Glasgow Moves the Needle on Climate Crisis and Creates Pathways for Ambition and Optimism

Blog Mike Green, ASBC’s Climate and Energy Working Group Chair

The final gavel struck on Saturday night in a large plenary hall marking the end of the COP26 negotiations. These negotiations will be remembered as an important step in addressing the climate crisis, however, last minute changes to the text tampered its effectiveness. Even with this new round of agreements and announcements, much more action is surely needed to get the world on a safe pathway towards a stable and just planet.  

Recent reports have shown that current National Commitments would generate 1.8C of warming over the near future. We recognize that while this does demonstrate progress made, it is still pinned to the structural challenge that these commitments are voluntary and require meaningful action to ensure follow through. The current pledges do come up short of the Paris Agreement target to limit warming to 1.5C. This means that not only do countries need to meet their commitments already on the table - they must deliver more in the coming year. 

Last-minute changes to the negotiating text further weakened the final agreement in Glasgow. In the final plenary push, several countries stood in the way of what could have been an ambitious step forward.  India, which believes it will need further fossil fuels to continue their national development strategy, stood in the way of having stronger language around ending fossil fuel subsidies. 

As the COP President began to gavel through the final text, several countries called out the lack of transparency in these final changes, as well as their impact on weakening the text failing our future. Worried that leaving empty handed would be an even worse step backwards, many stated that they would still move forward with the new language.  

The graveness of these interventions was clearly felt by the COP President, Alok Sharma, who had to hold back tears as he continued with the meeting. ”If it is a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable,” U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry told the plenary. “This has been, I think, a good negotiation.” 

What is new? 

There are several pieces of the newly minted Glasgow Climate Pact and accompanying announcements from the past week that further move the needle on the climate crisis. As we mentioned earlier in the week, the U.S. led initiative of 114 countries pledging to reduce emissions from methane has a substantial impact on global temperature increase. This opens the door for a new track of actions that will need to take place to properly account, measure and reduce methane emissions.  

This was not the only place where the US showed a renewed spirit of collaboration. The US and Chinese delegations also announced a new partnership in reducing emissions. One of the most important parts of COP26 is for a new round of ambitious announcements before COP 27 in Egypt. There was fair criticism in the NDC put forth by China earlier this year. This partnership shows a commitment from both countries to make further commitments before they reconvene in a year’s time. The U.S. administration showed great leadership to attempt to get critical action through congress heading into the negotiations. This means we can expect more of that level of commitment in the near future. All of which is a welcome change in policy from Washington, DC. 

“We had the opportunity to see the strong return of the U.S. to the COP and the official announcement by the Deputy Secretary of Energy for more investments into decarbonization which will accelerate the pace away from carbon and towards a sustainable future,” said ASBC Member Fran Benedito, CEO of Climate Trade. 

While further investments into new technology for rapid decarbonization areimportant, also calling for an end to current polluting fossil fuels also took a center stage. A newly formed working group led by Denmark and Costa Rica called the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance was able to call for a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies into the Glasgow Climate Pact. This has some weight since any blame or push against the fossil fuel industry was notoriously left out of the Paris Agreement. This announcement also would seem to run counter to earlier false reports that oil and gas lobbyists have a higher representation than activists at the climate conference. 

Standing Issues 

There are several standing issues that we outlined in our first post more than two weeks ago that continue to temper our optimism of the Glasgow Pact. The largest gaps remain around Loss and Damage and the Finance Gap. Countries need to make substantial new commitments to reach the commitments for financial assistance and an understanding of ownership for the impact of warming created to date. This is especially critical for countries which are on the front line of the climate crisis. Least Developed Countries and Small Island States were able to make some progress by having a justice framework put forward in the announcement, however, there was not enough action taken to overcome the pledges which have already missed their deadline. The final agreement kicks these concerns down the road for future negotiations. 

There was progress also made around the Paris Rulebook, where consensus has eluded the COP delegates for the past three years. Negotiators will allow for some older carbon offsets, predating the Paris Agreement to be used in the immediate future, however, these vestiges will be forced to phase out over time. The negotiations also finalized rules on double counting of emissions or carbon offsets that move from one country to another. The text would leave the responsibility of accounting for this up to the host country and allows for it to be their final call on how to account for this change. 

There must be a further commitment on transparency around NDC and government commitments to match with what the scientific community states we must do. This effort is not limited to the national plan but also must be reflected in corporate actions.  

COP26 attendee and ASBC member Kayalin Akins-Irby of Planet Forward had this to say, “By creating more transparency this system can incentivize companies to reduce emissions by creating competition.” Kayalin continued, “My experience at COP has been extremely fruitful and the conversations here will continue after Glasgow.” 

It has been a long 16 days, as delegates clearly look exhausted from working around the clock over the past several days. It unfortunately did not deliver what many had hoped. The COP 26 text does not deliver enough policy to meet the action needed to keep emissions within the planetary bounds. While there are some pieces of the negotiations that generated new work streams for future discussions, we clearly cannot wait for this process to deliver a decision on how to move the world forward. ASBC will continue to push for more ambitious action that meets the moment and builds a just and stable economy and world for future generations.