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Mixed emotions as COP26 ends

Alok Sharma applauds during the closure of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov.13. COURTESY PHOTO

But can Glasgow Climate Pact speed up pace of climate action?

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | On Nov.13, as thousands of climate scientists, diplomats, senior government officials, civil society activists, bankers and fossil fuel executives exited Glasgow, almost a day after the COP26 was scheduled to end, many left with mixed emotions.

The two week climate conference was hosted by the UK government in partnership with Italy and took place in the Scottish city starting Oct.31.  But it somehow went into “over time” as negotiators mainly from the so-called global south pitted their wits against those from the richer western world and emerging economies such as China and India as they fine-tuned the minutest of detail to reach an agreement.

Holding back tears, Alok Sharma, the COP26 president said the Glasgow Climate Pact had succeeded in keeping alive the global ambition of halting the global temperatures at 1.5 degrees.

“But the pulse is weak and will only survive if governments keep promises and translate their commitments into rapid action,” he said while closing the summit.

Sharma said all countries, nearly 200 of them, had agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), starting next year.

He also counted the Paris Rulebook— the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is implemented— as part of the success of the conference considering it had taken six years to strike this particular deal.

With the rule book is now in place, Sharma said, it will now allow for the full delivery of the landmark accord, after an agreement on a transparency process which will hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets was reached.

In addition, Article 6, which establishes a tougher framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was also agreed upon.

The final COP26 text followed two years of intense diplomacy and campaigns undertaken by the UK Presidency to raise ambition and secure action from almost 200 countries.  Sharma noted that when the UK took on the COP26 mantle, in partnership with Italy, nearly two years ago, only 30% of the world was covered by net zero targets. This figure is now at around 90%, he said, adding that over the same period, 154 Parties had submitted new national targets, representing 80% of global emissions.

The UK presidency, Sharma noted, has also been focused on driving action to deliver emissions reductions.

“We have seen a huge shift in coal, with many more countries committing to phase out unabated coal power and ending international coal financing,”  he said, “We have (also) seen a marked commitment to protect precious natural habitats, with 90% of the world’s forests covered by a pledge from 130 countries to end deforestation by 2030.”

The Glasgow conference was also credited for heeding calls from civil society and countries most vulnerable to climate impacts to “phase down” fossil fuels although the original ambition was a “phase-out.”

But Sharma also understood the enormity of the task ahead. He said the pact would only be delivered with concerted and immediate global efforts among them yearly political roundtables to consider global progress reports, starting with a Leaders’ Summit in 2023.

“From here, we must now move forward together and deliver on the expectations set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact, and close the vast gap which remains.”

“It is up to all of us to sustain our lodestar of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach and to continue our efforts to get finance flowing and boost adaptation. After the collective dedication which has delivered the Glasgow Climate Pact, our work here cannot be wasted,” Sharma said.

Challenging COP

But Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN was more measured about the achievements at COP26 putting into consideration the mood that permeated the conference during the 14 days of the negotiations.

“This was an extremely challenging conference. They have shown remarkable expertise in reaching consensus among parties,” Guterres said in reference to the thousands of negotiators who often spent long hours threshing out deals agreeable to most if not all countries.

“The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today,” he said.

“They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions,” Guterres said, “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.”

While the unprecedented fossil fuels phase out pledge was weakened by a last minute deal between China (the world’s largest fossil fuel consumer), the U.S. (the world’s largest fossil-fuel producer), the EU and India, it is still there.

In the final hours of COP, India, South Africa, Iran and Nigeria expressed opposition to even the more diluted language, with the potential at one point for the mention of coal to be entirely removed.

The text finally adopted referred to a coal “phase down”, rather than coal phase out, in response to which Fiji expressed astonishment and immense disappointment, noting that phase ‘down’ has no quantifiable end point.

But analysts noted that despite the watering down from “phase-out” to “phase down”, the cause of the climate crisis has for the first time since the Kyoto Protocol been called out by the 198 signatories of the Paris Agreement.

Still, the change in language was condemned by small island states, Switzerland, Mexico and – ironically – the EU, which decided to support the shift despite slamming it as a “bad economic choice.”

COP26, they said, had failed those most impacted by the climate crisis now. The EU and the U.S. refused to create a fund that the poorest countries could draw on for crisis response – outraging small islands and many climate vulnerable nations.

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