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COP26 takeaways: Some progress in climate pact but much more needed, activists say

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By Lauren Chadwick
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Alok Sharma, President of the COP26 summit gestures during a press conference at the end of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.
Alok Sharma, President of the COP26 summit gestures during a press conference at the end of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alastair Grant

While some hailed a pact that kept negotiators in Glasgow for an extra day, many activists and international leaders said that despite some progress, there's still a long way to go.

Nearly 200 parties to the United Nations' most recent climate conference agreed on the Glasgow Climate Pact on Saturday, after some last-minute wrangling over the exact wording of the deal.

"It's an important step, but it is not enough," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lamented.

Conference President Alok Sharma said he was grateful for the hard work of governments during the climate conference that many had billed as the last chance for decisive action to address the worsening climate crisis.

"This is a fragile win. We have kept 1.5 alive. That was our overarching objective when we set off on this journey two years ago, taking on the role of the COP presidency-designate," Sharma said.

"But I would still say that the pulse of 1.5 is weak."

Many have said that the conference was never going to solve climate change, contending that the pact agreed is a starting point.

"We always knew that Glasgow was not the finish line, and anybody who thought it was doesn't understand the challenge that we have," said John Kerry, the United States' climate envoy.

"Paris built the arena and Glasgow starts the race and tonight the starting gun was fired."

'Lifeline' for 1.5 degrees Celsius limit

As part of the climate deal, countries reaffirmed a "long-term global goal...to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels."

They also recognised that this would require "rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net-zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases."

Several deals brokered on the sidelines of the conference also aimed to cut methane emissions by 30%, reduce deforestation, and phase out coal.

"The package deal offers a political lifeline to the faster action needed to keep 1.5C alive. This is progress," said Alex Scott, the climate diplomacy and geopolitics lead at think-tank E3G, in a statement.

"Delivering on their promises in the next 12 months will be key to addressing the disappointment raised by some on the plenary floor that the deal didn’t go far enough."

Many activists and experts said that the deal needs to be backed up by implementation and more ambitious actions on behalf of governments.

Finalising technical rules

Six years on since the Paris Agreement, negotiators finalised the outstanding elements of the transparency and reporting requirements for countries, known as the "Paris rulebook".

"Coming into COP26, there was no guarantee that we would actually finalise the Paris rulebook; it's something that has dogged COPs for years," Tom Evans, a researcher at E3G, told Euronews.

"I think this COP kind of marks the end of that technical negotiation phase in terms of what the Paris Agreement would do. And now we're looking at actually how you implement the Paris Agreement and how you actually deliver on its goals," he said.

The rules agreed on at Glasgow encourage countries to communicate their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every five years (but do not yet mandate them to do so) and include rules on transparency reporting on countries' climate targets.

The rulebook also sets out how international carbon markets function, known as Article 6. The idea is that by putting a price on carbon emissions, the cost of climate action will be lower.

These "carbon credits" can then be traded between countries so that large polluters pay for their emissions.

"I think people went in with a stronger appetite to get these rules agreed at long last, so I think that's probably a part of why some of these rules aren't necessarily as perfect as they could be," Evans said.

Critics say that offsetting carbon emissions would allow countries and companies to carry on emitting greenhouse gases.

"On Article 6, we need to remain vigilant against greenwashing, protect environmental integrity, & protect human rights & the rights of indigenous peoples," said Tina Stege, a climate envoy from the Marshall Islands in a statement.

"While the agreement still has some significant weaknesses, outcomes with even weaker social and environmental integrity had to be expected," said Sven Harmeling, International Climate Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe in a statement provided to Euronews.

As part of the deal in Glasgow, countries can trade old emission reduction credits that date back to the Kyoto Protocol.

"It will now be important to pressure companies and governments not to use those old credits," Harmeling said.

Last-minute compromise on coal

One of the last-minute compromises at the conference included a watering down of language on coal proposed by India. It replaces the words "phase out" with the words "phase down".

The text now reads: "including escalating efforts to phase down unabated coal power, and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies."

Experts said that language on coal and fossil fuels was overdue and that its presence in the text proved that coal was on the path towards being phased out.

Leaders said getting the language into the text (neither coal nor fossil fuels were mentioned in the Paris agreement) was also a success.

But many regretted the last-minute watering down of the language, calling it one of the blows of the climate deal.

Rich countries not yet ready to pay up

In 2009, wealthy countries agreed to mobilise $100 billion (€86.4 billion) per year to address the needs of developing countries but that still hasn't happened.

The Glasgow agreement "notes with deep regret" that the goal hasn't been achieved and the agreement encourages wealthy nations to mobilise the funds.

In another key part of negotiations, developing countries demanded reparations from the world's largest historic carbon emitters to pay for the "loss and damage" incurred due to the climate crisis.

While the deal acknowledged that "climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage," there was no creation of a financing fund that developing countries had proposed.

Just Scotland and the Belgian region of Wallonia committed to pay for loss and damage, activists say.

"There was a recognition that vulnerable countries are suffering real loss & damage from the climate crisis now, but what was promised was nothing close to what’s needed on the ground," Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan tweeted.

"This hasn't delivered everything that the developing countries want, but if we take a step back and reflect on the broader picture, the politics around loss and damage is clearly shifted," Evans said.

"I think it's definitely a wake-up call to [developed] countries that this is not something that they can duck anymore, and there's going to have to be a solution that works for everyone."