The Glasgow Climate Pact, without a disruption to the status quo

Climate Pact COP26
Lela Mélon, lecturer at ESCI-UPF and Executive Director of Planetary Wellbeing at UPF, with Jaume Albertí, researcher at UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change, during the COP26 in Glasgow. / Photo: Lela Mélon

Lela Mélon, professor at ESCI-UPF and Executive Director of Planetary Wellbeing Institutional Framework at UPF, attended COP26 and shares her thoughts about the results and decisions made in Glasgow.

Before arriving at the COP26, the expectations were informed by the leak of information of certain states trying to modify the IPCC report, giving a taste of what might be expected as an outcome of the two weeks of intense discussions in Glasgow. The image hereunder is another basis for worry, as the divergence between the impact of the negotiating states involved has been clear for years now, yet the conditions of negotiations have not changed accordingly. Hoping for the best, the second week of negotiations revealed that a change in the wind as regards the “common yet differentiated” responsibilities in the fight against climate change is not to be expected at this conference of parties.

The greatest example of lack of a change of paradigm is the reference to “phasing down” rather than “phasing out” coal, after late interventions by China and India, which most probably resulted from continuously trying to put the developed and developing countries on the same foot, something which will also stall the upcoming conferences of parties in my opinion: the silent and unaddressed question of who profited the most from extraction and use of Earth’s resources and who should lead the way in leaving the unsustainable ways of being, while allowing for some leeway for the late-comers (and not just using the least common denominator for the whole global community).

In the same spirit, not all subsidies for fossil fuels were said to be phased out, just the inefficient ones, leaving much leeway for a decision as to which subsidy is deemed efficient and which one inefficient (and the scepticism here is supported by the myriad of economic and interdisciplinary definitions as to what is deemed efficient). While this deficit of well-defining “common but differentiated” responsibilities wanted to be partially remedied by the pledge to significantly increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and switch to clean energy (prospect of a trillion dollar a year fund from 2025), which will hopefully be more successful than the previous failed pledge for richer countries to provide $100bn a year by 2020.

But the truth is, the Glasgow Climate Pact was not the only goal of the COP26: the meeting(s) of the parties are fruitful also outside of the plenary sessions. There have been some promising bilateral and multilateral agreements passed that help the future conferences of parties to be more ambitious and forward-moving:

  • US and China as the biggest CO2 emitters entered into an agreement and pledged to cooperate more over the next decade in areas including methane emissions and the switch to clean energy, which has been seen as China recognising the need for urgent action.

  • More than 100 countries, accounting for about 85% of the world’s forests, promised to stop deforestation by 2030, preserving the best natural CO2 absorbing solution: this initiative is not a complete novelty, but this agreement seems to be better funded than the previous ones.

  • An agreement of more than 100 countries to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030 has been concluded as an important step towards climate change mitigation, as methane is currently responsible for a third of human-generated warming. While China, Russia and India have not joined, they are hoped to join later.

  • The agreement of financial organisations controlling $130tn to back “clean” technology and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries, aiming to involve private companies in meeting net zero targets. There is some scepticism due to the lack of explicit commitment to end support for fossil-fuels as regards the effect of this particular agreement.

Like the Chatham House Summary Analysis¹ states, while some progress was made at COP26, the next months will be crucial to be able to determine the impact of the formal agreements reached in Glasgow and if they were sufficient to keep 1.5ºC in sight and as such sufficient to build trust between countries and between citizens and governments. At the end of the day, the existing data speaks about a substantial credibility, action, and commitment gap, casting a shadow of doubt over the global pledge of net-zero goals, covering 90% of global emissions.

By way of example, under the existing policies the Climate Action Tracker (see the diagram) estimates end-of-century warming of 2.7ºC, and the Glasgow Climate Pact has not inserted ambitious changes to the current trajectory, albeit it promises to put us on track for 1.8ºC (if all the pledged net zero goals are achieved). Indeed, the NDC improvements submitted in the last year have reduced the emission’s gap by 15-17%, which represents progress but it remains to be detailed as to which decisive actions will be taken at national levels (and also from the side of the private sector) to allow for a more ambitious outcome of the future conference of parties.




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