Robust actions needed for Cop26 commitments
When 197 countries sit together to achieve something, it is almost certain that there will not be full agreement on the issues tabled for negotiation. Hence, it is no surprise that the outcome of the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a compromise, and not enough for accomplishing the mission of reducing the challenges of climate change. Leaders of countries held tough negotiations for two weeks in Glasgow during October 31 to November 12, 2021, at the end of which, the outcome document, the Glasgow Climate Pact, was prepared. The Pact sets various targets and obligations to be met by member countries.
One of these was an agreement on accelerating action towards cutting global emissions in half in order to reach the temperature rise goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement on climate change had already set this target in 2015, but the Glasgow Climate Pact calls on countries for stronger national action plans and commiting to ambitious climate actions. In an attempt to cut their emissions by 2020, 151 countries submitted new nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that spell out their climate plans. This is also the first time a COP decision text clearly mentioned "accelerating efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies". Besides, the Glasgow Pact calls on countries to consider actions to curb potent non-CO2 gases as welll, such as methane.
However, according to UN estimates on emission gaps, the world will see a 2.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise by the end of the century despite these commitments, which is very dangerous. Stronger commitments are required from all countries. At COP26, countries were urged to strengthen their emissions reduction targets by 2030, particularly Australia, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Russia, which have so far made weaker commitments.
A positive in the latest COP is the attention towards a global goal on and finance for adaptation. At COP26, the comprehensive two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation (GGA) was launched. The objectives are to strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts. From 2022 to 2024, there will be workshops to assess this progress. Countries will have to work on devising methodologies for assessing progress on adaptation goals.
The Glasgow Climate Pact refers to the inadequate mobilisation of climate funds by rich countries. At COP15 in 2009, developed countries committed to mobilising USD 100 billion a year by 2020 and through 2025 for vulnerable, climate-affected countries. However, only USD 78.9 billion has been mobilised as of 2019, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Moreover, mitigation funds comprise about 64 percent of total climate funding. At COP26, developed countries committed to at least double their funding for adaptation by 2025, which is an important step forward.
Another significant outcome of COP26 has been the call for doubling adaptation finance so that developing countries are able to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Of course, the need for adaptation funds is large and this commitment is still not enough to meet global needs, but it is a positive move nonetheless. Higher adaptation funding is required for protecting lives and livelihoods of climate-vulnerable, small island countries and least developed countries (LDCs). For example, early warning systems for natural disasters, such as floods and cyclones, would help save people's lives. Food security of poor communities could be protected through water-tolerant agriculture. A total of USD 356 million new pledges has been made for the Adaptation Fund. The Paris Agreement urged for a balance between different types of climate finance, which has been historically biased towards mitigation activities and is mostly needed in the polluting developed countries. New contribution pledges also came for LDCs under the Least Developed Countries Fund. USD 413 million new contributions were made for increasing resilience of LDCs to climate change.
There are some unavoidable climate impacts that cannot be addressed by adaptation, and those are the permanent losses of lives, land and livelihoods. Climate vulnerable countries have been asking for compensation for such impacts, which is known as "loss and damage". Prior to COP26, several climate vulnerable countries have demanded the creation of a new financing facility exclusively for loss and damage. However, the idea has been resisted by many developed countries. The Glasgow Pact calls for action and support, such as finance, technology transfer and capacity building, "for implementing approaches for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage".
For the first time, financial commitments for loss and damage have been made. Scotland and the Wallonia region in Belgium made commitments for USD 2.6 million and USD 1.1 million, respectively. A number of philanthropies such as the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the European Climate Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Global Green Grants Fund committed USD 3 million initially to complement and advance the objectives of the Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility. In the previous COP held in Madrid, the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage was established. At COP26, countries finally agreed to operationalise and fund the Santiago Network. The need to catalyse the technical assistance for addressing loss and damage effectively was highlighted.
There have been a number of announcements made at COP26 which are significant too, outside of negotiations. For example, the Global Methane Pledge to cut down methane emission by 30 percent by 2030, and the pledge to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, are important measures announced at COP26.
On the whole, the momentum that was built since the Paris Agreement and in the run-up to COP26 has ended with a few pledges in some areas. However, the pledges still fall short of the requirements and urgency needed to tackle climate change. Of course, the pledges made at COP26 have great potential, but much depends on how they are implemented. There has been reluctance from developed countries in fulfilling their climate pledges in the past, and time will be the test for the Glasgow commitments. Unfortunately, there is no scope for wasting any time in taking robust and effective actions to fulfil the commitments made in the recently concluded COP26.
Dr Fahmida Khatun is the Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue. Views expressed in this article are personal.