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COP26 overtime still ends up with compromised agreement

Negotiations at COP26 went into overtime and a pact was signed, but last-minute changes softened the eventual agreement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the Glasgow Climate Pact signed at COP26 an important step, but not enough. “We must accelerate climate action to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”

The UN chief said it was time to go into “emergency mode”, ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities and delivering the $100 billion climate finance commitment.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress,” said Guterres.

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The Glasgow Climate Pact calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition at COP27. The next climate change conference will take place in Egypt from 7 to 18 November 2022. All the countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030. This will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leader summit in 2023.

COP26 President Alok Sharma reportedly struggled to hold back tears following the announcement of a last-minute change to the pact by China and India. The two countries insisted on softening language circulated in an earlier draft about “the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. As adopted on Saturday, that language was revised to “phase down” coal use.

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The Glasgow Climate Pact emphasises the need to mobilise climate finance “from all sources to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing support for developing country parties, beyond $100 billion per year”.

Sharma said delegations could say “with credibility” that they kept 1.5degrees within reach. “But its pulse is weak. And it will only survive if we keep our promises. If we translate commitments into rapid action. If we deliver on the expectations set out in this Glasgow Climate Pact to increase ambitions to 2030 and beyond. And if we close the vast gap that remains, as we must.”

Earlier during the conference’s final stocktaking plenary, many countries lamented that the package of agreed decisions was not enough. Some called it disappointing, but many did say they recognised it was balanced for what could be agreed at this moment in time and given their differences.

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Countries such as Nigeria, Palau, the Philippines, Chile and Turkey all said that although there were imperfections, they broadly supported the text.

“It is [an] incremental step forward but not in line with the progress needed. It will be too late for the Maldives. This deal does not bring hope to our hearts,” said the Maldives’ top negotiator in a bittersweet speech.

US climate envoy John Kerry called the text “a powerful statement” and assured delegates that his country would engage constructively in a dialogue on “loss and damage” and adaptation, two of issues that proved most difficult for the negotiators to agree upon.

“The text represents the ‘least worst’ outcome,” concluded the top negotiator from New Zealand.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.