accelerate the “phase-down” of unabated coal power from plants that don’t use carbon-capture technology. While this is a positive development, it still caused disappointment to those who wanted a commitment to entirely phase-out coal. If the world is to have any chance of keeping overall warming to below 1.5 degrees, then all major power producers must phase out old, high-capacity power plants with lower efficiency and higher emissions and stop any new unabated coal capacity. On the positive side, we must recognize that for the first time in the 27 years of COP discussions a phase-down of coal and a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned and agreed by all 200 countries. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have cancelled all coal plants not currently under construction. Pakistan’s ambitious new NDC unveiled at Glasgow, the preparation of which was supported by the World Bank, reiterates its commitment to build no new coal power plants and bans the use of imported coal for energy generation. At the same time, many developing countries continue relying on coal as a cheap and the only secure resource they have in abundance for their critical energy needs. Coal generates millions of jobs and significant revenues for governments. Reducing dependency on coal will need significant financing, patience, and a phased approach to ensure a just transition for the poor and the vulnerable whose livelihood depends, directly or indirectly, on coal. It is, therefore, significant that India, along with Indonesia, the Philippines and South Africa, signed up as the first recipients of a multibillion-dollar pilot program aimed at accelerating their transition from coal power to clean energy through the Accelerating Coal Transition program of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF).
3. The rules for carbon trading that were finalized will be positive for South Asian Countries: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement allows parties to lower abatement costs by working together in cooperative approaches that create internationally transferred mitigation outcomes. Negotiators finalized the rule for a global carbon finance market that would avoid loopholes and double counting and limited the number of prior credits brought under this framework. Carbon finance will play a critical, catalytic role in leveraging private sector finance for flourishing regional power trade between the so-called BBIN countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal. The World Bank is working with the Royal Government of Bhutan to set up the Bhutan Climate Fund to monetize the carbon credits generated from the export of hydropower to India. Bangladesh and Pakistan have been selected to participate in the Partnership for Market Implementation. A potential area of support from the World Bank could be to help countries develop robust GHG inventories and registries.
4. There was no grand bargain on climate finance and this issue is likely to become prominent in COP27 and beyond: Climate commitments by developing countries have been made in the absence of a grand bargain on concessional climate finance, including but not limited to the $100 billion that was promised at Copenhagen 12 years ago. There were some promising signs, however, the Glasgow Pact promises to double adaptation finance by 2025 and launches a two-year “Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh” work program on the global goal on adaptation. The US signed a statement agreeing to “increase resources” for loss and damage. The UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund, on November 8, raised a record US$ 356 million in new support from contributing national and regional governments. While this number is minimal relative to the needs, the renewed interest from development partners is encouraging. A critical $8.5 billion deal was agreed with South Africa to phase out coal power plants that could be a model for other large coal-consuming countries. The “India Green Guarantee” announced at Glasgow uses a UK government guarantee to create more World Bank lending space for India to finance its climate transitions. Other major development partners may consider similar approaches.
The writer is a member of staff.