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Cop26 draft text annotated: what it says and what it means

The draft text is the most important document that will emerge from the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow. Unlike the last major climate conference, in Paris in 2015, what emerges here will not be a new treaty, but a series of decisions and resolutions that build on the Paris accord.

Those Cop decisions have legal force in the context of the Paris agreement, so this is a powerful document. But it is also a document that can only be accepted by the consensus of all parties, therefore much of the language is cautious and some is ambiguous or open to interpretation, to the frustration of the countries who want to move faster.

The document was drafted by the UK presidency, but does not represent the UK’s view – rather, it is a reflection of what the UK has been told by all the parties in Glasgow. Delegations here are now consulting with the leaders of their countries and other senior officials.

The key aim for Cop26 is to “keep 1.5C alive”. There are a few notable victories in this text: a mention of phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies – the first time that has appeared in a Cop decision – and strong language on the scientific imperative to stay within 1.5C of global heating. But whether this text is enough to achieve that overarching goal is still up for debate.

Katie White, the executive director of campaigns at WWF, said: “It’s essential that we recognise this as the start line, not the finish. If we are to come close to reaching our 1.5C target in time, ambition and momentum need to accelerate across the board.”

Here are some of the key elements in the seven-page draft:

I. Science

1. Recognizes the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policymaking;

2. Welcomes the contribution of Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report and looks forward to the related forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports;

3. Expresses alarm and concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of warming to date, that impacts are already being felt in every region, and that the carbon budget consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal is being rapidly depleted;

4. Stresses the urgency of increased ambition and action in relation to mitigation, adaptation and finance in this critical decade to address the gaps in the implementation of the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement;

After the preamble, the first part of the text restates the scientific imperative to tackle the climate crisis. This section refers to the IPCC report that came out in August, the starkest warning yet that the 1.5C threshold is a vital planetary boundary, beyond which some of the impacts of extreme weather are likely to become irreversible, and that we are running out of time to cut emissions and stay within 1.5C.

II. Adaptation

5. Notes with serious concern the finding from the contribution of Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report that every additional increment of global warming worsens climate and weather extremes and their impacts on people and nature;

6. Recognizes that adaptation needs will continue to increase with the severity of impacts in line with rising temperatures;

7. Emphasizes the urgency of scaling up action and support to enhance adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability to climate change

10. Reaffirms that, pursuant to Article 7, paragraph 13, of the Paris Agreement, continuous and enhanced international support shall be provided to developing country Parties including for developing and implementing their national adaptation plans, adaptation communications and other actions;

It is also significant that adaptation comes so high up. This is a key concern of developing countries. Extreme weather has affected every continent in the past year, from wildfires in the US and Australia to floods in Europe and China. For developing countries, preparing for these impacts is near-impossible without additional finance from the rich world.

Developing countries feel strongly that the importance of adaptation has been ignored up to now, so for the Cop “cover decision”, which summarises countries’ commitments, to address this as a priority is an important win for them.

III. Adaptation finance

14. Notes with serious concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation is insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country Parties;

15. Urges developed country Parties to urgently scale up their provision of climate finance for adaptation so as to respond to the needs of developing country Parties as part of a global effort;

16. Recalls Article 9, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement and calls upon developed country Parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties as a step towards achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation in the provision of scaled-up financial resources;

These are the key paragraphs for developing countries, which want the finance they receive for adaption to be at least doubled from current levels. They will want to ensure this commitment stays in future drafts, or is strengthened further.

IV. Mitigation

22. Reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels;

23. Recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this requires meaningful and effective action by all Parties in this critical decade on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the light of different national circumstances;

24. Also recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C by 2100 requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century;

25. Welcomes efforts by Parties to communicate new or updated nationally determined contributions and long-term low-emission development strategies that demonstrate progress towards achievement of the Paris Agreement temperature goal, and further welcomes commitments to reduce emissions in high-emitting sectors and achieve net zero emissions by or around mid-century;

26. Notes with serious concern the synthesis report on nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, according to which the aggregate greenhouse gas emission level, taking into account implementation of all submitted nationally determined contributions is estimated to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030;

Mitigation is UN-speak for cutting emissions, so these are the key paragraphs. It is significant that this part of the text explicitly recognises the IPCC advice that emissions cuts of 45% are needed by 2030 – to have that stated so clearly, rather than alluded to vaguely, is a big win for those who want to focus on 1.5C rather than the upper limit of 2C in the Paris agreement.

The NDCs – nationally determined contributions, which are countries’ national plans and targets for cutting or curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade – are at the heart of the Paris agreement and are the key focus if the world is to stay within 1.5C. We know that the NDCs presented at Cop26 are inadequate to stay within 1.5C – research by Climate Action Tracker on Tuesday found that current 2030 plans would take us to disastrous heating of 2.4C.

The explicit reference to the UN synthesis report – basically, an assessment of countries’ national plans by the UN, similar to the Climate Action Tracker research – is also important, as is the explicit mention of how far countries are above the 2010 level of emissions.

In among the legalese and the jargon, this adds up to a clear warning – we are not doing well enough on emissions cuts and must do better.

27. Emphasizes the urgent need for Parties to increase their efforts to collectively reduce emissions through accelerated action and implementation of domestic mitigation measures in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement;

28. Decides to establish a work programme to urgently scale-up mitigation ambition and implementation during the critical decade of the 2020s;

29. Urges Parties that have not yet submitted new or updated nationally determined contributions in accordance with decision 1/CP.21, paragraphs 23-24 to do so as soon as possible in advance of the twenty-seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (November 2022);

Setting up a work programme may not sound like much, but in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change terms this is dynamite. Having a work programme means that this item is permanently on the agenda for Cops and cannot be ignored. So every time there is a Cop – which is every year – this gap between what countries are aiming for in their NDCs and the level of emissions cuts needed to stay within 1.5C and 2C will be addressed.

This is a big step forward. Some will be disappointed that the language on bringing forward NDCs is only “urging” rather than mandating, but the work programme is a definite win.

30. Recalls Article 4, paragraphs 3 and 11, of the Paris Agreement, and urges Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022;

31. Requests the secretariat to produce an updated version of the synthesis report on nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement annually;

32. Decides to convene an annual high-level ministerial round table on pre-2030 ambition, beginning at CMA 4 (November 2022);

33. Urges Parties that have not yet done so to communicate, by CMA 4 (November 2022), long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 19, of the Paris Agreement that set out pathways with plans and policies towards just transitions to net zero emissions by or around mid-century in line with the Paris Agreement temperature goal;

34. Notes the importance of aligning nationally determined contributions with long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies;

And here’s potentially the most important paragraph in the whole document. Under the Paris agreement, countries need only revise their NDCs every five years. This is not enough to stay within 1.5C, as under that framework we would be stuck with the current inadequate NDCs – which imply heating of 2.4C, according to Climate Action Tracker – until 2030 effectively, because in 2025 under the Paris agreement the discussion will move on to post-2030 targets.

Scientists say we need to cut emissions by 45% this decade, for a 1.5C limit to be viable, so if countries stick rigidly to the Paris timetable the 1.5C threshold will almost certainly be breached.

Developing countries, and some major developed economies, are desperate for countries to be forced to come back to the negotiating table yearly until the NDCs are aligned with 1.5C.

Paragraph 30 of this document is what would achieve that aim. Some are unhappy that it is urging rather than mandating, and some are concerned that the reference to the Paris temperature goals could be interpreted as 2C rather than the all-important 1.5C.

But a reference to the Paris temperature goals includes 1.5C, proponents argue, and this was probably the strongest language available to ensure this gets through. This text would bring countries back to the table next year for their NDCs to be subject to scrutiny and with a clear focus on updating them.

35. Invites Parties to regularly update strategies in line with the best available science;

36. Requests the secretariat to prepare a synthesis report on long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies under the Paris Agreement for consideration by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its fourth session (November 2022);

37. Calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels;

38. Invites Parties to consider further opportunities to reduce non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions;

39. Emphasizes the critical importance of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches, including protecting and restoring forests, to reducing emissions, enhancing removals and protecting biodiversity;

Here is another major step forward – for the first time, a recognition that the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, must be phased out.

There has never been an explicit reference before in a Cop decision to the need to phase out coal or other fossil fuels.

That may seem an incredible omission, given that fossil fuels are at the heart of the problem here, but this process moves by consensus and powerful vested interests for fossil fuels from oil-producing countries – Saudi Arabia, Russia, Australia have been the prime movers but others have also been involved – have ensured that mention of fossil fuels has been kept out.

This reference is likely to be fiercely fought over, but its presence in the text sends a strong message, and was welcomed by green campaigners and developing countries. If it stays in, it sets a new and important precedent at these talks.

40. Invites the Secretary-General of the United Nations to convene world leaders in 2023 to consider ambition to 2030;

41. Recognizes that enhanced support for developing country Parties will allow for higher ambition in their actions;

Another means of strengthening NDCs, by having world leaders return to the table in 2023. That is also the year of the “global stocktake” under Paris, which is another means of forcing countries to revise their NDCs in line with 1.5C and scientific advice. So this par, though weak, is also helpful to the 1.5C effort.

V. Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation

42. Urges developed country Parties to provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation, in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention, and encourages other Parties to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily;

43. Acknowledges the growing need of developing country Parties, in particular due to the increasing impacts of climate change and increased indebtedness as a consequence of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, and calls for greater support to be channelled through grants and other highly concessional forms of finance;

44. Emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance from all sources to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly enhanced support for developing country Parties, beyond USD 100 billion per year;

Finance is also a key sticking point for developing countries. They have been infuriated by the failure of the rich world to meet a totemic target of providing $100bn a year to the poor world to help them cut emissions and cope with the impacts of extreme weather – a promise made in 2009, that was supposed to be fulfilled by 2020.

Instead, according to the latest OECD figures, that target was missed by $20bn in 2019. More recent findings from Germany and Canada suggest the target will be met in 2023, and by 2025 finance will reach $119bn, bringing the average from 2020 to 2025 above $100bn a year. But developing countries are angry that there is not more explicit acknowledgement of this failure, and that rich countries appear reluctant to engage in discussing how finance can be increased in future.

VI. Loss and damage

60. Acknowledges that climate change has already and will increasingly cause loss and damage and, as temperatures rise, impacts from climate and weather extremes, as well as slow onset events, will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat;

61. Reiterates the urgency of scaling up action and support, including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, for implementing approaches for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change;

The phrase “loss and damage” refers to the impacts of extreme weather that are so catastrophic that they cannot be prepared for or adapted to. For many developing countries, this is totemic – and this is the first time that loss and damage has been directly addressed in a Cop decision in this way.

However, the issue is contentious as some developing countries interpret loss and damage as implying they should receive compensation for the impacts of extreme weather upon them. Developed countries will not agree to any language that contains that term.

At the last Cop in 2019, a mechanism for addressing loss and damage was formulated. The Santiago Network would help with communications and sharing information and solutions to loss and damage, but it is not a funding mechanism. That’s what is missing here – a way of funding the loss and damage that has been inflicted on the world’s poor by a problem they did the least to cause.

VII Implementation

67. Resolves to move swiftly with the full implementation and delivery of the Paris Agreement;

68. Welcomes the start of the global stocktake and expresses its determination for the process to be comprehensive and inclusive, address necessary structural and systemic change, and increase ambition as part of a global effort based on equity and the best available science;

69. Encourages the high-level champions to support the effective participation of nonParty stakeholders in the global stocktake;

70. [Placeholder – welcome completion of the Paris Rulebook]

Placeholder means a piece of text is still missing, and this one says it all – six years after the signing of the Paris agreement, the rulebook required to bring all of its provisions into force is still incomplete.

The UK hosts face an uphill task in agreeing all elements of the Paris rulebook at this Cop. There are still ongoing discussions over carbon markets and their role in cutting emissions (under article 6 of the Paris accord) and over how countries must verify and report on their emissions, known as transparency and accountability.

If the UK can get the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook finalised at this Cop, it would be an extraordinary achievement. Without it, however, the Cop can still be a success if enough progress is made on the substantive issues on improving NDCs and keeping 1.5C alive.

The Guardian’s climate pledge 2021

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