Opinion | Ratchets, phase-downs and a fragile agreement. What COP26 achieved — and what it didn’t
COP26 was the last call. What happens to the planet next is up to us.
As leaders from across the globe arrive in Glasgow for a focal Climate summit, the outcomes and the credibility of their commitments will fathom how a planet of nearly 7 billion people functions in the time to come, especially when it is markedly hotter, sicker and more divided than almost anytime before in the global history.
While some fundamental differences ,including over fund allocations and economic concerns, cleave the leaders headed to Glasgow, it's almost certain that they couldn't be more united if they come to tally the grim scale of destruction which has battered every region heedless of any political and/or geographical boundaries, tragically reminding that no one shall be spared from the perils of climate change.
From deadly floods and wildfires to record-breaking rainfall and temperatures, countries including the United States, China, Germany, Greece, India and Indonesia– among others – have bored the brunt in the most ruthless and draconian way possible. Many rich countries are now baring – and gauging – the cataclysmic effects of climate breakdown while the cost of western powers giving their blessing to 'greenwashing' practices is needlessly being paid by the people of the poor ones, who aren't responsible for causing this abyss in the first place. The climate crisis as we know it, isn't an equitable and a fair crisis.
In stark white meeting rooms, island nations sat directly across from major polluters. Outside, environmental campaigners chanted and clapped, calling for climate justice and definitive actions to keep warming in check along with an array of different yet integral issues including rights of the climate refugees.
In part because of International Pressure and spotlight on the proceedings, a number of countries have also opted to sign deals and proclaim certain targets, including Brazil, which in a single month witnessed more than 29,000 fires in the Amazon rainforest last year and the rainforests' continued deterioration due to the evident, stubborn skepticism and indifference to environmental despoliation by its President, saw this climate summit as an opportunity to repair its tattered global standing on climate change. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gave a speech last month at the U.N. General Assembly in which he praised Brazil's environment laws - without actually mentioning his government's efforts to weaken them. Reports essentially suggest that past promises to save the Amazon have failed to save millions of acres from fires, illegal logging, and agriculture in Brazil.
In fact, several countries that claim to have net-zero emissions targets are planning to invest in more fossil fuel production in the near future. A group of environmental groups and think tanks put out a report during COP26 highlighting how the US, Norway, Australia, Canada, and the UK are still subsidizing and expanding fossil fuel production.
And “net zero” targets set for decades from now could end up allowing countries to continue emitting more greenhouse gas emissions in the meantime, with the expectation that those emissions will be soaked up somehow at a point in the future.
India, the third largest emitter of carbon in the world, pledged that the country would go net zero by 2070. The decision, though divisive and disappointing for some who were dismissive that a target 50 years in the future would have any impact on action and policy in India today, when it mattered most, is still passible by a developing nation in which 70% of the energy driving it's development is generated by coal, much of it coming cheaply from domestic mines, but is still acutely unambitious owing to the fragility of our world.
Pivotally, more than 40 countries have committed to ending their domestic use of coal for electricity, and 25 countries agreed to stop financing coal power in developing countries. Coal-fired power plants produce one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. But China, India, the US, and Australia — encompassing more than two-thirds of global coal consumption — did not concede to a domestic coal phase-out.
More than 100 countries, responsible for half of global methane emissions, signed the Global Methane Pledge to cut their methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Signatories include the US, the European Union, and Japan. Cutting methane emissions has sweeping climate benefits. The move is acclaimed.
This confusing picture is partly a reason why there will be antithetical views of COP26's achievements — and failures.
What happens in these summits is made to look a dime a dozen but it is ,infact, a window to see whether the committed actions do or do not take place. Post-Glasgow, there is much needed to build irresistible momentum in future talks, this includes high levels of business engagement, which was one of the key themes of Glasgow. On Friday, for instance, the Investor Group on Climate Change — 733 major institutional investors worth more than $52 trillion dollars, more than half of all the assets under management globally — called on countries to go further with negotiating texts, including ending fossil fuel subsidies.
This underlines the fact that, ultimately, the world's quest of successfully tackling global warming rests on deep, collaborative and inclusive partnerships right across societies around the globe, which is also one of the most salient goal of all the SDGs. A fundamental question now is what needs to change to get even more traction, with the clock ticking toward what scientists warn are dangerous levels of climate change.
The process is slow and tedious; the latest iteration did not deliver a decisive victory and left few happy. COP26, though the biggest climate synod in history, was a dainty step toward solving such monumental a crisis. However, when kept in isolation, it certainly was a tiny good heads-up drill before doing an intensive, meticulous, herculean calisthenics.