On the 26th UN Climate Conference in Glasgow  – Quite modest progresses

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference 2021 in Glasgow, internationally known as COP26[1], is not yet over (it runs until November 12), but judgments about it have long been made. The heads of government have met, and now the respective experts from all countries are in discussions about details – and interpretations of what their heads of government have meant.

If we look at the main preconditions and preparations for the conference, it becomes clear that expectations were not too high:

  • At the end of February 2021, after evaluating 48 national climate plans under the Paris Agreement, the UN Climate Change Secretariat announced that, in order to meet the 1.5-degree target, very substantial revisions would be needed.
  • In a two-day virtual summit conference at the end of April, at the invitation of US President Joe Biden, forty leading politicians discussed climate policy, including the heads of government of the 17 most important industrialized and emerging countries. There were no concrete agreements, although US President Biden made intense and eloquent announcements for his own country.
  • At the beginning of May 2021, the 12th Petersberg Climate Dialogue was held with environment ministers and other government representatives from around 40 countries. There were – as always, few concrete – appeals to step up especially financial efforts in particular. Once again, however, there were no concrete agreements made.
  • Immediately before the start of COP26, the „G20“ summit took place in Rome, with the xth– expression of agreement among the participants on the importance of the 1.5 target set in Paris. Nothing was achieved on concrete measures such as a phase-out of coal-fired power generation or the capping or even ending of national fossil fuel subsidies.

Two of the most important heads of government in terms of climate, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin – China is by far the largest national greenhouse gas emitter, Russia’s economy is completely dependent on fossil fuel exports – did not even come to Glasgow (officially because of Covid).

We can see that the conditions for a successful 26th climate conference were anything but promising, and this even after the publication of the first part of the CMIP6 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the beginning of August 2021 and the almost simultaneous catastrophic global climate weeks with flooding in Germany and Switzerland, extreme heat in Canada and the north-western USA, heat records in northern and southern Europe, massive fires in Turkey, and severe flooding in China.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg thus responded in Nov. 5 with the following:

„This is no longer a climate conference. This is now a greenwashing festival of the global north, a two-week celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah!“

She and many other young people expressed their anger and disappointment about decades of climate action being dragged out around the world.

In contrast, conference president Alok Sharma, a British Tory politician, proclaimed that the COP26 world climate conference in Glasgow was the beginning of the end for coal. But how much can one believe a politician from the Tory party these days?

But in fact, some concrete things were decided (and signed by many countries) in Glasgow, specifically the following most important ones:

  1. Developed countries are required to „phase out coal by 2030, and for all others to follow by 2040,“ said the British Minister for Economic Affairs, Kwasi Kwarteng. De facto, however, the agreement then does not state the fixed dates of 2030 and 2040, but instead says „in the 2030s and 2040s.“
  2. 25 countries committed themselves to stop providing financial resources for the financing of fossil energies by the end of 2022 (until now, hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into subsidies for coal, gas and oil every year).
  3. Representatives of 100 countries signed a declaration of intent to halt global deforestation (which is occurring particularly in tropical areas) by 2030. The signatories own about 85% of the forest area in the world. 19.2 billion US dollars are to be made available for this purpose by 2025.
  4. More than 100 participating countries followed the European Union, the United States and eight other countries having signed a „Global Methane Pledge“ on September 18, 2021. According to it, the goal is to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 (from 2020 levels).

But unfortunately, the largest emitters of CO2, China, the USA, India and Australia, did not sign the first two points (India pledged to become CO2 neutral by 2070). Poland, still heavily dependent on coal-fired power, initially signed but then withdrew from it just hours later. The three largest methane emitters, Russia, the People’s Republic of China and India, were not among the signatories to the third point. And Germany was unfortunately not among the countries that signed the second point (Add on: the country did so the following week, on Nov. 9th). On the first, the country made a legal commitment to phase out coal by 2038 (well after 2030) long before the conference. Unfortunately, this was once again a typical German reaction of the last 16 years by the government under Angela Merkel.

Experts from all countries are still discussing among themselves which climate activities should be implemented, but after the statements of the governments last week, there is hardly much more to be expected.

[1] COP26 is also 16th meeting on the Kyoto-Protocol (CMP 16) and the 5th meeting after the Paris agreement (CMA 3: after CMA1, CAM 1-2, CAM 1-3, CMA 2).

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