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Glasgow COP26: Climate deal sealed after late drama over coal

New draft retains call for reduced fossil fuel subsidies; poor nations seek funds to tackle climate change

Topics
global climate deal | Fossil fuel | Carbon emissions

Agencies  |  Glasgow 

COP26
COP26 President Alok Sharma gestures as he receives applause during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (Photo: Reuters)

UN climate talks ended with a deal that for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming, even as coal-reliant countries, led by India, lobbed last-minute objections.

While the agreement won applause for keeping alive the hope of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, many of the nearly 200 national delegations wished they’d come away with more. The negotiators at the COP26 summit here recognised India's intervention for the world to “phase down” rather than “phase out” fossil fuels. After a huddle between the envoys from India, China, the United States and European Union, the clause was hurriedly amended to ask countries to “phase down” their coal use.

"It is so decided," said Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, as he declared the new pact with a stroke of his gavel after marathon talks which began earlier this month and concluded with an extra time plenary on Saturday. “I hope we can leave this conference united, having delivered something significant for people and the planet together as one.”

Several countries criticised the change on fossil fuels promoted by India, even as Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav asked the Glasgow climate summit how one could expect developing nations to make promises about "phasing out" coal and subsidies when they have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication.

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Earlier, at a stocktaking plenary, India made an important intervention to express its disappointment over the draft text of the agreement. The minister pointed to climate friendly lifestyles and climate justice, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement, as keys to solving the climate crisis caused by "unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns".

Fossil fuels and their use have enabled parts of the world to attain high levels of wealth and wellbeing, and targeting any particular sector is uncalled for, he said. Every country will arrive at net-zero as per its own national circumstances, strengths and weaknesses, Yadav stressed.

Delegates also approved the framework for trading carbon credits, breaking six years of deadlock.

The Glasgow agreement was a more ambitious deal than many longtime COP observers had expected, with the coal commitment in particular held up as an important breakthrough. But it rests on the huge assumption that the biggest polluters — especially China, the US and India — will follow through on their promises to zero out their emissions over the next decades.

Reaching carbon neutrality will require trillions of dollars of investment in clean energy and stronger restrictions on fossil-fuel activities including combustion engine cars and polluting factories.

The accord was also criticised by activists for not doing enough to raise financial support from rich countries to help developing nations transition to clean energy and prepare for more extreme weather. They also warned that concessions on carbon market rules could set back efforts to cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

“Glasgow has been an important gateway to a 1.5°C world but we now need accelerated action to get there,” said Emily Shuckburgh, director of research center Cambridge Zero. “COP26 ends reaffirming the fact that the science of climate change is crystal clear — we are running out of time.”

US climate envoy John Kerry in the final meeting said: “If it’s a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable. And this has been, I think, a good negotiation.”

UN climate agreements are, by their nature, messy compromises as they have to balance out the competing interests of more than 190 countries. In the final hours, countries including low-lying island nations like the Maldives and carbon powers like the US complained that it didn’t go far enough. Delegates also expressed anger that India was allowed to alter the final draft.

Sharma’s voice broke with emotion in response to vulnerable nations expressing anger over the last-minute changes."I apologise for the way this process has unfolded," he told the assembly. “I am deeply sorry.”

What's in the climate pact

Ratcheting Up Ambition

Commitments made by countries to cut emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases are nowhere near enough to prevent planetary warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures

Targeting Fossil Fuels

Pact includes language that asks countries to reduce their reliance on coal and roll back subsidies, moves that would target the energy sources that scientists say are the primary drivers of manmade climate change.

Payments to Poor and Vulnerable Nations

The deal made some headway on the demands of poor and vulnerable countries that wealthy countries responsible for most emissions pay up. It "urges developed country Parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025."

Rules For Global Carbon Markets

Negotiators also closed a deal setting rules for carbon markets, potentially unlocking trillions of dollars for protecting forests, building renewable energy facilities and other projects to combat climate change. Some measures would be implemented to ensure credits are not double-counted under national emissions targets Side Deals

The United States and the European Union spearheaded a global methane cutting initiative in which around 100 countries have promised to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

US and China announced a join declaration to cooperate on climate change measures, a deal that reassured observers of Beijing's intention to accelerate its efforts to combat global warming after a long quiet period.

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First Published: Mon, November 15 2021. 01:49 IST
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