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Is the COP26 climate summit a disappointment?

The COP26 climate summit’s draft resolution indicates that not enough is being achieved to stop climate change, six years after the Paris Agreement

A young climate activist protesting in Brussels.
A young climate activist protesting in Brussels. (AFP)

The latest big news out of the ongoing COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, yesterday, was the release of the summit's draft resolution yesterday. Although the final resolution, which will come this weekend, might well be different, it  probably won’t be so by much. Going by the draft resolution, the mood around the world is of disappointment, and in some cases, even of anger.

So what does the draft resolution say? The main proposals are these: that countries should increase their 2030 commitments by the end of next year, and that countries should agree to meeting once every year to ensure that climate change goals are on track. But which goals? The draft refers to the spirit of the Paris Agreement, so that could be taken by countries to mean keeping warming to 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. That would be highly counter-productive, given that the current non-catastrophic threshold of warming is 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100.

Also Read: Decoding India's big net zero pledge at COP26

In a different part of the draft resolution, however, the document recognises the need to cut fresh global emissions by 45% by 2030 to be on track for the 1.5 degree goal. It also recognises, “with serious concern”, that current trajectories show that global carbon emissions are set to rise by 13.7% by 2030. In a first, the draft resolution also proposes that countries accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels like coal and oil. This is significant in that this is the first ever UN agreement that acknowledges how human fossil fuel use is driving climate change. It also calls on developed countries to at least double current climate finance commitments. As far as outcomes go, this is less than what many had hoped for from COP26, which had been postponed by a year from 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic. The final resolution, when it comes at the end of the summit (which is scheduled to end on 12 November), could well be even more watered down. 

Speaking during an international press call yesterday, Yamide Dagnet, Director of Climate Negotiations, World Resources Institute (WRI) said that the adaptation finance references in the document are weak. “What you see here is the notion of the doubling of adaptation finance, which could be encouraging. But the problem with this text is that there is no date by when this doubling will occur. And what will be the baseline for this doubling (of finance). So this makes, in our view, this proposal weak,” she said.

Also Read: All you need to know about the COP26 climate change summit

“This draft deal is not a plan to solve the climate crisis, it’s an agreement that we’ll all cross our fingers and hope for the best. It’s a polite request that countries maybe, possibly, do more next year. Well that’s not good enough and the negotiators shouldn’t even think about leaving this city until they’ve agreed a deal that meets the moment. Because most assuredly, this one does not,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International. Meanwhile, Bill Hare, founder of Climate Analytics, said that the document doesn’t recognize the urgent need to close the 2030 emission gap, nor does it establish a high level political process to do so. “The UN Secretary General should be invited to convene world leaders at the end of 2022 specifically to address closing the 2030 mitigation and finance gap.  If this is pushed off until 2023 then the process will really only be addressed here commitments for 2035 nearly 15 years away leaving the massive gap in 2030 unaddressed,” he said. 

Much of the scepticism and disappointment with the draft resolution is also a result of a number of new studies that show how precarious the situation is. The latest of these, released on 9 November, by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), shows that if all current global targets for 2030 are reached, the world would heat up by a catastrophic 2.4 degree Celsius by 2100. “We are concerned that some countries are trying to portray (COP26) as if the 1.5C limit is nearly in the bag. But it’s not, it’s very far from it, and they are downplaying the need to get short-term targets for 2030 in line with 1.5C,” Bill Hare told The Guardian

Also Read: Amitav Ghosh explores the hidden history of climate change

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