The stage is set, the bright lights are on, the world’s attention will be sharply focused on a small Scottish town in the United Kingdom. Can the acrobatics of diplomacy scale down the ups and downs of freak weather conditions? Can the jamboree of volunteers, protesters, and world leaders pull off a mighty feat and get a deal that’s good for the planet and fair to the developing world? COP26 negotiators will have to walk the tightrope of climate justice while winging a deal to keep the planet’s temperature from rising.
This will be the fourth UN climate convention that I have attended, and I have never understood why a conference to discuss rising temperatures is held in such cold climes as Copenhagen, Paris, and this time Glasgow. In fact, one of the most enjoyable conferences I recall reporting from was in Cancun, Mexico, even though no significant milestones were achieved at this COP. But those of us travelling from Asia had to make our way through snowy Chicago to land in sunny Cancun, it was most certainly a grim reminder of how the weather shapes our lives.
But never mind the weather. Fact is, we have a grave problem at hand and we need to fix it. The UK presidency has set a target for the meeting to consign coal to history, it also wants to get countries to at least get close to the goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees C. So what can we expect from the upcoming Glasgow summit and what does it mean for the Planet? Here are the four sticky issues that will hinder progress:
2. Zero emissions targets
3. Climate Finance
4. Loss and Damage
JM Mauskar, former Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and a former negotiator argues that climate negotiations are a work in progress and one has to stop expecting any headline moments each time the conference of parties is on.
“To expect big wins at every COP distracts from the seriousness of these talks, every meeting cannot be earth-shattering,” says Mauskar. That said, according to him, Covid and the economic crisis will cast their shadow on the expected outcomes as every country in the world is reeling from an economic crisis.
Mauskar differentiates between the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ agendas of COP26. It is often the informal agenda that takes over the headlines. At the formal level, the agenda is clear, the Copenhagen pledges are expiring, or rather have expired on December 2020. The implementation was from January 1, 2021. Formally, the countries will be reviewing the past, did countries complete the Copenhagen pledges? We are now reviewing 2 years of progress. Completion of the Paris agreement workbook, also we couldn’t agree on the market mechanism then.
Ulka Kelkar, from the World Resources Institute, agrees with Mauskar. “Behind the showy announcements, work will continue on the detailed rules of reporting, reviewing, and trading, and accounting of climate action.”
Adds Mauskar, “Now, outside the formal talks, there is another agenda. How do we reach net zero by 2050, how do we get countries to ratchet up their NDCs and how do we get countries to phase out coal. This process of the energy transition is not a smooth one, especially given the soaring oil and gas prices”.
Kelkar says, “People want this COP to deliver action, not just words. 145 countries have updated their climate pledges, so everyone wants to hear what the other 52 countries will do, and how much global warming we can prevent.”
Harjeet Singh, senior advisor, CAN International, who represents the informal sector that Mauskar refers to, wants the developed world to pay for the damage done so far.
“Many countries and corporations are announcing net-zero targets only to evade responsibility or disguise their inaction and we cannot accept those targets at face value. Rich countries were required to deliver on their commitment to providing USD 100 billion annually starting in 2020 has not been met. While the UK government is working with them to share a delivery plan, it is not close to achieving the target and there are a lot of questions about what it entails. The purpose of providing USD 100 billion as public is to leverage trillions for promoting greener development in developing countries and help them adapt to the changing climate. If this commitment is not met it will erode trust and derail the climate talks at COP26,” Harjeet Singh said.
With the US back in the Paris accord, what can one expect from them? Mauskar is again not very hopeful. If you look back at the history of climate negotiations, climate change was a small blip in the geopolitical arena. It was only from 1990 onwards that, with China’s rise in geopolitical negotiations, that climate became a big issue. Climate talks will always be entangled with other global issues. That’s why progress will not be smooth.
Also, the US is renegotiating its position in the world. It has been focusing more on plurilateral or even bilateral instruments such as the Quad. Kelkar seems more optimistic. This year, the US pledged to halve its GHG emissions by 2030 and go net-zero by 2050. It has pressed for more ambitious commitments by other countries, offering commercial investments in clean technologies. Hopefully, sustained climate policies in the US will drive innovation and scale economies that make clean technologies affordable for countries like India”.
And finally, what will the climate talks at Glasgow mean for India? The Prime Minister has already announced the launch of a National Hydrogen Mission. India has taken the lead on the formation of the International Solar Alliance.
Leading the climate delegation from India is the Environment Minister, who has made it clear that all talks must come from the point of view of ‘climate justice’ and ‘collective action’. Net Zero targets, India has argued, is mere sloganeering and shifting the problem beyond 2050.
Harjeet said, “There is a lot of pressure on India to commit to a net-zero target without recognising that comparing India and China is not fair. So far, India has not only indicated to revise its renewable energy goals upwards to 450GW. If India agrees to a net-zero goal by a particular year, it will only be an imaginary exercise and not based on empirical studies and analysis on how it can be achieved.”