What has been decided so far, and what not, at COP26

What has been decided so far, and what not, at COP26
What has been decided so far, and what not, at COP26

According to the calendar, Friday is the last day of COP26, the United Nations climate conference that has been held in Glasgow in the last two weeks. Most likely, however, the work will continue over the weekend, as has already happened several times in the past years: to reach a final agreement, the unanimous consent of the more than 200 participating countries is required, and positions are still distant on various issues. , such as the commitments to reduce emissions of individual countries, the gap between poor and rich countries and some decisions on the divestment of fossil fuels.

In general, despite various breakthroughs and some important agreements limited to individual sectors, it is now certain that the commitments made in Glasgow for the reduction of greenhouse gases will not be sufficient to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 1.5 ° C compared to at pre-industrial levels, the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement.

Despite this, if the final agreement is strong enough there could still be several notable results, including the first call to completely phase out fossil fuels in UN history and the requirement for countries to annually review their commitments to the reduction of greenhouse gases, and not every five years as is the case now.

However, these points are still the subject of a rather complex negotiation, and it is not certain that they will be present in the final agreement.

The issues to be decided
The most important issue remains that of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for carbon neutrality, that is, the promises of countries to achieve the condition in which as many greenhouse gases are emitted as are removed from the atmosphere.

According to an analysis released Thursday by the International Energy Agency (IEA), if the most recent commitments on reducing emissions and other promises made in Glasgow are respected, it will be possible to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.8 ° C. This is not a completely negative forecast, because the Paris Agreement had as its main objective to keep the increase below 2 degrees, while making efforts to keep it within 1.5 degrees.

Another analysis released a few days later by the Climate Action Tracker association, however, showed much more pessimistic data.

The association took into consideration only the short-term commitments, those that will be implemented in the next ten years, which are more detailed and which will be realized with reasonable certainty. Instead, it has neglected long-term commitments, which are more uncertain and could be more easily overlooked. In this context, temperatures would rise by 2.4 degrees by the end of the century, well beyond the limits that would have catastrophic consequences on the environment.

At COP26, none of the large greenhouse gas producing countries renewed or upgraded their NDCs, apart from India. Other large countries and regions, such as the European Union, the United States and China, had announced their commitments in the past years, and have not updated them in Glasgow.

One of the main issues under discussion in the last few days of COP26 concerns precisely the need to update the NDCs.

In the various drafts of the final document that have been made public in recent days, it is proposed not only to have countries revise their emissions commitments for 2030 in order to make them compatible with the Paris objectives, but also that these resolutions are reassessed every year, so that progress can be tracked. Under the Paris Agreement, NDCs need to be revised every five years, which quickly makes them obsolete.

Other elements of discussion concern the fact that for the first time in the drafts of the final document there is talk of the need to dispose of coal and public subsidies that encourage the use of fossil fuels, a topic much discussed especially by the countries that make the most use of these subsidies. , such as the oil producing countries of the Middle East. The part on divestment was present in the first version of the draft of the final document, but has been softened in the second: there is no longer talk of divesting subsidies for fossil fuels, but of divesting “inefficient” subsidies, and this could be a loophole for countries that want to continue financing fossil fuels.

Other issues concern the financial compensations that the richer countries have to make to the poorer countries to help them in the energy transition, and which so far have not been sufficient, and the establishment of precise rules for the so-called carbon dioxide credit market, in which emissions are regulated by a permit system and in which countries that implement initiatives to reduce them receive benefits.

Sectoral agreements
If these are the problems still to be resolved, in the two weeks of negotiations a number of so-called “sectoral” agreements were nevertheless reached, ie concerning specific aspects of the fight against global warming, and not unanimously but between various groups of countries.

The leaders of 100 countries have reached a major agreement against deforestation, in which they promise to stop this phenomenon by 2030, and allocate, between public and private funds, almost 20 billion dollars to promote policies against deforestation.

Another initiative, signed by 108 countries, including the United States and the European Union, includes a promise to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Some large methane producing countries, such as China, have India and Russia, however, remained out of the deal (although China later said it was considering joining).

Some fifty countries have also reached an agreement on coal, which provides for the decommissioning of coal plants by 2030 (for the richest countries) or by 2040 (for the poorest countries), and an immediate halt to the construction of new power plants.

Another agreement signed between 22 countries provides that between 2035 and 2040 all new cars sold will be electric. However, the main auto-producing countries, such as Germany, Japan, the United States, China, did not sign.

In general, according to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, these sectoral agreements will only be “limited”, both because they have relatively modest ambitions and because in many cases they have not been signed by the major countries. Some signatories have already pulled back: the Minister of the Environment of Indonesia, a country that hosts the third largest rainforest in the world and that has signed the agreement against deforestation, has already said that she will not respect it, because “inappropriate it’s unfair”. “President Jokowi’s great development project cannot be stopped in the name of emissions or in the name of deforestation,” he said, citing the nickname of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Political agreements
Paradoxically, for many analysts one of the most interesting results of COP26 is an agreement that does not provide for any immediate limitation of emissions, but only vague promises.

This is the unexpected joint statement released Wednesday by the United States and China, the two largest economies in the world and the largest emitters. The two countries had ignored and criticized each other for much of the conference, and the fact that they will work together to “strengthen and accelerate climate action and cooperation” was seen as a notable and positive political signal, although none of the two has made new commitments.

Another less important but still worth keeping an eye on is the Alliance Beyond Oil and Gas (BOGA), an association of countries founded by Denmark and Costa Rica that is committed to blocking permits for exploration and exploitation. of hydrocarbon fields, with the aim of completely eliminating the production of oil and gas in their territories. The Alliance was formed in September but was relaunched during COP26. The signatory countries (including France, Ireland, Sweden; Italy is not part of it but has called itself a “friendly country”), however, are few. Above all, none of them have any significant hydrocarbon production.

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