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Next few years present test for global leaders on net-zero (c) Euronews

COP26 keeps 1.5C hanging by a thread—experts

The United Nations Climate Change Conference ended on Saturday night in Glasgow with nearly 200 countries agreeing to finalize the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement but left loopholes for countries to exploit, raised funding for vulnerable communities but comes short of creating a fund - gaps experts say still leaves the climate vulnerable.

Negotiators agreed that urgent action was needed in accelerating climate action but this didn’t fully reflect in their commitments. Negotiators from India killed the provision to phase out coal while Russia, Australia, and Saudi Arabia snuffed out provisions to end fossil fuel subsidies.

While the deal has a clear pact to 1.5C, it relies heavily on the good behavior of countries with a history of disregard for the planet. This is why some experts say it is only a start.

“If Paris established the scaffolding, Glasgow has progressed the foundations: countries now have a clear mandate to work together to reduce and sequester emissions via carbon markets. Now the heavy lifting to produce meaningful emissions cuts must begin to keep global warming below +1.5 °C while also ensuring tangible co-benefits for nature and people,” said John Verdieck, Director of International Climate Policy, The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

Echoing this sentiment, COP26 President Alok Sharma said “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action. I am grateful to the UNFCCC for working with us to deliver a successful COP26.

The Glasgow Climate Pact saw 200 countries agreeing to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in 2022. This will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leaders summit in 2023.

The new deal finalizes the Paris Rulebook, the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is delivered - after six years of discussions. The UN said it will allow for the full delivery of the landmark accord, after agreement on a transparency process that will hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets. This includes Article 6, which establishes a robust framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the UNFCCC.

“However, the rules agreed at COP26 are far from perfect with some major loopholes on timeframes for countries’ climate targets and especially for carbon markets. If exploited, they could seriously undermine efforts to reduce emissions,” said Tom Evans, Policy Advisor E3G.

Evans said that governments must avoid this temptation, uphold strict standards, and stay faithful to the ambition of the Glasgow Climate Pact which gives us the hope of keeping 1.5C alive. This could be a tough ask for governments long used to prioritizing profits over the planet.

According to the UN, for the first time, heeding calls from civil society and countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, the COP26 negotiators agreed to action on phasing down fossil fuels. 

“While the fossil fuels phase out pledge was weakened by Australia, Russia & Saudi Arabia, it is still there and the cause of the climate crisis has for the first time since the Kyoto Protocol been called out by the 198 signatories of the Paris Agreement.

The UK COP26 went further than ever before in recognizing and addressing loss and damage from the existing impacts of climate change. There were also commitments to significantly increase financial support through the Adaptation Fund as developed countries were urged to double their support to developing countries by 2025. 

“Glasgow offers a gateway but will be insufficient unless World Leaders take actual action in the next 24 months, particularly on finance. Keeping 1.5 alive, protecting against climate impacts, and dealing with losses and damages requires trillions per year. Glasgow did not deliver the finance required but set up processes to do so in textual decisions on the post-2025 goal, adaptation finance, and loss and damage," said Iskander Erzini Vernoit, Policy Advisor, E3G.

The UN said work focused on driving the short-term reduction of emissions to limit temperature rises to 1.5C, mobilizing both public and private finance, and supporting communities to adapt to climate impacts. 

It said it has seen some wins. “When the UK took on the COP26 mantle, in partnership with Italy, nearly two years ago, only 30 percent of the world was covered by net-zero targets. This figure is now at around 90 percent. Over the same period, 154 Parties have submitted new national targets, representing 80 percent of global emissions. 

“The UK Presidency has also been focused on driving action to deliver emissions reductions. We have seen a huge shift in coal, with many more countries committing to phase out unabated coal power and ending international coal financing.  

“Alongside this, we have seen a marked commitment to protect precious natural habitats, with 90 percent of the world’s forests covered by a pledge from 130 countries to end deforestation by 2030,” it said.

COP 26 also recorded commitments that will lead to a transition to zero-emissions vehicles, with some of the largest car manufacturers working together to make all new car sales zero-emission by 2040 and by 2035 in leading markets. Countries and cities are following suit with ambitious petrol and diesel car phaseout dates.

Current policies would leave us on a path to a devastating temperature rise. But work done by independent experts Climate Action Tracker shows that with full implementation of the fresh collective commitments could hold temperature rise to 1.8C. 

Sharma said the world must now move forward together and deliver on the expectations set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact, and close the vast gap which remains.

“It is up to all of us to sustain our lodestar of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach and to continue our efforts to get finance flowing and boost adaptation. After the collective dedication which has delivered the Glasgow Climate Pact, our work here cannot be wasted,” Sharma said.

Countries will have to show results in the next 12 months and that is where the rubber meets the road.

“Delivering on their promises in the next 12 months will be key to addressing the disappointment raised by some on the plenary floor that the deal didn’t go far enough,” said Alex Scott, E3G Climate diplomacy and Geopolitics lead.

Scott said that alongside countries’ pledges on cutting emissions from coal, methane, and deforestation and unlocking trillions of dollars of finance, the negotiated deal shows the Leaders’ level politics has shifted.

“The real test of the Glasgow Climate Pact will be whether finance ministries take the tough decisions over the next 24 months to deliver on the faster action now promised to their citizens,” he said.

This story was originally published by Business Day on November 14, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.