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by Andrew Learmonth
14 November 2021
COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact keeps 1.5C 'alive' but coal pledges watered down

COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact keeps 1.5C 'alive' but coal pledges watered down

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow failed to find agreement on ending coal use and fossil fuel subsidies after last-minute interventions from China and India. 

Delegates at the summit were supposed to have finished on Friday, but debate over the draft text saw the conference run until late on Saturday night. There were, however, still significant commitments on cutting emissions, and finance.

In the final hours of the summit, China and India objected to a phrase in the draft text in the Glasgow Climate Pact about the phasing “out” of coal power. That sparked a last-minute huddle between the US, EU and China, who agreed to change the pledge phasing “down”.

An emotional Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP who has acted as President of the summit, told delegates from the 197 countries attending COP26 that he was “deeply sorry” about the change but urged them to approve the deal. 

US Climate envoy John Kerry defended the change in the text. “Did I appreciate that we had to adjust one thing tonight in a very unusual way? No. but if we hadn’t done it, we would not have had an agreement,” he said.

Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, warned the compromise would only “count if nations now deliver.” 

India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, said the revision was “reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice.”

Despite the change, it is the first-ever global climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal. Elsewhere the pact adopted guidelines for a global carbon market, which will allow countries to trade carbon offset credits, 

While the pledges on emissions are not enough to limit temperatures to 1.5C, all countries have agreed to look at their national plans next year, at the COP27 in Egypt. 

Sharma said the agreement “kept 1.5C alive” - the need to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change.

“But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action,” he added.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and chair of The Elders group of leaders and former statespeople, was disappointed: “Cop26 has made some progress, but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster. While millions around the world are already in crisis, not enough leaders came to Glasgow with a crisis mindset.

"People will see this as a historically shameful dereliction of duty. Leaders have extended by a year this window of opportunity to avert the worst of the climate crisis. The world urgently needs them to step up more decisively next year.”

Draft pledges on stronger provisions on loss and damage - finance to mitigate the impact of climate change happening now - were lost from the text in a bid to get an agreement. 

Lia Nicholson, the lead negotiator for Antigua and Barbuda, which chairs the 37-strong Alliance of Small Island States, said: “We are leaving empty-handed but morally stronger, and hopeful that we can sustain the momentum in the coming year to deliver meaningful support which will allow the vulnerable to deal with the irreversible impacts of climate change, created by the polluting world, who are failing to take responsibility.”

“This package is not perfect. The coal change and a weak outcome on loss and damage are blows,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy from the Marshall Islands. “

"Still, elements of the Glasgow package are a lifeline for my country. We must not discount the crucial wins covered in this package.”

Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the deal though said it was "far from everything it should be".

The First Minister said: "The Glasgow Climate Pact does not contain everything that every country wanted and there is understandable disappointment that key issues were watered down in the final hours, but there can be no doubt that the Glasgow summit has made progress on some important issues.

“The importance of capping temperature increases at 1.5 degrees is no longer questioned and the need for countries to come back next year with higher contributions to tackling emissions may just be enough to keep 1.5 alive – if countries including Scotland really do deliver on our commitments.”

Sturgeon said it was disappointing that the language around coal was “not as strong and clear as it should be”.

She added: "While there has been much positive progress, there is no escaping the fact that COP26 has not delivered as much as global south countries, activists and campaigners rightly demanded and I firmly believe that the leaders of the rich developed countries must go further.

“Where COP26 has succeeded, the pressure from young people, the global south and activists around the world has been critical. Where COP has more to do, it is leaders who must shoulder the responsibility.”

Green leader Patrick Harvie, a minister in the coalition government branded the pact a "failure".

He said: "The failure of governments to deliver an agreement that puts the planet on course for a 1.5C rise is shameful.

"The influence of fossil fuel companies is clear. We know that fossil fuel companies had more representation at this summit than any single nation, and the outcome has reflected that."

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - SNP minister's 'disappointment and loss' over Derek Mackay texting scandal

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