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COP26-The Glasgow Agreement: A glass half full

15 November 2021 Amena Saiyid

The UN COP26 gathering in Glasgow concluded 13 November with delegates from at least 193 countries agreeing to double climate adaptation financing from 2019 levels by 2025, and to "phase down" the use of unabated coal power and fossil fuel subsidies at some uncertain date.

Based on the advanced unedited copy of the Glasgow climate pact, participating delegates as well as observers and analysts returned home after making some headway toward the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, despite not meeting the $100 billion-a-year goal in climate financing and agreeing to some last-minute changes in the wording related to unabated coal use and fossil fuel subsidies.

For instance, delegates in principle agreed to reduce global CO2 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and to achieve net-zero goals by mid-century, but stopped short of applying this target to other GHGs, notably methane, which play a key role in global warming. The agreement called for "deep reductions in other greenhouse gases."

Recognizing the climate urgency raised by the UN researchers, the delegates collectively agreed to take action to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees C and to help the world's poorest nations adapt to climate extremes, as they had tentatively agreed in their initial draft.

They also "urged" parties to the Paris Agreement to submit new or updated emissions reductions plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of the COP27 meeting in Egypt next November, while requesting those that have "to revisit and strengthen" the 2030 targets to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal of below 2 degrees C by end 2022.

Conferees also made progress on updating rules under Article 6 from the Paris Agreement, which reflect how voluntary carbon trading markets can be monitored to assure that claimed emissions reductions are real and are retired after use.

Acknowledging the role of fossil fuels

Many analysts present at the meeting and outside lauded the first-time acknowledgment of fossil fuels and the role coal power plays in increasing GHGs emissions and global warming, while others decried the last-minute change that the Indian delegation demanded to substitute the phrase "phase out" with "phase down."

But what remained conspicuously absent from this language was a timeline for this action.

"The text of this UN agreement on climate for the first time mentions coal and fossil fuels, but there is no date attached to it, so it is clearly pretty loose in what it could mean, especially if the goal is to reduce GHG emissions 45% by 2030," Paul McConnell, IHS Markit executive director for climate scenarios team, told Net-Zero Business Daily 15 November.

The agreement calls on 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 and energy efficiency measures."

This language is seen by some environmental groups, such as the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, as throwing a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry because it allows or encourages technologies such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage.

Historical moment

However, Chris Littlecott, associate director for fossil fuel transition at the European climate think tank E3G, is of the camp who preferred to view the developments on fossil fuels as a glass half full. Terming the language as "a historical moment," Littlecott said it is "an unprecedented recognition by all parties of the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels, starting with coal power generation."

Outside of the Glasgow climate pact, however, US, China, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and India, which make up the top GHG emitters, did not sign a UK-led global agreement to phase out the use of coal. At least 46 countries, including the EU, Canada, and South Korea, as well as coal-dependent economies, such as Vietnam, Chile, and Poland, did join the UK pact.

The EU made it known that it would not halt its investment in natural gas infrastructure as it plans to modify it for use by low-carbon, green hydrogen, and other fuels that its member countries will need to transition to a decarbonized world.

Real test of Glasgow

During a 13 November press briefing, US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry emphasized that Glasgow "gives us a very clear blueprint going forward about the things we need to do for now through 2030 and 2030 through 2050, and it embraces keeping the 1.5 degrees goal alive."

However, McConnell noticed a "mismatch" between the long-term, net-zero by 2050 goals and what actions countries are prepared to take by 2030. This is most evident from the lack of strong updates to their respective NDCs from India and China.

On the first day of COP26, fourth-ranked GHG emitter India announced plans to reduce 45% of its carbon emissions intensity, or the amount of carbon released per capita, by 2030 and to increase its goal of installing 500 GW of renewable energy by that date in its update to its NDC. China in its update reiterated its earlier publicly stated plans to phase down coal power use after peaking prior to 2030. The US and China also agreed to take steps to reduce emissions of methane, a more potent GHG than CO2, with China committing to announce a climate action plan at the next COP meeting, which will take place in November 2022 in Egypt.

Scientists and analysts, however, say the goals announced by China are too weak to make a dent in the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Second-ranked US and third-ranked EU announced pledges earlier this year to reduce at least half of their GHG emissions by 2030.

India, China, and Russia also are not among the 108 countries that have signed the global pledge to reduce methane emissions by 2030 that the US and EU formally launched at the COP26 meeting.

According to global climate think tank E3G, "How countries establish new cooperation to deliver more short-term action over the next 12 months will be the real test of success at Glasgow."

Growing needs of developing countries

The delegates noted "with concern" the growing needs of developing countries as they grapple with increasing climate impacts, such as hurricanes and flooding that countries like Bangladesh and Uganda are experiencing, and the high level of indebtedness as a result of the pandemic.

Regretting their inability to meet the $100 billion a year pledge agreed in 2009 COP meeting in Copenhagen that they are hoping to meet in 2023, the delegates agreed to increase the funding levels past 2025. They also agreed, as reported earlier, to double the financing for adaptation measures beyond 2019 levels to bring the funding up to par with that set aside for mitigation.

The Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, which represents 46 of the world's poorest nations that are most vulnerable to climate change but have done the least to cause it, were pleased that the delegates agreed to increase funding for adaptation. The LDC Group was "disappointed" though that an agreement wasn't reached on carving out a separate pool of money for loss and damage that these countries are incurring now.

"Our people are already experiencing a mounting onslaught of loss and damage caused by climate change. We heard widespread recognition of this injustice, yet there was a failure to address it," LDC Group Chair Sonam P. Wangdi, who also is secretary of Bhutan's National Environment Commission, said in a 14 November statement.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Kerry noted that Glasgow was never meant to be "the finish line."

"Paris built the arena and Glasgow starts the race. And tonight, the starting gun was fired," Kerry said, adding, "we have about nine years within which to make those critical decision we were warned about in 2018 by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change]."

Posted 15 November 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst

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