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COP26 ends in tears with weak climate change agreement

Author: Muloongo Muchelemba
15 November 2021

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) ended on Saturday 13 November 2021 with the UK CThe United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) ended on Saturday 13 November 2021 with the UK Cabinet Minister and COP26 President Alok Sharma issuing an emotional apology after the agreement on coal was watered down following last-minute negotiations. Scientists have been unanimous in their feedback that the outcome of the conference will not achieve the intended outcome, which was to agree measures to prevent an increase in the global temperature of 1.5°C. Countries have kicked the can down the road by agreeing to reassemble at COP27 in Egypt in 2022 to revise Nationally Determined Contributions with the hope that more can be done. Small countries, who are struggling to combat the effects of climate change, are doing all they can but it is the large countries that are literally letting the planet down as ONGOLO reported in the article Lack of confidence in G7 commitments to climate change. United Nations Secretary General António Gutterres gave a sobering assessment of the outcome:

"Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. 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 [emissions] will itself be zero"

António Gutteres, UN Secretary General
Alok Sharma
UK Cabinet Minister and COP26 President Alok Sharma

There are three areas where the agreement fell spectacularly short of expectations:

India and China: phase down not out, coal

Many delegates had hoped that COP26 would achieve what other conferences had failed to achieve: deliver firm commitments to stop the use of coal, which is the most polluting fossil fuel. The draft wording of the agreement to "phase-out" coal was amended to "phase-down" following last minute pressure from China and India. There were no details provided post the conference on the glide path to this phase-down approach, which left many skeptical about what would can be achieved.

As we reported in We need to have an honest conversation about net zero, China and India had made their positions crystal clear about their dependence on coal to power their industrialisation agenda prior to the conference and were not going to commit to net zero before 2060. So why were the delegates surprised when backed into a corner and forced to agree to a watered-down agreement?

It is also unclear whether Australia, the United States and Germany had agreed to the original draft or were hiding behind China and India to save face? Australia is the largest exporter of coal globally and accounts for 39.5% of total exports. In 2020, Australian coal exports generated $33bn in revenue which was equivalent to 2.5% of GDP. The United States and Germany are among the top five global users of coal after China, India, and Russia. If these countries are sincere about abandoning coal, their positions should be reflected in the revised NDCs to be discussed in 2022.

COP26 protest
COP26 protest. Milano, Italy October 1, 2021

EU and the US block climate compensation

The coal pledge may have dominated the news headline but was not the most heated debate at COP26. Developing countries, led by the G77 + China which collectively represents 130 countries around the world, demanded that rich countries compensate them for the damage they have done to the planet and the effect that it is having on their citizens. In Kenya, for example, an estimated 2m will go hungry as the result of an on-going drought caused by climate change. The EU and US shot down the 'loss and damage' demands and offered technical assistance instead. They will not admit to any wrongdoing to avoid any legal or financial liability.

Failure to provide climate change financing

The Paris Agreement included commitments by leading developed countries to provide $100bn in annual climate financing by 2020 to less developed countries, so that they can invest in clean technologies to power their economies rather than fossil fuels. The commitments - not actual financing - will reach $96bn by 2022, more two years later than originally planned. Even then, there is nothing that will compel developed countries to make good on their promises.



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