Why should be we talking about the just concluded Glasgow United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and what importance it holds for us? Before that, it is imperative to understand the genesis of the phenomenon of climate change and what is at stake if climate change is not decelerated, if not halted completely in immediate future. Over the past one century, the world economy is developing rapidly and, at the same time, becomes increasingly dependent on non-renewable energy obtained from fossil fuels.
The massive consumption of hydrocarbon fuels, fast urbanization, industrialization and growth-driven deforestation has led to the exhaustion of energy resources, rising of fuel prices and has contributed massively to greenhouse gas emissions, eventually leading to global warming and climate change.
The world is warming because of emissions from fossil fuels used by humans, such as coal, oil and gas. The climate change is a precursor for extreme weather conditions manifesting in melting and squeezing of glaciers, flash floods, draughts and famines, intensifying of heat waves, forest fires, rising of sea levels etc. This has caused a threat of submergence of many beautiful cities and low lying places of the world which can lead to wiping out of the habitats, and destruction of life and livelihood of communities.
Climate change catastrophe, if not mitigated on unguent basis, can potentially unleash the biggest ever refugee crisis at global level caused by migration of communities compelled by loss of habitat, livelihood , economic and developmental prospects, and, therefore, has devastating effects on life; posing an existential threat to the planet earth.
The Glasgow United Nations Climate Change Conference - COP26, was recently held at the SEC Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, during 31st October and 13th November, 2021 and attracted tremendous attention globally, amid a mix of hopes and despair that finally nations will reach to a consensus for a concrete action plan to save the planet earth from climate change devastation. COP26 was the “26th Conference of the Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the third meeting of the “Parties to the Paris Agreement” (adopted in 2015); it was a continuity of the “ratchet mechanism” of The Paris Agreement which mandated the signatory nations to revise and communicate their national pledges regarding emission targets - known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) - every five years.
The conference negotiated the “Glasgow Climate Pact”, the text of which represented a consensus of the representatives of the 197 attending parties. The pact affirmed the resolve to pursue greenhouse gas emissions cuts with a hope to contain global temperature rise within 1.5 degree, a goal which assumes the importance of matter of life and death. It is pertinent to refer to Article 2 of the Paris agreement which set a target of holding global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and perusing to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
The pact declaration broadly covers the role of science and technology, urgency, climate change, mitigation, adaptation, finance and ‘Loss and damage’ the poor and developing countries are facing due to climate change. The final resolution acknowledged the importance of the best available scientific understanding for effective climate action and policymaking, role of multilateralism in addressing climate change and promoting regional and international cooperation in order to strengthen climate action within the purview of The Paris Agreement.
On mitigation of climate change, the resolution, first time, explicitly mentions reducing the usage of coal, which is the single largest contributor to climate change. A pledge to “phase out” coal was changed to “phase down” in the final draft, under pressure from some coal reliant countries such as China, Russia, and India as the shutting down coal plants comes at a huge economic and developmental cost for these countries. It was acknowledged that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net-zero around 2050’s, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases.
The pact calls upon parties to “accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems”, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation, carbon capture technologies and energy efficiency measures, replacing coal with neat, clean, green, environment resilient low carbon energy alternatives. More than 40 countries - which include major coal-users including Poland, Vietnam and Chile agreed to shift away from coal. However, the world’s most coal-dependent countries, including Australia, India, China and the US, have stayed away from any serious commitment.
The pact encourages the Parties to consider further actions to reduce by 2030 non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, including methane. A scheme to cut 30% of current methane emissions by 2030 has been agreed by more than 100 countries. However, the big emitters such as China, Russia and India have again stayed from any commitment on this. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, and is currently responsible for a third of human-generated warming. Similarly, leaders from more than 100 world countries, representing about 85% of the world’s forests, promised to stop deforestation by 2030.
However, most signatory parties, like Indonesia, are sceptical on the implementation and monitoring of the policies related to ending of deforestation by 2030 as pledged by various nations. On Adaptation, the declaration emphasizes “the urgency of scaling up action and support, including finance, capacity-building and technology transfer, to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in line with the best available science, taking into account the priorities and needs of developing country Parties”.
Glasgow Climate Pact is under severe criticism from some quarters mainly for the resolutions, or absence of these, pertaining to “Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies”, “Climate finance” and “Loss and damage “clauses of the adopted draft. More importantly, the climate change experts and activists feel disappointed because of the softening of the draft language related to “coal phase-out”, and for not getting other fossil fuels such as oil or gas under the purview of this agreement.
The concerned groups strongly feel that enough has not been done to achieve the targeted goal of limiting the greenhouse emissions and that the goal of restricting warming below 2 degrees seems far from realisation. Climate scientists warn that it is a matter of time that humanity will be rendered helpless to arrest the devastating aftermath of climate change if the reformative measures are not taken at an emergency scale at this point of time.
So “something is better than nothing” approach, adopted in Glasgow conference by world leaders, is not going to work to defeat the impending armageddon of climate change. The time period set to achieve the targets of net-zero emission seem to be illusory and impracticable as most of the present generation is not expected to be alive and capable of shaping the climate change scenario or to fulfil the pledges so made by 2050s .
Regarding Climate finance, the declaration urges the developed countries to “at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country from 2019 levels by 2025, in the context of achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation in the provision of scaled-up financial resources, in line with Article 9, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement”.
The developing countries lobbied hard to realise the goal of getting increased financial commitment on “adaptation” and “Loss and damage” than on initiatives that avoid future emissions. Though pledges were made by developed countries to jointly provide enhanced finance to meet some of the projected requirement of approximately 5 trillion dollars; the regrettable fact remains that the developed countries have failed in their previous commitment to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 towards effective mitigation and adaptation for achieving climate change containment goals. The good thing is that about 450 financial organisation have agreed to back clean technology and to help in meeting net zero targets.
Similarly, the pact acknowledges that climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause “loss and damage” particularly to poor and developing countries and reiterates the urgency of scaling up action and support, as appropriate, including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, for implementing approaches for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to these effects.
During the conference, the representatives of vulnerable nations lobbied for compensation for the loss and damages they actually link to wealthy countries’ emissions. However, these nations and parties were disappointed for the reason that there is no commitment or agreement to monitory compensation for the damage climate change has already caused, mainly for which the developed and industrially rich countries are responsible.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) this year showed that in 2019, about 25% of climate finance was spent on adaptation from effects of climate change whereas the rest 75% was spent on funding projects related to mitigation practices. Against this, the representatives of some of the poor countries believe that climate change is impacting on communities with such intensity that they can no longer adapt, but instead need financial support to rebuild providing relief, rehabilitation and support to those who are simply displaced forever. So, on the question of tackling the impending catastrophe of the climate change repercussions, the world nations are as much divided as they are in all other issues of human survival; as the interests of the nation states are always supreme and of first consideration than anything else.
Altaf Hussain Pandith is a professor at Department of Chemistry, University of Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.