World leaders hailed a new climate deal signed by nearly 200 countries late Saturday to speed up action on tackling climate change as the two-week COP26 summit came to an end in Glasgow, Scotland.
The signatories to the Glasgow Climate Pact pledged to continue working to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target first set at the Paris climate summit in 2015.
The gavel came down on two weeks of intense negotiations around 9 p.m. local time (9:38 p.m. UTC) Saturday evening, more than 24 hours after the originally scheduled ending of 6 p.m. Friday.
“This is real progress in keeping 1.5 degrees within reach. Progress that we have made together. But the need for continual action and implementation to match ambition must continue throughout this decade,” the COP26 President Alok Sharma told delegates after the agreement was signed.
As negotiations wrapped up Saturday, however, India and China insisted on a watering down of a commitment to phase out coal and fossil fuels. It was a subtle but significant change that left the summit president visibly upset.
“I apologize for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry,” Sharma said. “I also understand the deep disappointment. But I think, as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.”
India, along with China and South Africa, argued that phasing out fossil fuels was unfair. Close to 70% of India’s power generation is reliant on coal.
“How can anyone expect that developing countries can make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies? Developing countries have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication,” the Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said.
What was agreed?
So what was agreed to at Glasgow? The text acknowledges that existing commitments to cut emissions of greenhouse gases are nowhere near enough to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. In the deal, countries committed to come back next year with improved targets on cutting emissions, much sooner than the previous five-year cycle.
Signatories agreed to “phase down” rather than “phase out” the use of coal and fossil fuels and to cut subsidies for the industry.
Rich countries agreed to increase their commitments on climate finance, doubling the money they will pay to poorer countries to adapt to climate change and decarbonize their economies by 2025.
For the first time there’s recognition of the need for richer nations to compensate developing countries for loss and damage from climate change, because rich nations are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions.
There was also further detail on international carbon markets, whereby carbon emission credits can be traded between countries, potentially unlocking trillions of dollars for protecting forests, building renewable energy facilities and other projects to combat climate change. However, critics fear the complexity will enable countries to hide their true emissions.
Earlier in the summit, there were significant deals on reducing deforestation, while around 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised delegates for reaching an agreement.
“Of course, there’s still a long, long way to go before we can say we’ve dealt with climate change. But the great news is, together, the world has made some important breakthroughs. We’ve kept alive the hope of restricting the growth in temperatures to 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and we’ve made huge progress on coal, cars, cash and trees,” Johnson said in a video posted online Saturday.
The deal was a clear compromise — a text that all 197 parties signed, some with evident reluctance. Is it enough to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius and prevent catastrophic climate change?
“On the whole I think it’s a meek, weak outcome that doesn’t meet the moment of the climate emergency,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, told Reuters. “It keeps the 1.5 degree alive — barely alive — and I don’t think that the youth activists and the Indigenous peoples are going to tolerate another COP like this.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg dismissed the deal.
“The COP26 is over” she wrote on Twitter. “Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah.”
The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry was upbeat on what has been achieved.
“We emerge from Glasgow having dramatically raised the world’s ambition to solve this challenge in this decade and beyond. I really do believe that as a result of this decision and as a result of the announcements that have been made over the course of the last few weeks, we are in fact closer than we have ever been before to avoiding climate chaos and securing cleaner air, safer water and a healthier planet.”
Kerry said the inclusion of a commitment on coal was significant.
“As a result of what took place here with nations that have never considered even having the word ‘coal’ in a plan, where it remains even today after what took place [at the summit], coal and the phase down of coal is on the books, it’s part of the decision,” Kerry said at a press conference Saturday.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was circumspect in his assessment.
“The approved texts are a compromise,” Guterres said. “They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately, the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions. As I said at the opening, we must accelerate action to keep the 1.5 degrees [Celsius] goal alive. Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”
After two weeks of intense negotiations, delegates are now heading home. For some it is a journey of several days and thousands of miles, back to remote, low-lying Pacific islands, or to rainforest settlements threatened by deforestation. They depart Glasgow with a climate deal, but with many of their hopes and demands unfulfilled.
The next big milestone is the COP27 climate summit scheduled for 2022 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.