New Delhi: The end of the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow has been followed by experts evaluating the outcomes and possible impacts of the newly-signed Glasgow Climate Pact — a document that aims to restrict harmful emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The two-week conference which began on 31 October witnessed major differences between developed and developing countries, as both sides debated on climate finance, loss and damage caused by climate change and the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Glasgow Pact was finally adopted by 197 parties 13 November after the COP26 deliberations were extended by a day. The conference was originally to have ended 12 November.
ThePrint explains the key issues covered in the pact, India’s stand on them, and what to expect next in the arena of climate change discussions.
What India said
During the closing plenary, India made an intervention that caused uproar among developed countries (as well as some developing countries), when it committed to a “phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” rather than a “phase out” of coal. Coal is among the most polluting fossil fuels.
Unabated coal power refers to coal produced without capturing or storing the carbon that is emitted.
Though developed countries have expressed their “deep disappointment” at India’s intervention, experts have since pointed out that it is still a big step for India, given its per capita emissions of carbon dioxide are already well below the world average (1.8 metric tonnes versus 4.5 metric tonnes, as of 2018).
The experts have also said that the second half of India’s intervention, which inserted that the coal phasedown should happen “while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable, in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition,” is in line with the principals of the COP’s mother convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on equitable climate action, which came into force in 1994.
On Wednesday, a government official who was part of the Indian COP26 delegation said India was being “unfairly blamed” for bringing in an amendment to the proposed “phaseout of” unabated coal power and committing to a “phaseout” instead.
“It is not a term that India either proposed or tabled [for the first time]. It [term] was already there [in circulation], we simply accepted it,” a Ministry of External Affairs official was quoted as saying in the media.
While there are no clear cut wins and losses of the Glasgow Pact, since every country has tried to safeguard its own interests and positions, it is still being viewed as “progress” towards slowing global warming, since it recognises the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Differences over ‘coal phasedown’
During COP negotiations, countries don’t always act independently and often group up according to shared interests and to bolster negotiating power. India is part of three such alliances — BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), the G77 and China (a coalition of 135 developing nations), and the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC, a group of 24 countries from the global south).
Countries make individual interventions when their positions stray from that of the groups they are part of. The groups, on the other hand, make interventions that are unanimously agreed upon by all parties.
India’s intervention on coal was not supported by the groups of G77 countries and the LDMC, but it was supported by China.
This is the first time a COP26 cover decision — an overarching text that sets the tone for current and future negotiations — has mentioned coal and fossil fuel subsidies, which is regarded as a feat itself.
“The first ever mention of coal phasedown in an international climate agreement is an important indication of the energy transformation underway and a clear signal to markets and industry,” Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, said in a statement on 14 November.
A complete phaseout of coal is, however, something that India does not agree to.
“Ever since the Paris Agreement was signed, India has maintained that coal is essential for India’s development and that it will use it responsibly. When the first draft of the cover decision arrived, India made it clear that it should be all fossil fuels and not just coal,” Dr T. Jayaraman, a scientific and technical expert, told ThePrint. Jayaraman was part of the Indian delegation and is a senior climate fellow at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.
“Phaseout itself is an ambiguous term, especially when restricted to “unabated” coal power,” he added.
While developed countries argue that India’s intervention “dilutes” the impact of the Glasgow Pact, the attention India drew to the responsibility of providing support to the poorest and vulnerable is significant, feel experts. It underlines a principle that is at the heart of the UNFCCC — common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). CBDR recognises that while all parties must address climate change, not all are equally responsible for it.
Poorer countries are disproportionately affected by climate change, and so need greater resources to cope with and mitigate its effects.
Contribution to climate finance
India was also extremely vocal on the issue of climate finance — money that will help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Environment minister Bhupender Yadav repeatedly mentioned at the COP26 that climate finance “wasn’t charity”, and a commitment that developed countries owed to emerging economies.
The pact urges developed countries to “at least double” their contributions towards adaptation finance — money that will help countries prepare for more frequent extreme weather events — by 2025. Adaptation finance is a part of climate finance.
According to a 2009 pledge, developed countries were to have raised $100 billion as Climate Finance by 2020. However, according to the latest available data $76.4 billion was raised by 2019, of which only $20.1 billion was mobilised for climate adaptation.
Most of this money, much to the dismay of developing countries (including India), went towards mitigation efforts, centred around preventing climate change. An example of this includes installing solar power plants.
Developing countries are also disappointed that a facility for loss and damage finance — money for when countries can’t adapt to climate change — was ruled out from the final draft of the Glasgow Pact. Developing countries had proposed the establishment of a Glasgow Loss and Damage facility, which would mobilise funds for this cause.
Ultimately, however, the text of the Glasgow Pact only “Urges developed country Parties to provide funds for the operation,” for an existing loss and damage mechanism, called the Santiago Network. Set up in 2019, the Santiago Network seeks to “catalyze the technical assistance” needed to address loss and damage owing to climate change, but not necessarily mobilise funds itself.
“The failure of the US and EU to deliver on the promised USD100 bn in climate finance remains urgent and central to any ambitious climate action. Blocking the establishment of even a modest fund to help vulnerable communities around the world with the massive loss and damage they are experiencing at the hands of the climate crisis is a serious blow,” said Khosla.
Experts are also disappointed by the lack of reference to historical emissions in the pact. Historical emissions, or the build up of greenhouse gasses by developed countries, is what is causing climate change today.
While the text of the Glasgow Pact mentions CBDR twice in the context of climate mitigation, it does not hold developed countries accountable enough, said experts. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, only a certain amount of emissions are permissible. This limit of emission is called the carbon budget (or carbon space).
“The issue of how to make up for past inaction, that has put us in this position, needs to be adequately addressed. There is very little carbon space left, and the text should have urged developed countries to reach net-zero emissions before 2050, so that developing countries have equitable access to the carbon space left,” said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
The US, the largest historical emitter and the second-largest current emitter of carbon dioxide, has only agreed to a net-zero target of 2050. India has pledged net-zero emissions by 2070, which according to experts is in line with the CBDR.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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