COP26 headed to failure despite carbon to coal commitments

Tackling climate change needs action & accountability, not yet more promises


November 4, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

COP26 headed to failure despite carbon to coal commitments

Key issues like finance and accountability have once again not been addressed at COP26. (Photo: Karwai Tang/ UK Government )

Behind the façade of bold and big promises to cut carbon emissions and use of coal being turned out at the ongoing COP26 in Glasgow, there is abject failure to address key issues – finance and accountability. Glasgow meet on the same false path as Paris did in 2015. Hollow promises that remain unmet even as the world hurtles towards climatic catastrophe.

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Even before the latest climate change summit, COP26, began at Glasgow earlier this year, there were more than enough warnings and definitely more than adequate evidence that the world had already turn out of time in meeting the climate change threat head on and that the Glasgow summit was the last chance to act, not speak or make yet more promises, which unfortunately have plagued the climate change talks ever since they began over two decades ago.

Yet, the first three days have seen a stream of global leaders come to Glasgow and make big sounding promises once more, with ‘commitments’ to cut everything – from carbon and methane emissions to coal consumption – and sidestepping the key issue of what will replace these fuels, how will it be financed, how easily will technology be transferred and what happens to countries that miss their targets.

These were precisely the issues that the leaders had monumentally failed to sort out and reach a firm and enforceable multilateral agreement at the COP21 meet in Paris in 2015. Then, too, instead of a strictly enforceable agreement with punitive measures spelt out for those that miss their commitments, the leaders had very happily announced signing of an agreement that had saved the world!

Six years later, the agreement and its varied commitments lie in tatters as hardly any country has met the half-baked commitments made in Paris and some actually slid backwards, as the former United States President Donald Trump had by putting coal at the heart of American power production industry.

And yet, Glasgow is a repeat in big announcements that seem to be part of the awe and shock strategy adopted by global leaders. To come to the podium and make big sounding and earth moving announcements that they know they will never be accountable for and from the moment they step down from the dais at Glasgow, it is business as usual.

The announcements are definitely not lacking at Cop26. First, the United States and European Union led a group of about 120 nations in announcing that they will cut their methane emissions by 30 pc by the year 2030 and which they hope will be enough to take 0.2°C off the expected rise in global temperatures by then.

No meat in methane cut

There are challenges with this pledge, even though cutting methane emissions dramatically is needed and had been signalled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) task force of scientists as a key stumbling blocks in the path to neutralising global warming. First, almost all big the countries that have signed up are taking the easier target – of plugging leaks from oil and gas fields – which are important source of methane emissions. But none of them have actually uttered a word about agriculture, especially cattle raising, which the single biggest source of methane.

A number of developed economies, including the US and the EU, have a huge meat industry that depends entirely on cattle raising. Yet, the methane pledge leaves this issue out. Australia, a big meat producer, has sat out of this pledge as have Russia, China and India. Another problem, which is common to all these pledges at COP26 and other meetings earlier, is what happens to countries that don’t achieve their targets? Also, the devil in all these agreements lies in details and those have not yet been finalised.

Another big-sounding pledge relates to one of the key bug bears of climate – coal, the single biggest source of carbon emissions. On November 3, British Prime Minister and host of Cop26, Boris Johnson, announced that over 190 nations and organisations signed on a pledge to phase out coal, by 2030s for the rich nations and 2040s for the poorer ones. Once again, the devil here lay in details, which have since trickled out. One, the pledge has been signed only by 40-odd countries and the biggest producers and consumers of coal including, surprisingly, the United States, China, Australia, Russia and India have not signed on, along with over 140-odd other nations.

That the biggest producers and users are out of it is a huge signal of the efficacy of this agreement. First, the gap between the phase out by rich countries – who are historically responsible for over 80 pc of all the carbon emissions since industrial era began two centuries ago – and the poor countries who still lag way behind even in current emissions on a per capita basis is only 10-odd years. This is hardly sufficient for a goal that can be achieved as the transition from coal will be expensive for both the producers and users of coal in the poor countries. Moreover, coal mining is a major source of employment in developing nations and there is no money on the table yet for the developing countries to retrain and redeploy their coal miners in other jobs.

Moreover, none of the rich countries has yet signalled how this transition away from coal would be financed. Though some signs are likely to emerge during the meeting, finance has been the biggest problem in climate change meetings as the rich nations have singularly and consistently failed to live up to their promises on coughing up adequate money for the world to move on towards a carbon emission-free scenario.

No money on the table

In fact, climate finance, as part of ‘polluter to pay’ principle, was enshrined into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) right from the moment it was signed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

As part of this, in 2009, at Copenhagen climate change meet, the rich countries signed a pledge for financial support to developing countries for new technologies and technical assistance to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The rich nations were to start at a modest USD 10 billion per year in financial aid, which should have risen to USD 100 billion per year last year and continued to rise further. However, even after taking into the string of new promises at Glasgow, the rich world is still short of billions of dollars per year in climate finance. Had they kept their word, the rich countries by now would have paid USD 700 billion to the developing nations in climate finance.

In his speech at Glasgow, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded the rich world of its commitments and said it needed to raise the bar of climate finance to USD 1 trillion a year. The demand was shared by several other developing nations who accuse the developed world of not only falling far short of its commitments, but resort to using accounting jugglery like plugging all financial aid, even meant for other purposes, under the climate finance and also include private loans, made at eye-watering interest rates for the poor countries, as part of climate finance.

Though COP26 still has about 10 days to go, it would take much more than even a Houdini to spring real money out of the hat of the rich nations. Thus, one can safely expect the leaders to go back to business as usual and continue to accelerate the world’s pace towards climatic catastrophe.



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