Climate Commitments at COP26 in Glasgow and Elsewhere

Leaders at COP26 affirm their commitments to climate change, conservation and sustainable land use.

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow came to end on Saturday as nearly 200 countries signed the Glasgow Climate Pact. Negotiators agreed to increase global efforts to fight climate change by calling on world leaders to develop stronger plans to reduce carbon emissions and “at least double” climate finance to developing countries. The many youth activists who campaigned relentlessly for "action, not promises", from Greta Thunberg of Sweden to Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, deplored the lack of commitments to serious emissions cuts. While still insufficient, important steps were taken. The following stands out from the Glasgow Climate Pact:

  • Keeping warming to 1.5C (2.7F) is still believed reachable. The agreement (or Glasgow Climate Pact) states that meeting the 1.5C target will require countries to make bigger emission cuts and clarify their plans to reach this target. It represents an acknowledgement that current commitments are inadequate. It is estimated that national pledges now put the world on track for about 2.4C of warming. At COP26 countries committed to revisit their emissions pledges in 2022 and 2023, rather than do so on 5-year intervals, as was the case until now.
  • The Paris Agreement Rulebook was reached for greater transparency around how countries track and report on progress against emission reduction targets. This includes a robust framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The new rules will provide oversight to help legitimize the fast-growing global voluntary offset markets; allowing countries to partially meet climate targets by buying offset credits representing emission cuts by others. This will foster trillions of dollars to protect forests, expand renewable energy and more.
  • It is crucial that we leave coal underground to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. The Glasgow Pact is the first time language on coal was included in a COP decision, however, the language was watered down from “phasing out” to “phasing down” coal, due to pressure by China and India – both major coal-producing nations. Considering there was little expectation that coal would be mentioned in the Glasgow Climate Pact, it is a step forward and a clear signal that coal has no future. In addition, the agreement included a call to end fossil fuel subsidies and lead to negative health and environmental impacts (Brookings). As estimated by the IMF, global fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $5.9 trillion in 2020 (including environmental costs) or 6.8 percent of GDP.
  • Climate finance is necessary to support developing country transitions away from fossil fuels and adaptation to increasingly frequent and severe climate impacts. At a UN climate summit in 2009, rich nations pledged to deliver $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020. These promises have not been met. However, renewed promises were made at COP26 to meet – or exceed – this goal. The agreement promises to double financial assistance for adaptation by 2025 from 2019, though it includes no guarantees, disappointing vulnerable countries that contributed little to the climate problem. Moreover, funding for loss and damages was left out entirely, due to resistance by rich nations led by the United States and the European Union, to the dismay of members of the G77 group.

Outside of the Glasgow Climate Pact, decisions were made, and alliances formed that could have considerable impact on meeting climate targets:

Joint statement by the US and China

The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters issued a joint statement agreeing to establish a working group that "will meet regularly" to discuss climate measures. In a context of rising tensions between the two nations, the commitment to work together towards "accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s, as well as through cooperation in multilateral processes" is a major step. However, much of the statement remains unquantified; China promises only to use 'best efforts' to draw down its coal consumption.

The US-EU steel deal

The US and the EU agreed on arrangements to green the steel and aluminum trade. This is major news and a step closer toward formation of a climate club (further discussed below). Although they have not yet reached alignment on the precise domestic policy mix, there is alignment on: 1. The external goal of reducing and discouraging trade in carbon-intensive steel; and 2. A shared methodology for measuring embedded emissions. Steel and aluminum production correspond to roughly 10% of global emissions. This arrangement rewards industries that have already made efforts to be greener and gives a clear signal to others that they will benefit from doing the same. Additionally, the industry association for cement and concrete, another significant contributor to global emissions in the construction sector, pledged to be net-zero by 2050.  Such cooperation could expand to other sectors and countries and paves the way for a potential climate club.

The Global Methane Pledge

To keep temperature rise below 1.5C requires rapidly cutting methane emissions. Through the Global Methane Pledge, countries commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.  Over 100 countries, representing 70% of the global economy, have joined the pledge. This pledge alone could lower warming by 0.2C and it is therefore, the single most effective strategy to reduce global warming. According to John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, reaching this goal would be “the equivalent of taking all the cars in the world, all of the trucks in the world, all of the airplanes in the world, all ships in the world, down to zero. That's how big it is. That's what's on the table.”

An agreement on deforestation

Forests act as a carbon sink. Image: Resources for the Future

More than 100 leaders pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, covering around 85% of the world’s forests. Signatories included Brazil and Indonesia, where large-scale deforestation is ongoing. The pledge includes $19.2 billion of public and private funds to support the efforts. Leaders from 28 countries further committed to remove deforestation from global trade of food and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soy and cocoa. In addition, more than 30 of the largest financial companies committed to end investments in activities linked to deforestation. Experts warned that similar pledges have been made before, with little success, and it will be crucial to closely monitor progress.

Although the commitments above are notable, there are few guarantees that countries will follow through. Even if they do, the commitments will not keep global temperature rise below 1.5C, or even 2C. It is therefore clear that more action is urgently needed, in particular: the need to rapidly decrease carbon emissions as well as the need for more climate finance for developing countries.

To achieve these goals, at Greenleaf Communities, in collaboration with partners, we recommend that countries form a Climate Compact based on three principles:

  1. Guarantee major greenhouse gas reductions. Nations need to go beyond volunteered pledges to binding commitments. Many actions are needed, but by far the most effective will be to put a penalty fee on carbon emissions. Over 65 countries, regions and subnational jurisdictions are adopting carbon pricing mechanisms; those failing to act will be left behind in global trade and technology. Committed countries would form a Climate Compact, with members adopting a minimum and rising domestic carbon price.
  2. Create a level playing field so that exports of large carbon reducing nations remain competitive with nations still using mostly fossil fuel energy. This can be achieved by adopting a Carbon Surcharge Transfer fee – a tariff-like fee imposed on all goods imported from nonmember countries into Compact Countries. This also encourages countries to join the Compact to avoid paying tariffs.
  3. Assure substantial financial assistance to developing countries so they can protect themselves through adaptation and contribute to global climate mitigation. They have contributed little to the problem but will be harmed most by it. Revenue from the Carbon Surcharge Transfer fee, estimated at $120b to $225b per year, could be directed to a global fund within the United Nations framework for distribution to developing nations.

Although the Glasgow climate summit was framed by many as our last chance to save the planet from catastrophic climate impacts, much of the progress was actually achieved outside of the official 200-country agreement. Further cooperation between large emitters committed to meeting their climate targets holds great potential; such efforts are likely to become increasingly common. A Climate Compact that both rapidly drives down emissions and provides substantial mitigation and adaptation support through revenue to developing nations would be a major step towards a safer climate.

Posted in Climate.