• Leigh Murray

Glasgow Climate Conference - success or failure?

The dust is still settling on the climate change conference in Glasgow, but debate continues to rage over whether it was a success or failure.

The headline-grabbing moment was, of course, when the language of the Glasgow Climate Pact over the issue of coal was watered-down after intervention from some countries, including India. In the end, it read that there would be a “phasing down” of coal instead of “phasing out” of coal.

Words matter. The fact that this was agreed to by all parties was a signal to many that the summit had failed.

Coal, of course, is responsible for around 40 percent of annual CO2 emissions. Can countries such as India, which relies so heavily on coal for its energy needs, be expected to simply turn off the tap?

So does the difference between ‘phasing down’ and ‘phasing out’ matter? Depends on who you ask. Yes, it’s significant because so many agree that ridding the world of coal is inextricably linked to the goal of preventing the world from warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord. Others argue, however, that the fact coal is now firmly on the agenda is at least a step in the right direction and opens the door for stronger targets to end the use of coal.

As Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said: “It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters.”

The toned-down language, however, also prompted a warning from Alok Sharma, the UK President of COP26, who was visibly upset at the end of the summit. “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action. I am grateful to the UNFCCC for working with us to deliver a successful COP26.”

(You can read the Glasgow Climate Pact here: https://bit.ly/COP26GlasgowClimatePact

As agreed in Paris in 2015, emissions need to be cut by 45 percent by 2030 and close to zero by 2050 to meet the 1.5C target.

But how do you bring all the world’s nations together to agree on the same goals? No easy task. Impossible, you might say. Why, say the poorer, developing countries, should they make the same sacrifices as the rich when the impact of a warming planet has been caused by those wealthier nations?

And why should those developing countries trust their richer counterparts when they have failed to keep their previous promise to deliver US$100 billion a year for five years to those countries most at risk from climate change? That pledge was renewed in Glasgow, so only time will tell if action follows words this time.

While the final pact may have caused plenty of consternation, there was also some cause for optimism thanks to other agreements reached during the two-week summit in Scotland. They were, on the whole, positive. Although some of them do prompt you to pause and say “Great, but…”

For example, more than 100 countries joined the U.S. and E.U. in agreeing to reduce methane gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2020 levels, including Indonesia, Canada and Brazil. While they make up almost half of the world’s methane gas emitters, the agreement was tempered by the fact that Australia, China, India and Russia were notable in their absence to signing up.

But there were other optimistic outcomes, such as:

· More than 120 countries pledging to end deforestation by 2030

· The U.S. and China reaching an agreement to work together to stop warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even though their deal was short on detail, there was agreement to partner on clean energy, deforestation and cutting methane emissions

· Countries were urged to return with stronger 2030 targets by the end of 2022

Roll on COP27 in Egypt.

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