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COP26 Glasgow: Imperfect, uncomfortable, Disappointing, Imbalanced but Progress still

By Dr Seema Javed

The COP26 climate conference in Glasgow with the last minute Glasgow Pact rushed through after several rounds of iterations. The verdict across the room at the closing plenary- imperfect, uncomfortable, disappointing, imbalanced but still some progress in the spirit of compromise conveyed the gap between action that is needed and tall statements of progressive action that were made. The assurances though have come to little, as the Presidency and national delegations continue to fight it out over key elements of the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement, signed almost six years ago now, set out overarching goals of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally under 1.5 degrees Celsius. How this would be done was to be decided in subsequent years through the formalisation of the “rule book” in time for the agreement to be operationalised by 2020. This was the biggest burden to be resolved at COP26.

Two major issues remained for the completion of the rule book at the end of COP25 in Madrid, namely Article 6 (on the market and non-market approaches to emissions reductions) and finance (particularly the transparency frameworks required for the monitoring and verification of finance flows).

After hitting roadblocks in successive sessions since 2016, the rule book has finally been completed, effectively keeping a faint flicker of hope alive to limit warming under 1.5 degrees. Recognition of phasing down coal and ending fossil fuel subsidies is the first-ever mention of fossil fuels in any COP decision text. It however revealed the lack of equity and the blame game and divide that exists between the developed and developing countries and is at play during the negotiations which are pitched as a matter of life and death.

With climate diplomacy more visible than climate action, hosts the UK had their back against the wall right from the get-go, as the conference contended with a widening deficit of trust from years of unkept financial promises to developing countries and brewing geopolitical tensions made worse by a burgeoning energy crisis in several parts of the world. Ultimately, the rule book now shows a semblance of completion, paving the way for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Perhaps sensing ominous signs all around, the UK Presidency scrambled to manage headlines as soon as the conference opened. Starting off with the Leaders Summit, and boasting of several high-profile deals and announcements, including the securing of net-zero announcements from large developing countries India and Brazil.

What ensued was a rush to declare the COP a success even before negotiations around tricky texts began. It didn’t take long for the façade to fall apart though, and within days it was clear that any celebration of progress in the climate agenda was premature.

To make matters worse, the COP, already contentious for being organised at a time when the world struggles to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, came under heavy fire from observer groups for the event’s poor organisation and accessibility issues.

After two weeks of back-and-forth negotiations between developed and developing country Parties, the COP has ended with a few important hits, but also many misses. Through this time, the imprints of disaffection with the paucity of finance and unkept promises on the part of developed countries transformed into deep faultlines that threaten to severely undermine confidence in the collaborative process that drives global climate action. The feeling across developing and vulnerable countries was encapsulated in the Indian Environment Minister’s remarks hours before the meeting was closed, who stated that none of the urgency that is professed about mitigation is reflected in the delivery of finance.

The developing world this year has vociferously demanded stronger commitments on finance as Faster mitigation is only possible when there will be real-world support, solidarity, responsibility, and most of all, finances. This balance, unfortunately, was not reflected as the talks drew to a close.

At the end of its 26th session, the biggest positives have been a rapidly growing recognition of climate-related Loss and Damage requiring specific and focused attention, and finally bringing some closure to the long-pending chapter on Article 6. On the other hand, differences over finance and attempts to undermine principles of equity and historic responsibilities threaten to jeopardise any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

Dr Seema Javed – Environmentalist, Senior Journalist and Strategic Communicator on Climate Change

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