COP26 climate mitigation and adaptation plans
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Various outcome statements were published after the two-week COP26 conference. They make it clear that both mitigation and adaptation efforts need to be bolstered in a global partnership writes Paula-Ann Novotny from Webber Wentzel.

Under the Paris Agreement, signatory countries are required to put both mitigation and adaptation action plans in place to respond to climate change.

The United Nations defines “mitigation” as efforts to reduce or prevent emissions of greenhouse gases, e.g., through using new technologies and renewable energy, making old equipment more efficient or changing behaviour.

It defines “adaptation” as adjustments to ecological, social or economic systems to moderate potential impacts of climate change or to benefit from associated opportunities.

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Post-COP26 Outcome Statements

Various Outcome Statements have been published following the recent two-week UNFCCC Conference. These include:

  • The launch of the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA), a bold new coalition of global adaptation actors which will catalyse and scale investment in action-oriented research and innovation for adaptation that strengthens resilience in communities most vulnerable to climate change. This is based on the acknowledgement that the current scope and scale of action-oriented research is insufficient because it is hampered by under-investment, a disconnect between researchers and experiences from the most vulnerable groups, misaligned incentives, fragmentation, low capacity in developing countries and limited learning from experience.
  • The publication of a Joint Nature Statement by the Multilateral Development Banks, committing to give nature more prominence in their policies, analyses, assessments, advice, investments and operations, in line with their respective mandates and operating models. This will be done by applying principles such as tackling the drivers of nature loss by fostering and making “nature positive” investments and fostering national and regional level synergies.
  • The development of the COP26 Health Programme, which will enable transformational change in health systems globally to protect both people and the planet while elevating the trusted voices of health professionals to present the health argument for higher ambition on climate change action. The programme will focus on building climate-resilient and sustainable low carbon health systems, health professional advocacy and health adaptation research.
  • The formation of the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council and 2022 Action Plan. The plan acknowledges that a rapid global transition to zero-emission vehicles is vital to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Road transport accounts for over 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and its total emissions are rising faster than any other sector.
  • The commitment to four new “missions” to catalyse investment to accelerate technologies to facilitate urban transitions, eliminate emissions from industry, enable carbon dioxide removal and produce renewable fuels, chemicals and materials. Combined with three missions first announced in June 2021 on power systems, hydrogen and shipping, they have the potential to unlock affordable decarbonisation pathways for sectors responsible for 52% of current global emissions.

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  • The launch of the Breakthrough Agenda which commits countries to work together to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030.
  • The commitment to the Global Action Agenda on Transforming Agricultural Innovation. This aims to increase investment in agricultural research and innovation to create more climate-resilient, low-emission technologies and practices; ensure at least a third of agricultural research and innovation investments delivers demand-driven solutions across food systems to protect nature and limit climate change; showcase successful business models and promote public-private partnerships that deploy these innovations on the scale needed to meet the climate and food security challenge; and forge consensus on the evidence of what works and facilitate inclusive dialogue among food and climate champions around the world.
  • Support for the conditions for a just transition internationally. The goal is to work with relevant international organisations, including the ILO and others, to implement the following principles across international financial and technical assistance programmes when supporting developing and emerging economies: support for workers in the transition to new jobs; support and promote social dialogue and stakeholder engagement; economic strategies; local, inclusive, and decent work; supply chains; and Paris Agreement reporting and just transition.

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  • Focus on the Energy Transition Council. The Council’s aim is to make clean and sustainable power the most affordable and reliable option for countries to meet their power needs efficiently and accelerate their clean energy transition – moving away from coal and other fossil fuels – while ensuring a just transition and improved energy access for all.
  • Support of the product efficiency call to action, in recognition of the fact that high energy consuming products are a key driver of the growth in energy demand and the proliferation of energy efficient equipment and appliances is an important part of sustainable economic growth and development. To reduce energy demand growth equitably, achieving high levels of energy efficiency in these products is critical.

South Africa’s current mitigation and adaptation strategies

South Africa’s mitigation and adaptation plans remain rooted in its Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs), as recently revised, and its legislative and policy frameworks geared toward the climate change response (such as the Climate Change Bill, draft guidelines for climate change impact assessments in environmental permitting applications, the carbon tax levy imposed on fossil fuel use and the regulatory changes to the energy landscape).

Beyond this, South Africa’s adaptation plans provide a wealth of opportunity to respond effectively to the impacts that human activity has and will continue to have on our regional and global climate systems, societies, economies and ecosystems.

In August 2020, South Africa adopted a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS), which outlines priority areas for achieving adaptation. It is intended to be a common reference point and guideline for all government departments and other entities affected by climate change. It will help to integrate initiatives and direct resources to them, ensure greater coherence and ensure the country meets its international obligations. It is a 10-year plan, which will be reviewed every five years.

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The priority sectors identified for adaptation in South Africa are water, agriculture and commercial forestry, health, biodiversity and ecosystems, human settlements and disaster or risk reduction. It also includes transportation and infrastructure, energy, mining, and oceans and the coast.

While the NCCAS sets out nine strategic interventions with action plans for the short-, medium- and long-term, the Outcome Statements of COP26 provide additional benefits and insights into global initiatives, programmes and resources geared towards supporting even our own strategies and interventions.

Examples include the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council and 2022 Action Plan, which may bolster the Green Transport Strategy for South Africa (2018-2050); or the principles for the global achievement of the just transition, which may influence the work and advice of our Presidential Climate Change Co-ordinating Commission.

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What is clear from the outcomes of COP26 is that mitigation and adaptation efforts need to increase, in global partnership and collaboration. This includes private and financial sector contributions, in addition to government actions. The UN’s Synthesis Report for the NDCs across all parties to the Paris Agreement, dated October 2021, indicates that the total global GHG emission level in 2030, taking into account implementation of all the latest NDCs submitted by member parties, is expected to be 16.3% above the 2010 level. To be consistent with global emission pathways with no or limited overshoot of the 1.5°C goal, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions need to decline by about 45% from the 2010 level by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.

With the $100 billion annual climate finance goal that will be delivered and the $130 trillion of private finance aligned with net zero emissions via the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, it has also become evident that financing the transition to a lower-carbon economy will take centre stage in the 2020s.

Fortunately, at COP26 there was a further delineation of requirements for the carbon international market regime provided for under the Paris Agreement. Besides climate change impacts from greenhouse gas emissions, the UNFCCC also stressed that parties should start considering further actions to reduce non-carbon-dioxide greenhouse gas emissions (including methane) by 2030 and should recognise the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring our natural ecosystems.

By Paula-Ann Novotny from Webber Wentzel