Climate change: Takeaways from draft COP26 agreement

Delegates struggle for an agreement at UN climate change summit
The world leaders started COP26 UN climate change talks with a flourish, but delegates still struggling to finalise agreement.

The UN climate change talks: The delegates at COP26 have finalised a draft agreement on action against climate change, despite some countries taking a firm stand on phasing out coal, production subsidies on fossil fuels and financial assistance from developed countries. The draft released on Saturday has diluted the commitments to phasing out of coal and market manipulating subsidies on other fossil fuels, drawing flak from activists.

The revised draft urged the governments to offer tighter deadlines to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reveal their plans to meet their commitments. According to delegates, China and Saudi Arabia are leading the nations that seek removal of references to subsidies from the draft.

The 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had set a goal of a 45% cut in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. As per the modified target of the 2015 Paris agreement, world nations had agreed to limit global warming to 1.5C above the pre-industrial levels to stop the deadly impacts of climate change.

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The takeaways from climate change summit

Though a number of agreements have been announced at Glasgow by different groups of nations, many including climate activists are calling COP26 a total flop. They say the announcements made at the conference are not backed by firm commitments or plans leading to the targets. But here are some key takeaways.

China-US announcement: The world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the US, on Wednesday announced an agreement to raise their cooperative climate ambitions. The joint statement by the two countries said cooperation is the only option for the largest economies and together they can achieve important things beneficial to the whole world.

Strong words not backed by a plan: The agreement uses strong language on the global warming target, a major victory for the conference as some of the largest economies had till now shown a reluctance to commit to climate goals. However, the activists said strong language is not matched by a commitment to achieve the goals. The draft recognises the urgent need to cut carbon emissions by 2030 to meet 1.5 degrees target. Towards the end, it asks countries to submit new NDCs to keep warming below 2 degrees, in an obvious mismatch.

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The draft mentions fossil fuel subsidies: In a first for a COP agreement, the draft asks governments to speed up the phasing-out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. Billions of dollars worth taxpayer money is spent every year to push the production and consumption of fossil fuels. However, one is not sure if these clauses will make it to the final agreement in the face of strong opposition. Saudi Arabia and China may force the COP26 officials to remove the paragraph mentioning fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia throws a spanner: Saudi Arabia is putting up a big resistance to a substantial agreement. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister made his country’s stand amply clear when he asked the world to end bias against specific forms of energy. People familiar with the negotiations have revealed that the world’s largest crude producer is blocking in strong language, the clauses on 1.5 degrees and fossil fuels.

Car deal disappoints: The global car industry disappointed the delegates and the activists by not aligning with the idea of putting an end to the era of combustion engine. The United Kingdom wanted the governments, car makers and investors to pledge that all new cars sold in leading markets from 2035 and all over the world from 2040 would be zero emission ones. The largest car producing countries — Germany, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States — refused to accept the deadline.

Environment funds: The developing countries are facing funding gaps for the most vulnerable, while the draft discusses the need to deliver $100 billion climate funds a year to developing countries as promised by the developed world more than 10 years ago.

Alliance for phasing out oil and gas: Denmark and Costa Rica floated an alliance for phasing out petro fuels, along with France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and Wales. The group — Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance– has been hailed by activists as a turning point.

EU draws flak: Environment activists have slammed the European Union for backing €13bn worth of gas projects. Climate activists slammed the EU for plan to back €13 billion worth gas projects using public funds. The EU said phasing out coal is not possible without an intermediary phase that uses comparatively less-polluting natural gas.

COP26 focus on sustainable urban life: The summit brought spotlight on building sustainable urban centres. More than 68% of the world population will live in cities by 2050. Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, urged cities, states, businesses, universities, and tribal nations to promote sustainable urban life.