By Steven van Hoogstraten
When following the news, the public has mostly been given the impression that the COP 26 summit in Glasgow was no great success , and more probably that it was half a failure. A litany of words producing more words, without tangible results. Good intentions could only partly be banked upon. The essential phrase about phasing out coals was watered down at the last moment. The next COP conference is already in a year’s time in Egypt, Sharm al Sheikh, if the world is allowed to return to the old rhythm of every year another COP.
Also, a lot of attention went to the question of the financial support for developing nations, which is one of the clear commitments under the Paris Agreement: from 2020 the developed countries had to provide US $ 100 billion per year while actually they set aside $ 86 billion dollars only. Against this not so bright background, I wanted to know what the summit had really produced, so I read carefully the Glasgow Climate Pact, which is the final document as I found it on internet.
And guess what, there is reason to be not too pessimistic.
Surely a full exit from coal, let alone fossil fuels, could not be codified, but nonetheless the language of the declaration under the chapter “Mitigation” speaks firmly of accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies… (para 20) . To say the least, this is a direction the meaning of which can not be misunderstood.
More importantly, there is a different part of the declaration where the language is undiluted, clear and determined. Under the opening chapter of the Glasgow Climate Pact “Science and Urgency”, the conference recognized the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policy making. In my view this is the same as jumping over any debate about the role of human intervention in climate change, as the current science from IPCC is absolutely clear about this; the climate crisis is a man-made crisis, mainly due to greenhouse gases and particularly to carbon (CO2) emissions .
And even more explicit, in para 3 of the Climate Pact, the Conference of the Parties “Expresses alarm and utmost concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 degree Celcius of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region” . That is an admission of great relevance, and it puts human activities right in the calculated centre of the climate concerns.
In even more practical terms, the Conference of the parties also recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse emissions by 45 percent in 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases. We know that Europe has a more ambitious plan, namely a 55 % reduction by 2030, but to have this goal of minus 45% relating to the 2010 level agreed at world level is at least an achievement of major significance.
There is more that could be drawn from the Glasgow Climate Pact in the same vein, but I think the examples given demonstrate that Glasgow has produced an explicit foundation for positive further work. A basis which can not be undone by countries or future leaders who would come to feel otherwise. The US, China, Russia, the EU, Brazil and India are all on board.
Something which struck me particularly in the coal debate was that Australia, a notable consumer and producer of coal, was not seen to be vocal or difficult in the debate about phasing down or phasing out. When I was in Sidney two years ago for the International Law Association, the Australian government was in great difficulty over the electricity pricing in conjunction with the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The proponents of further coal development then seemed to have the upper hand. Not so now, it seems.
I hope and I assume that this one phrase from the Glasgow Climate Pact about “alarm and utmost concern” about harmful human activities will stand the test of time , and that it will indeed form the basis for future decisions to substantially reduce global warming. Viewed from that angle, the judgement about Glasgow should be: not so bad, not so bad at all. But much work has still to be done, in order to keep the desired 1.5 degrees global warming a realistic perspective. Or as the title of the UN High-Level Event for Global Climate Action on 11 November had it: “Racing to a Better World”.