Student contribution: Did Glasgow keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive and deliver on credibility, action, and commitments?

Photo Courtesy of Pia Jorks

Almost 40.000 people participated in this year’s UN climate conference, including 14.000 non-governmental observer institutions. Pia Jorks, a first year MPP student participated in the COP as a Hertie School delegate.

She represented Klimadelegation e.V. (Youth for Climate – Germany), where she serves as Head of Climate Policy and Board Member.  At the Centre for Sustainability, we asked her to share her take on the 26th Conference of the Parties with the Hertie Community.

High stakes for the 26th round of climate negotiations 

The 26th UN Climate Conference, COP26, was the most anticipated round of international climate negotiations since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015. The expectations among various actors and especially civil society were running high as states were due to deliver on their climate pledges (Nationally Determined Contributions - NDCs).  

A main task of COP26 was to send out a political signal for the credibility of commitments and trust among all states to “keep 1.5 degree Celsius alive”. States were expected to deliver on the mobilization of climate finance, strengthened climate adaptation actions and measures to address loss and damages. After not coming to an agreement on the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement at the previous two conference and after a year-long break due to the pandemic, states were also due to adopt a series of technical decisions. To finalize the Paris Agreement “rulebook”, states needed to find consensus on emission reporting rules for countries from 2024 and regulations for carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.  

The Glasgow Climate Pact 

The outcomes of the “Glasgow climate pact” were welcomed by many for their strong emphasis on the urgency to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius limit. New commitments were made to double adaptation finance, a novel work program on the global goal on adaptation and a process on finance for loss and damage were installed. On top of this, the cover decision of Cop26 included the first ever mentioning of coal and the first ever text of youth as change agents. The pact also requests countries to present more ambitious climate plans already in 2022, setting a clear expectation and basis for diplomatic scrutiny for those falling short. Overall, the Glasgow Pact is unprecedented in its comprehensiveness.   

Nevertheless, the outcome failed to provide most vulnerable nations with concrete finance to rebuild and address unavoidable climate-induced loss and damages. This criticism weighs especially heavy, since developing and small island nations agreed on this compromise in the area of loss and damage under the condition that a stronger language for a coal phase out would be adopted. Their trust was however broken by a last-minute text alteration demanded by China, India, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba resulting in a watered-down formulation on fossil fuels that only called for a “phase down” of coal and to end “inefficient” subsidies. While some argue that this mentioning of unabated coal still is an unprecedented commitment by big emitter states, others, especially the climate movement heavily criticize this and see this as an endorsement for new coal plants to be opened.   

Regarding the technical negotiations, COP26 managed to reach an agreement that states are “encouraged” to comply with a common 5-year reporting timeframe for their national climate plans, which increases the comparability and credibility of ambitions in the future. Since an encouragement like this can be easily disregarded by some, the task of civil society is to now increase the pressure at the domestic level.  

With three years of delay, states finally agreed upon a unified and internationally controlled set of rules governing global carbon trading. It can be seen as positive that environmental integrity could be largely protected through detailed guidelines that prohibit double counting of emission reductions by multiple companies or countries and excludes certificates from forestation projects. The agreement on installing a grievance mechanism can, if operationalized properly, protect local communities and human rights from violations through projects and programs. From a more negative viewpoint, the decision on Article 6 did fall short in terms of not strictly eliminating the accounting of old carbon credits from the Kyoto-Regime’s Clean Development Mechanism. On top of this, the obligatory cancellation rate for traded credits, which would have allowed for increased competition and ambition remains low, which significantly limits the additional value of the credit trading for substantial overall emission reduction. Following the decisions at COP26, a coalition of states, including the EU and Germany, that had previously established the so called “San José Principles”, committed themselves to complying to standards beyond the negotiated outcomes.  

Did COP26 deliver on ambition and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive?  

Shortly before COP26 began, industrialized countries admitted that they would fall short on their promise to deliver an annual amount of $100 billion in climate finance to developing states. Instead, they indicated an extended deadline until 2023. This led to a considerable loss of confidence and trust even before the negotiations started.   

That only 152 out of 193 signatories to the Paris Agreement indeed submitted new or updated NDCs further weakened the starting position of COP26. While the updated efforts reduced the projected emission gap by 15-17%, the 2030 targets still put us on a track for a 2.4-degree temperature increase. On a positive note, 90% of emissions now are being covered by net zero targets. However, an analysis by Climate Action Tracker shows these targets are still inadequate for 70% of the countries. 

Nevertheless, several new pledges were made during the conference that raised hopes. Under a new “Global Methane Pledge” more than 100 states committee to reduce methane emissions by 30% until 2030. A “beyond oil and gas alliance” united countries such as Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Ireland, and Sweden. A broad coalition of countries committed to end all international public finance for fossil fuels until the end of 2022, though with certain exemptions. Additional financial pledges were made, such as a total of 356 million US-dollars for the adaptation fund. While these pledges are signaling progress, they are mainly political instead of needs-based and therefore far from what would be required.   

Way forward?  

With the results of the Glasgow COP26, the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement can finally begin. To close the credibility, action and commitment gap, national governments have to do their homework until the next climate conference COP27 in Egypt. This includes to raise their ambitions and rapidly implement actions set out in their NDCs. The pressure is growing on states that have not submitted their NDCs for 2030 and on states that have submitted highly insufficient plans. All states however are expected to raise their ambitions in alignment with the 1.5-degree Celsius limit. Since the climate finance pledge could not be met this year, states are expected to deliver on the $100 billion commitment within the next two years and to agree upon a renewed needs-based target for 2025. Since the Paris rulebook is a political compromise after all, certain loopholes and uncertainties prevail. To ensure the highest possible level of implementation, states need to commit to go beyond the standards outlined, such as in the case of Article 6.  

The newly elected German government in this context is expected to adopt an effective rapid action programme as early as possible in 2022 and to strengthen its mandate and resources for global climate diplomacy. The German G7-presidency in 2022 and the Petersberg Climate Dialogue are two opportunities to drive forward international efforts for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage.