Last-minute coal compromise in climate deal disappoints many at COP26

0
16


Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.


Almost 200 nations at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow accepted a contentious climate compromise Saturday aimed at keeping alive a key target to limit global warming, but it contained a last-minute change that some officials called a watering down of crucial language about coal.

Several countries, including small island states, said they were deeply disappointed by the change to “phase down,” rather than “phase out” coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

Nation after nation had complained earlier on the final day of two weeks of talks at the UN climate change conference about how the deal isn’t enough, but they said it was better than nothing and provides incremental progress, if not success.

Delegates mingle during the UN climate conference in Glasgow on Saturday. Though nation after nation complained Saturday that the climate deal reached isn’t enough, they said it was better than nothing and provides incremental progress, if not success. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

In the end, the summit broke ground by singling out coal, however weakly, by setting the rules for international trading of carbon credits, and by telling big polluters to return next year with improved pledges for cutting emissions.

But domestic priorities both political and economic again kept nations from committing to the fast, big cuts that scientists say are needed to keep warming below dangerous levels that would produce extreme weather and rising seas capable of erasing some island nations.

India pushed for coal changes

Ahead of the conference, the United Nations had set three criteria for success, and none of them were achieved.

The UN’s criteria included pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030, $100 billion US in financial aid from rich nations to poor, and ensuring that half of that money went to helping the developing world adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

Negotiators from Switzerland and Mexico called the coal language change against the rules because it came so late. However, they said they had no choice but to hold their noses and go along with it.

WATCH | Why we need to set climate targets even if we miss them: 

Why we need to set climate targets even if we miss them

Canada and the rest of the world are falling short of meeting climate targets. Does that mean all is lost? Here’s a closer look at why it’s important to set climate targets even if we don’t hit them. 5:42

Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the change will make it harder to achieve the international goal to limit warming to 1.5 C since pre-industrial times.

Many other nations and climate campaigners pointed to India for making demands that weakened the final agreement.

“India’s last-minute change to the language to phase down but not phase out coal is quite shocking,” said Australian climate scientist Bill Hare, who tracks world emission pledges for the science-based Climate Action Tracker. “India has long been a blocker on climate action, but I have never seen it done so publicly.”

Others approached the deal from a more positive perspective. In addition to the revised coal language, the Glasgow Climate Pact included enough financial incentives to almost satisfy poorer nations and solved a long-standing problem to pave the way for carbon trading.

The agreement also says big carbon polluting nations must submit stronger emission cutting pledges by the end of 2022.

“It’s a good deal for the world,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told The Associated Press. “It’s got a few problems, but it’s all in all a very good deal.”

‘It’s meek, it’s weak’

Before the India change, negotiators said the deal preserved, albeit barely, the overarching goal of limiting Earth’s warming by the end of the century to 1.5 C. The world has already warmed 1.1 C compared to preindustrial times.

Negotiators Saturday used the word “progress” more than 20 times, but rarely used the word “success,” and when they did, it was mostly in reference to reaching a conclusion, not the details in the agreement.

COP President Alok Sharma said the deal drives “progress on coal, cars, cash and trees” and is “something meaningful for our people and our planet.”

Environmental activists were measured in their not-quite-glowing assessments, issued before India’s last-minute change.

“It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5 C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters,” said Greenpeace international executive director Jennifer Morgan. 

Former Irish president Mary Robinson, speaking for a group of retired leaders called The Elders, said the pact represents “some progress, but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster.” 

“People will see this as a historically shameful dereliction of duty.”

‘For heaven’s sake, don’t kill this moment’

Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav argued against a provision on phasing out coal, saying that developing countries were “entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels.”

He blamed “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns” in rich countries for causing global warming.

After Yadav first raised the spectre of changing the coal language, a frustrated Frans Timmermans, the European Union vice-president and climate envoy, begged negotiators to unite for future generations.

India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav is seen at COP26 on Saturday. Yadav successfully argued against a provision on phasing out coal and suggested a change in language many found disappointing. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

“For heaven’s sake, don’t kill this moment,” Timmermans pleaded. “Please embrace this text so that we bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren.”

Helen Mountford, vice-president of the World Resources Institute think-tank, said India’s demand may not matter as much as feared because the economics of cheaper, renewable fuel is making coal increasingly obsolete.

“Coal is dead. Coal is being phased out,” she said. “It’s a shame that they watered it down.”

Kerry and several other negotiators noted that good compromises leave everyone slightly unsatisfied.

“Not everyone in public life … gets to make choices about life and death. Not everyone gets to make choices that actually affect an entire planet. We here are privileged today to do exactly that,” he said.

WATCH | What did young climate activists think of COP26?: 

What did young climate activists think of COP26?

Climate activists Rosie Bleyer and Aliénor Rougeot join Power & Politics to give their thoughts on COP26 as it starts to wrap up. 7:28

Before the coal change, small island nations that are vulnerable to climate change and had pushed for bolder actions in Glasgow said they were satisfied with the spirit of compromise, if not the outcome of the talks.

“Maldives accepts the incremental progress made in Glasgow,” said Shauna Aminath, the island nation’s minister for environment, climate change and technology. “I’d like to note that this progress is not in line with the urgency and scale of the problem at hand.”

Aminath pointed out that to stay within the warming limit nations agreed to six years ago in Paris, the world must cut CO2 emissions essentially in half in 98 months. She said the developing word needs the rich world to step up.

“The difference between 1.5 and 2 C is a death sentence for us,” she said. “We didn’t cause the climate crisis. No matter what we do, it won’t reverse this.”

Next year’s talks are scheduled to take place in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Dubai will host the meeting in 2023.





Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here