Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

The heavy lifting on climate action must begin

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- COP26 achievements and failures

Context

Glasgow’s success was that it finished building the scaffolding for climate action initiated through the Paris Agreement. But true success depends on whether countries are receptive to these nudges.

What were the Glasgow climate meeting’s (COP26) successes and failures?

  • Strengthened Paris Agreement mechanism: Glasgow strengthened the Paris Agreement mechanism of eliciting pledges from countries and ratcheting them up over time.
  • It requested countries to update and strengthen 2030 emission targets in their NDCs by the end of 2022, earlier than previously expected.
  • Success at Glasgow was explicitly defined around ‘keeping 1.5 degrees alive’ through such pledges.
  • There are two problems with this interpretation.
  • First, the Paris, and Glasgow, approach focusing on target-setting gives insufficient importance to the challenge of implementing those targets.
  • A focus on shorter term targets and their implementation — which India to its credit has been highlighting — will be important.
  • Second, by calling on countries to strengthen targets to align with the Paris Agreement objectives without explicitly considering that countries have different roles and responsibilities in doing so risks side-stepping, again, the long-standing issue of climate equity.

Phase-down clause for thermal power and implications for India

  • Phasing down coal power: A specific high profile clause calls for the ‘phase down of unabated coal power and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’.
  • It was the Indian Minister who read out an amendment modifying ‘phase-out’ to ‘phase-down’ for coal.
  • India’s concerns: India’s real concerns included not precluding subsidies for social purposes, such as for cooking gas; querying whether from an equity point of view, all countries should be asked to limit coal use at the same time; and noting the lack of mention of oil and gas.
  • A positive for all from environmental point of view: From an environmental point of view, more explicit discussion of coal, but ideally all fossil fuels, is a positive, including for India.
  • Concerns on developmental view: From a developmental view, however, India is concerned that explicit mention of coal constrains us in our choice of fuel.
  • Way out for India: A possible way out is for India to explicitly seek global support for an accelerated transition away from coal, an approach taken by South Africa.

Challenges and achievements at COP26

[A] Measures for adaptations

  • Adaptation has long been neglected in global negotiations, reflecting a global power imbalance that places less weight on the concerns of vulnerable nations.
  • In this context, it was a partial win that Glasgow set up an explicit two year work programme for a ‘global goal’ on adaptation.
  • No development on agenda of loss and damage: The important complementary agenda of ‘loss and damage’ – compensating for unavoidable impacts that go beyond adaptation — received at most lip service.
  • Even though there was discussion of a specific mechanism, backed by funding, to the dismay of small, vulnerable nations, only a ‘dialogue’ was established.

[B] Climate finance commitment issue not addressed

  • Commitment on climate finance not met: Climate finance promised to be the central issue of COP26, with considerable frustration from developing countries that the decade-long commitment of $100 billion had not been met.
  • Glasgow did no more than establish a work programme on post-2025 financing and continue tracking progress on the $100 billion.
  • The exception was a call to double adaptation finance by 2025.
  • Mobilising private finance: Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney indicated that companies committed to net zero initiatives could marshal a scarcely believable $130 trillion, suggesting growing efforts to mobilise private finance.
  • Developing countries have long insisted that publicly funded climate finance is a right devolving from the ‘polluter pays’ principle rather than aid.

[C] Paris rulebook

  • Completion of two elements of Paris Rulebook: There were two particularly important elements of what is called the ‘Paris Rulebook’ that were completed in Glasgow.
  • Transparency framework: First, the transparency framework was completed, which includes reporting rules and formats for emissions, progress on pledges and finance contributions.
  • Rules for carbon market: The second key was completion of agreed rules for carbon markets, the complexities of which had stymied agreement for four years.
  • Rules were put in place to limit the scope for ‘double-counting’ of credits by more than one country.

Way forward for India

  • The real determinant of success or failure rests on national politics and popular support for climate change within countries — how countries use the scaffolding.
  • For India, these politics are complex because they revolve around simultaneously balancing concerns over whether our policy space will be limited by inequities embedded in the global mitigation efforts, and our own interests as a vulnerable country in enhancing and accelerating climate action.
  • A balanced view requires consideration of both objectives.

Consider the question “Why climate finance continues to be a contentious issue in the negotiations over climate change? Suggest the way to balance the concerns over development with the efforts at climate action.”

Conclusion

The meeting hit many, but not all, of its procedural benchmarks by building scaffolding for the future. But the real determinant of success or failure rests on national politics and popular support for climate change within countries.

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