The COP26 and the Glasgow Climate Pact: First reactions

November 25, 2021

Javier Surasky
Program Officer, Governance and Finance for Sustainable Development

The COP26 adopted its final document, named “The Glasgow Pact.” The first thing to be noted is that the text is weaker than the negotiation drafts: The more ambitious references were dropped from the final text.

Even if progress was made, the Glasgow conference ambition was far from the required to ensure our common home would be safe. The “pact” is clearly insufficient to put the world on track to the 1.5 degrees goal adopted in the Paris Agreement. One more time, world decision-makers did not listen to neither science nor its peoples. Instead, they have built a new motto, “Keep the 1.5 degree goal alive” (I bet you will see that phrase tons of times in the following weeks, next to “blah, blah, blah”).

The Glasgow Climate Pact defines climate change as “a common concern of humankind” and acknowledges the “importance for some of the concepts of climate justice”.  “For some” probably refers to the more than 100,000 protesters that took the streets of Glasgow during COP26 demanding “climate justice,” which means linking the climate change fight with human rights and social equality. Yes, “some” of us consider it “important.”

Article 9 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”. In other words, the timing of climate action was accelerated by asking large emitters to submit more ambitious emission reduction plans in the next year rather than every five years as agreed in Paris in 2015.

It is a step in the right direction. However, it is also the result of few concrete commitments made in Glasgow to reduce emissions. The concern emerging from the Synthesis Report on Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, states that: Considering that all Nationally Determined Contribution commitments will be achieved, the aggregate level of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will be approximately 13.5% higher than its 2010 level.

Article 36 is likely to give much to talk about, especially its final part, which refers to “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.” The Pact expressly mentions the words “coal” and “fossil fuel subsidies” in a United Nations climate agreement for the very first time! The mentions were stronger in the drafts, in which the term “unabated” coal power and “inefficient” fossil fuels subsidies were not included. An issue is still unclear: China and India, on behalf of a group of developing countries, requested to change the expression “phase-out” to “phase-down,” but the former appears in the final version of the Pact released immediately after the end of the Conference.

Further noting “the urgent need to close the gaps in implementation towards the goals of the Paris Agreement” (paragraph 86), countries invited the Secretary-General of the UN to convene world leaders in 2023 to consider ambition up until 2030. Three verbs in a row and no concrete action! “Invite”, “convene”, “consider”.

Of course, references to vulnerable groups, women, youth and indigenous peoples are included throughout the text, and the 1.5 degree target is reasserted. There are always overused words.

Whatever the level of ambition shown by countries in Glasgow, adequate financing will be needed to make things happen. And climate finance was once again one of the thorniest issues at COP26.

Regarding adaptation, delegates noted “with concern” that the provision of climate finance “remains insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country Parties” (paragraph 14).

Financing adaptation represents 25% of climate finance flows from developed to developing countries. Thus, paragraph 18 urges developed countries “to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025, in the context of achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation in the provision of scaled-up financial resources.”

Let’s do it next year, let’s call a new meeting, let’s finance climate change properly in four years. Governments’ idea of “urgency” seems to be quite different from the rest of the world.

A call to multilateral development banks, other financial institutions, and the private sector enhanced climate financing, and a few words to encourage Parties to continue exploring innovative financing approaches and instruments are included in the Glasgow Climate Pact. A UN climate conference calls financial institutions to consider climate vulnerabilities in concessional financial allocation for the first time.

However, the Pact does not include any progress on the “loss and damage” issue, referring to the losses resulting from irreversible effects of climate change to which adaptation is impossible, a problem that developing countries suffer the most. Despite those countries’ efforts to establish a financing system to deal with losses and damages, it was impossible to advance due to the United States and the European Union’s steady opposition. Both fear that the recognition of damages will pave the way towards international demands for financial compensation.

Many were disappointed with the outcome of COP26. Among them was the Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres. In his closing statement, he stated, “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”. The meeting did not achieve the goals of ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities, and delivering the $100 billion climate finance commitment, but “we have some building blocks for progress,” he affirmed.

Those “building blocks” are, among others, the following:

  • Leaders from over 120 countries, representing nearly 90% of the world’s forests, and private sector representatives adopted the COP26 Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.
  • More than 1000 countries adopted a methane pledge aimed at cutting its 2030 levels of emissions by 30% compared with 2020 levels.
  • More than 40 countries, with the major coal users among them, agreed to shift away from coal.
  • More than 100 national governments, cities, states, and major businesses signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets in 2040 worldwide, and 13 countries committed to ending the sale of fossil fuel-powered heavy-duty vehicles by 2040.
  • Eleven countries created the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to deliver a managed and just transition away from oil and gas production.
  • The Congo Basin Pledge was launched by more than ten countries, the Bezos Earth Fund, and the European Union. It includes the commitment of mobilizing USD 1.5 billion to protect forests, peatlands, and other critical carbon stores in the so-called “lung of Africa.”
  • The United States and China published a joint declaration to boost climate cooperation over the next ten years.
  • Nearly 500 global financial services firms agreed to align USD 130 trillion with the goals set in the Paris Agreement.

In the next few years, four meetings will be held to follow the process:

  • A new two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation was launched. Countries will gather to define the way forward
  • An annual High-Level Ministerial Roundtable on pre-2030 ambition
  • A Glasgow Dialogue on loss and damage
  • An annual dialogue on Strengthening Ocean-Based Action

Talking directly to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, and those leading the fight on climate action, Guterres said, “I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there (…) We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward”.  It is clear that they don’t need advice, they need to be heard in a meaningful way.

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