By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The Glasgow draft text of the summit agreement released by the COP26 presidency under UK is indeed the most powerful text on climate change so far, but ambiguities still exist. It means it will have some legal force, but the ambiguities would make room for various interpretations that may prove a hurdle in the way to achieve the original target of net-zero by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. Technically speaking, it would not be a treaty, but merely a compendium of decisions on various issues relating to climate change.
The decisions made so far during the COP26 clearly show that there will still be wide gap between the target and achievement even if the commitments made will be implemented in letter and spirit. Moreover, there was a time when it was felt that the negotiations would be stalled. It is in this backdrop the presidency was compelled to draft such a text that was agreeable to the parties involved, chiefly because it was to be accepted by consensus. It is here the language became too cautious and at many places ambiguous and open to different interpretations. It is against the spirit of the Emission Gap Report 2021 which has called for clear, transparent, unambiguous, and legally binding provisions to close the gap to achieve the scientific target of net-zero.
The chief aim of the document was to keep 1.5 degree Celsius target alive and the draft text does it well, while calling on the countries to substantially increase climate financing to achieve the target. As for its legal force, it would derive it in the context of the Paris Agreement, though it will depend on the decisions made on consensus by all parties.
The draft thus represents the view of the participating countries’ delegations and their deliberations during the summit. What finally emerges will depend chiefly on the top leaderships of the countries who will convey their agreement or disagreement on the matter included in the draft. Whatever be the final outcome, as of now, it seems that the final agreement might frustrate those who want faster achievement of the target.
However, there is much hope for the future though there is still shortfall on finance and commitments, because finance is considered to be manageable even by international organizations. The phasing out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been mentioned for the first time in a COP decision, and the categorical language to stay within 1.5 degree Celsius is noteworthy.
The question as to the efficacy of the draft is still open to question, or at least debatable. Keeping hope alive is alright, but it demands concrete action on the part of all parties involved on their commitments. Even commitments are needed to be raised to bridge the shortfall to achieve the scientific target. As for phasing out of fuel subsidy, it would remain problematic for a large number of countries and their people who need cheap energy for their development needs. Then there would be new demand for renewable energy and input materials, such as certain metals and their rising costs, if not met may derail the efforts for clean energy transitions. Moreover, there are coal and fossil fuel lobbies and countries that are most likely to fight for their own economic survival. The world would still need to mitigate their concerns.
The draft begins with science to drive home the point as to what we need and what should be the policy to achieve the target. It not only has welcomed the contribution of the Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report but also looks forward for the future reports. It rightly stresses the urgency of increased ambition and action in relation to mitigation, adaptation and finance in this critical decade itself ie by 2030, to address the gaps in the implementation of the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. It has also expressed alarm and concern over the devastating impact already being felt in every region of the world and over the carbon budget which has not been consistent to achieving the Paris Agreement and rapidly depleted.
The imperative of the scientific fact comes in the next section dealing with adaptation. After raising alarm over the very low level of the adaptation measures, it emphasizes the urgency of scaling up action and support to enhance the adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability. The best part of this section is the reaffirmation of Article 7, paragraph 13 of the Paris Agreement. It says that “continuous and enhanced international support shall be provided to developing country Parties including for developing and implementing their national adaptation plans, adaptation communications and other actions.” It instills hopes in underdeveloped and developing countries for they are not in a position to deal with extreme weather conditions and other devastating impact of climate change on their own without international help in expertise in finance.
Obviously, it would need finance, and the next section of the draft deals with the “adaptation finance”. The draft notes with serious concern the insufficient current provisions of “finance for adaptation … to respond to worsening climate change impacts”. It recalls Article 9, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement and calls upon developed country Parities to at least double their collective provisions … as a step towards achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation. However, ensuring this commitment, and even strengthening it is necessary to achieve the scientific target.
Mitigation measures come next which reaffirms the Paris Agreement on global temperature target of 2 degree Celsius by 2030, and pursue for limiting the increase to 1.5 degree Celsius, and recognized that this would require meaningful and effective action … in this critical decade “on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the light of different national circumstances.”
It recognizes “deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century”. However, it notes with serious concern the synthesis report on NDCs submitted by countries is “estimated to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030”. It means, according to Climate Action Tracker, the world could land at disastrous heating of 2.4 degree Celsius by 2030 if the countries act only on their present action plans.
It is clear that the world is not doing well, and the draft conveys a decision to establish “a work programme to urgently scale-up mitigation ambition and implementation” in this very decade, and has urged all parties to submit NDCs “as soon as possible” before COP27 to be held in November 2022. To have a work programme is a big step forward though the NDCs have not been mandated. However, keeping NDCs on agenda and provision for annual high level round table may bring the countries’ progress to scrutiny and here lies a hope that countries would feel the pressure to scale up their efforts on yearly basis rather than in five-years as provisioned in Paris Agreement though not yet binding. (IPA Service)