As COP26 drew to a close with the Glasgow Climate Pact, a 10-page document, the results were mixed. In many ways, its results signal a tale of two globes.
While delegates from the Global South lauded the inclusion of fossil fuels, they criticized the last-minute change, requested by India and supported by China and the United States, to water down the call for a phaseout of coal to a “phasedown.”
While the Global South hoped that the G20 nations, responsible for 80 percent of emissions, would make cuts, they didn’t. The Global North still refuses to recognize the impact of its historical emissions. COP26 did, however, make headway on key issues. Here’s a look at what COP26 achieved – and didn’t.
“We have kept 1.5 degrees within reach.”
The aim of COP26 was to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius alive. But COP26 President Alok Sharma conceded after the negotiations, “We have kept 1.5 degrees within reach, but its pulse is weak.”
Current commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report released by Climate Action Tracker, will lead temperatures to rise to 2.4 degrees. So there is some progress, but not enough and not quickly enough. This decade is the one for action.
The Glasgow Climate Pact also marks the first time that fossil fuels are mentioned explicitly in a final declaration coming out of the UN climate negotiations. Specifically, the pact calls for “the phasedown of unabated coal power and the phaseout of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”
Still, while Sharma demanded that COP26 “consign coal to history,” the Glasgow Climate Pact merely calls for the phasedown, not phaseout, of coal. An agreement to phase out coal was signed, but of the five largest producers – China, India, Indonesia, Australia and the U.S. – only Indonesia signed on.
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry referred to subsidies as “the definition of insanity. We’re [feeding] the very problem we’re here to try to cure. It doesn’t make sense.” U.S. subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are roughly $20.5 billion per year, with 20 percent going to coal and 80 percent to oil and natural gas.
If anyone doubts whether or not the movement to phase out fossil fuel subsidies can work, the cost of developing oil and gas is now four to six times as much as developing renewables; a decade ago, the costs were equal.
But the industry is not going down without a fight. There were more fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance than the number of delegates from any single nation. Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian environmental activist and former executive director of Friends of the Earth International, said, “It’s like inviting the alcohol lobby to an Alcoholics Anonymous convention.”
The heel-dragging frustrated many, but also fueled activism. Protests at COP26 had a much larger turnout than anticipated. And a movement is afoot to focus on ending fossil fuel subsidies.