Is Glasgow COP26 a new Copenhagen, overlooking the countries in most need?

By: Jiesper Pedersen

“The most hectic COP since Paris”, said the Kenyan delegation last week. Several promising things evolved from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. But a 29-year conflict remains unsolved, which is a key to entering the 1.5 °C pathway.

On the positive side, the COP agreement expresses global consensus about the scientific facts affirming that man-made global climate change exists. This creates a more straightforward foundation for future negotiations compared to the last 29 years of negotiations with a built-in skepticism established by the fossil energy industry. And for the first time, fossil fuels are mentioned in a  COP agreement – the importance of removing (inefficient) state subsidies for fossil fuels. In the final minutes, around 9 pm Glasgow time, there was great dissatisfaction with India’s late announcement of not wanting to phase out (but phase down) coal plants without CO2 capture. Previously, the language was “weakened”, as it is called in COP slang, by not dealing with all coal and coal power plants – with or without carbon capture. The third semi-uplifting thing about the agreement is that all countries must strengthen their ambitions to reduce greenhouse gases.

Regarding coal, a Dutch researcher said the following to me: “ending coal was basically already implicitly agreed by the UNFCCC in 1992 when they adopted the 2-degree goal”. By this, we understand how a democratic consensus-based system with distrust between parties has slowed down and delayed actions for decades.

Climate justice

In another corner of the negotiating table – the largest – there are pronounced frustrations and dissatisfaction among the countries hardest hit by climate catastrophes. Conversely, the countries that have created the problem can breathe a sigh of relief and stop paying the bills once again.

If we dive into the secret negotiations (which the press does not have access to), Glasgow has had an exceptionally high intensity. The past week’s frustrations and dissatisfaction have been outspoken from the hardest hit by climate catastrophes. In contrast, those who have created the problem tried to avoid paying the bills committed to in the Paris Agreement. Indeed, the frustrations of African and small islands states’ delegations and indigenous participants are high in-between meetings. Simplifying the complexity of the negotiations, the call for climate finance is at the heart of developing non-Annex 1 countries. This means ensuring stable annual money flows from the rich Annex 1 countries.

In the UNFCCC context, countries are divided into two main categories. This mirrors a three-decade-long global divide within the United Nations, which originates back to colonial times. Developed economies, the Annex I countries, are historically responsible for the largest share of climate-warming emissions, causing the climate problem. In general, the developing economies, the non-Annex 1 countries, face the most difficulties in facing and adapting to the climate-related impacts. The same countries are often hardest hit by, e.g., cyclones in Latin America, droughts, and growing food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Activists in the street outside all COP26 entrances – an important pressure (Source: Jorge Martins, Portugal)

Some argued that the first Glasgow draft issued on 10 November from the UK presidency of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow was biased towards the interests of the United States (US). The same thing happened at the Copenhagen COP in 2009, which was seen as a failure in general. Here the Danish presidency focused on the position of rich countries in the draft text, creating hard work for the developing countries to change the wordings before the final deadline. In Paris, it was the opposite approach. Here the presidency drafted a text slightly biased towards developing non-Annex 1 countries’ needs, making developed Annex 1 countries work harder towards the finals.

For African and South American countries, it is primarily about financing for climate adaptation. The group of Small Island States came here more or less united. There were high expectations about solving the climate financing gap and achieving support for losses and damages, which they are already experiencing. Additionally, the 100 billion pledge in practice is still partly based on loans, so developing countries are falling deeper into debt

Climate financing

The financial, technological, and capacity-building support for mitigation and adaptation in non-Annex 1 regions was originally stated in the Cancun agreements in 2010, following the low point of the Copenhagen COP in 2009.  

This makes several delegates recall the Copenhagen COP where the presidency drafted an agreement in favor of Annex 1 delegations, where non-Annex 1 countries needed to work hard to change the deal wordings. Paris took the opposite road, drafting an agreement biased towards non-Annex 1 requests where Annex 1 delegations had to work hard to change the agreement wordings. A perception coming from the EU delegation in Glasgow is that the EU tries to mediate and reach an agreement while the US is halting climate finance. The perception of a small island state is that the EU, US, Canada, and Australia are holding together, halting climate finance flows from entering the Glasgow agreement.    

“Climate change and time are waiting for no country”, says a small island delegate. “This is why these negotiations don’t work for us. We are living in climate change, living underwater, and our people cannot move inland as it is possible on the continent”.

“You might as well bomb us”

The President of Palau said these words during the COP opening. The perception from Pacific islands is that they are facing a slow death, while the US and EU are facing less severe impacts and have the finances to adapt and larger land areas to where they can move vulnerable communities. “A 1.5 pathway is not Eden”, as a member of the presidency said at a press conference. “75% of the world’s coral reefs will die under 1.5 and all under 2 °C”, she stated. We already passed 1.1, causing damages, like loss of coastal areas. Losses that are already happening. It pushed a third negotiation theme on the table: climate financing for loss and damages. Small island states came here to get insurance for present and future cover of losses. There was the expectation to at least include the wording of “loss and damages” in the Glasgow pact, which was done. This will ensure the possibility of discussing it in future COPs. The initial expectation of the Small Islands group was to include a financing option in the Glasgow agreement, side-by-side with the support for mitigation and adaptation. A place to apply for support to cover losses, like coastal erosion, food losses from droughts, etc. “We need support and finances to survive. Why should we take loans to address loss and damages from a problem we did not even create? We were promised 100 billion by 2020. So, this trust is already broken” (small island delegate). 

Climate finance is crucial for a 1.5 °C pathway 

The reality is that emissions are stabilizing in Annex 1 or the OECD regions, yet they are growing rapidly in non-Annex 1 or non-OECD regions, mainly in Asia. This is partly caused by the consumption of goods in the US and EU (Annex 1), produced in Asia. Thus, there is an urgent need to support mitigation actions and an energy transition in non-Annex 1 regions to stop global emissions growth.  Therefore, there is a basis for changing the emission inventories to consumption-based emissions rather than only to include territorial emissions (produced inside country borders). From a climate justice perspective, this seems like an urgent matter. This would provide a much clearer picture of national emission reduction responsibilities – that is, increased responsibilities to the EU and the US and so on.

Figure | Global and regional developments in fossil fuel CO2 emissions 1990-2019. From Pedersen et al. (2020)

In addition, to revert growing global emissions, energy transitions in non-Annex1 are needed and will be faster via Annex 1 financing (and reduced consumption of material goods in Annex1).

A positive point before the Glasgow COP was that several key Parties had increased their mitigation ambitions. This puts the world towards a 2.8 °C pathway under current national policies, 2.5 (2.7) °C under (un)conditional National Determined Contributions (NDCs), and 2.2 °C, according to the most UN assessments from November 7th, 2021.

The new net-zero targets

Achieving net-zero means that a country can still produce emissions, as long as they are offset by technology or natural processes, like planting or preserving forests, that reduce GHGs from the atmosphere. The policies mainly include CO2 sequestration from biomass, like forests and other organic material containing carbon (e.g., Government of China, 2021). 

The four major global emitters, China, the US, EU, and India (in the following sequence), have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 (US & EU) and 2060 (China and India). And in 2021, after international pressure (NDTV, 2021)(NDTV, 2021), India has announced a net-zero emissions target of 2070 (Miglani, 2021). 

However, net-zero targets in 2050 mean little without a concrete plan to cut emissions this decade. The 2030 targets of the US and EU put them on a linear path to net-zero, while India and China have not yet peaked their emissions, i.e., aim to continue emissions increase for some additional years, making net-zero by 2050 even more challenging. In general, most Annex1 countries have strengthened their 2030 targets and committed to almost halving their emissions by 2030.

There are several other traps on the net-zero pathway, like double accounting and a weak forest definition within the UN. The latter allows companies to buy historical forest, cut it and make plantations, which will still be counted as forest (and offsetting emissions). The first includes forest areas sold several times. The climate strategies of the three fossil companies BP, TotalEnergies, and ENI require emissions offsetting equal to a land area twice the size of the UK. There are examples of forest areas and burnt forest areas (i.e., previous forest areas eradicated by wildfires), which have been sold as offsetting several times. Finally, indigenous people movements have contested REDD+ projects and the inclusion of REDD+ in the Paris Agreement due to concerns of land grabbing and restricted access to forest resources they initially used.

COP26 climate justice

The Glasgow pact seeks to balance the demands of poorer climate-vulnerable nations, big industrial powers, and those whose consumption or exports of fossil fuels are perceived as vital to their economic growth. In addition, the text urges nations to accelerate efforts to phase out unfiltered coal and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. The word inefficient weakens the agreement. While focusing on adaptation rather than loss and damages (L&D), also undermines the need of the least developed countries and climate justice. However, non-Annex 1 (particularly India’s) push for finance promises on the table before closing the deal forces a path towards increased climate justice in the future.

Apparently, at this COP, the EU/US underestimated the clarity and determination of the G77 ask on L&D – and requesting Annex 1 to complete the promised financing commitments. During the last week of COP26, a growing consensus emerged inside the EU coalition to support ways to scale up Loss & Damages as a third pillar in Climate Financing (the elephant in the room of this COP). The EU member states are afraid of this third pillar in finance but want the EU to be a forerunner and climate leader. This desired status may strengthen climate justice if G77 continues the combined pressure.

Furthermore, to avoid impact catastrophes of small islands and other vulnerable countries, the GHG emissions need to be as low as possible and as early as possible to a real zero measure, e.g., phase out fossil fuel GHGs. The more emissions produced globally in this decade, the more CO2 needs to be removed from the atmosphere (sequestration) in the future to reach net-zero. This means that Annex 1 financing mitigation actions in non-Annex 1 are crucial to revert current emissions growth (Figure), enter a 1.5 °C pathway, and avoid irreversible climate impacts. Since food losses, famine, hurricanes, and less income from tourism are already happening in island states and least developed countries, loss and damage financing is essential here and now, as well as adaptation financing to cope with future impacts in the non-Annex 1 regions. This is climate justice and shows some kind of responsibility from the creators of the climate challenge.    

Final COP26 Glasgow pact
The world’s developing countries had hoped that the agreement would oblige the rich countries to cough up the $ 100 billion in climate aid that they have been promised. But the text states only “with deep regret” that the money has not been found and calls for it to be.
·         During Glasgow negotiations, non-Annex1 twisted the arms of Annex1: As I heard about $83 billion annually was found/promised ($17 billion still missing) 
·         The rich countries promise to double funds for climate adaptation compared to the 2019 level by 2025.
The developing countries also do not get a fund to provide financial aid when they are hit by climate disasters (Loss and damages) as they would have liked.
By the end of 2022, the countries must update and strengthen their national climate targets so that temperature rises can be kept within the framework of the Paris Agreement: 1.5-2 degrees Celsius.
For the first time, all countries agree about the science of man-made climate change.
Finally, there was great disagreement from several parties about India changing the part of the text about phasing out coal. It was diluted at the last minute so that instead of calling for the “phasing out” of unabated coal, it now only calls for “phasing down” the use of unabated coal (not carbon captured). However, mentioning fossil fuel subsidies and coal is historical and opens up for discussing these issues in future COPs.

Jiesper Strandsbjerg Tristan Pedersen is a PhD candidate in the Doctoral Programme on Climate Change and Sustainable Development Policies, at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon. He was present at the COP26 and will be one of the speakers at this debate on the 18th November. He is also a climate and sustainability consultant and anthropologist (ANTHS), co-examining university students in anthropology at Danish Universities and participating in the Danish public debate (Link). Jiesper leads the CPLP Climate Observatory at Forum Energy & Climate, designing a low-emission scenario and extracting expert knowledge for the RNA2100 adaptation roadmap for Portugal 2020-2100 at the Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon. He has 13 years of experience in socially sustainable development. These works have comprised organizational and work culture assessments within workspaces, municipalities, companies, and organizations. The methods involve product/service usability testing, participatory fieldwork, interviews, initiation processes, surveys of employees, customers, and user segments. Jiesper is a reviewer at “Journal of Sustainable Production” (Elsevier), “Communications Earth and Environment” (Nature Journals), and on the Sixth Assessment Report (Working Group III) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 


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