After two weeks of closed-door bargaining, the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow came to an end on November 13, reaching an agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact that the organisers called a success and most others said was diluted and sketchy, not touching upon many issues such as finance in sufficient detail to deal with the ongoing climate emergency.
Of the many pledges and announcements that were made, one of the standout declarations was by India, which promised to achieve carbon neutrality by 2070. The announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the early days of the conference, took delegates by surprise, easing international pressure on the country to ratchet up its climate ambitions.
“The summit proved to be a success from India’s standpoint because we articulated and put across the concerns and ideas of the developing world quite succinctly and unequivocally,” Bhupender Yadav, India’s environment minister, wrote in a blog at the end of the negotiations.
One of the aims of the Glasgow summit, also known as COP26, was to keep the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with the beginning of the industrial era. The Glasgow Climate Pact resolved “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Critics, however, said this statement in the summit agreement was not enough. “It is meek, it is weak and the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal is only just alive,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, an activist group. “Glasgow was meant to deliver on firmly closing the gap to 1.5 degrees Celsius and that did not happen.”
“Glasgow did not deliver 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Li Shuo, senior global policy advisor, Greenpeace East Asia. “It only kept the goal alive, if countries work hard enough immediately after this conference. We need not just set targets on paper, but put real action in practice.”
The other main objective of the summit was to lay down a clear pathway to end the use of coal. That too achieved limited success, with the term phase-out replaced with phase-down in respect to coal, mainly due to objections by India and China, the world’s two biggest developing nations that depend heavily on coal to sustain their economic growth momentum.
India was criticised in some quarters for its opposition. However, Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, a Washington-based non-profit, had a different take. “The problem is not India,” Wu wrote on Twitter. “The problem is the US and rich countries refusing to couch fossil fuel phase-out in the context of global equity.”
What the summit did achieve was to lay out some rules for carbon trading and offsets, a vital part of the Paris pact that has been stalemated in the previous two United Nations Climate Change Conferences at Katowice in Poland and Madrid in Spain. Activists said that the rules were inadequate and left many loopholes.
“The UN secretary-general announced that a group of experts will bring vital scrutiny to (carbon) offset markets, but much work still needs to be done to stop the greenwashing, cheating and loopholes giving big emitters and corporations a pass,” Morgan said.
Still, the guidelines on carbon trading will be counted as a positive, particularly for India, other experts said. “Now that COP26 has finalised the rules of carbon trading, India will be able to sell more than a million carbon credits from previous years, and can also create a domestic market for carbon trading,” said Ulka Kelkar, director of the climate programme at World Resources Institute, India.
Loss, damage disappoints
One big expectation from COP26 was some action on the issue of loss and damage. Many experts had said much of its success would depend on how negotiations take a stand on helping vulnerable countries and communities to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change.
The Glasgow pact failed to take any action on loss and damage other than reiterating that it requires more attention. This failure attracted the maximum criticism. “This COP has failed to provide immediate assistance for people suffering now,” Laurence Tubiana, chief executive of European Climate Foundation.
Others were more scathing. “The needs of the world’s vulnerable people have been sacrificed on the altar of the rich world’s selfishness,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Powershift Africa, a Nairobi-based think tank. “Not only did developed countries fail to deliver the long-promised $100 billion of climate finance to poorer countries, they have also failed to recognise the urgency of delivering this financial support.”
“The conference has betrayed the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable in South Asia by working on an agenda that suits the rich and the influential,” said Sanjay Vashist, director, Climate Action Network South Asia.
“The lack of a solid resolution to providing finance for vulnerable countries hit by costly climate disasters and complex transition risks is a failure that will need to be addressed,” said Sara Jane Ahmed, finance advisor to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a global partnership of countries that are disproportionately affected by the consequences of global warming.
“COP26 has failed to respond to the urgency of acting on climate change and helping people rebuild their ravaged homes and farms,” said Harjeet Singh, senior advisor to the Climate Action Network International. “While the outcome from the summit recognised the gap in dealing with losses and damages in developing countries, the step to provide finance and deliver justice to the climate victims have been delayed.”
Even on health, the outcome of the summit failed to please experts. This Glasgow agreement is “insufficient to protect health in the face of the greatest global health threat we have ever faced,” said Marina Romanello, research director, the Lancet Countdown, an initiative that considers climate change to be a public health issue.
The Glasgow summit was high on words but low on action, experts said. One of the main reasons for this was the reluctance of wealthy nations to commit more funds to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to the adverse impacts of global warming. There was practically no action on climate finance, which was seen as one of the key markers of success at the conference.
“Developed countries must quickly deliver an improved quantity and quality of climate finance, and the next conference will need to deliver progress on financing for loss and damage,” said Ahmed.
In fact, most of the progress at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference took place in the first week, when a couple of important agreements were signed to stop deforestation and restrain the release of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more harmful than carbon dioxide. As the conference continued, irreconcilable differences began cropping up, particularly on the touchy issue of climate finance, and loss and damage.
In the end, the promises made in the Glasgow summit will have to be translated into action if the planet is to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.
“As attention shifts beyond the conference, it is critical for everyone to step up their efforts and turn commitments into real action,” said Ani Dasgupta, president and chief executive of World Resources Institute, a research organisation.
This article first appeared on Mongabay.