14 Nov 2021, 12:40
Kerstine Appunn Julian Wettengel

COP26 - Glasgow Climate Pact decided in overtime with weakened coal pledge

Photo: Klara Worth, UNFCCC.

A Glasgow Climate Pact, including the notion that climate action needs to be accelerated within this decade to keep global temperature from rising more than 1.5°C as well as a historic reference to the phase-out of climate damaging subsidies to fossil fuels, has been decided after two weeks of negotiations at COP26. The deliberations between 197 nations in Scotland, ran into overtime as delegations hashed out agreements on the final contentious points on Saturday. Talks finally concluded in the evening with a deal that "makes everyone a little unhappy" which is a sign that a compromise has been reached, as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in the second-to-last plenary. NGOs said that while the official text could have been more ambitious, the conference has shown that governments across the world are readier than ever to move away from a fossil fuel system and try to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C. The German delegation in Glasgow hailed the outcome as the first agreement accepted by all states that will accelerate the global energy transition away from coal and the reduction of subsidies for fossil energies. [Update adds paragraph on transparency and timelines]

A watered down reference to reducing the use of coal power marked the last minutes of the UN climate summit in Glasgow on Saturday evening. To the disappointment of the EU, island nations and other more progressive governments, the delegations from India and China succeeded in amending the text of the new "Glasgow Climate Pact" to call for "phasing down" rather than "phasing out" unabated coal power. Nevertheless, the outcome of COP26 was seen at least as a partial success by many observers, as it for the first time mentions coal as a major climate change culprit and also calls for reducing the investment in "inefficient fossil fuels". Crucially, the conference of 197 countries also resulted in the conclusion of the so-called Paris rulebook, the implementation rules to the 2015 Paris Agreement which - in the case of carbon markets and measuring and reporting emissions - had never been able to be agreed on in the previous years.

"Glasgow brings a clear acceleration for climate protection, and more speed is also needed. The 2020s is the decade in which the global community can and must make decisive progress," German environment minister Svenja Schulze said on Saturday evening in Glasgow. "The fossil fuel era is coming to an end, the energy transition is becoming the guiding principle worldwide," she said, adding that she would have liked the statements on the coal phase-out to be clearer, "but the path is now mapped out and will be irreversible". The agreement on the energy sector opens the door to "the concrete abandonment" of fossil energies in other areas at future world climate conferences, she said in a press release.

"The fossil fuel era is coming to an end, the energy transition is becoming the guiding principle worldwide. I would have liked the statements on the coal phase-out to be clearer, but the path is now mapped out and will be irreversible."

Svenja Schulze (SPD), German environment minister

Many observers and government officials saw COP26 in Glasgow as the most important climate summit since the 2015 Paris Agreement. It was delayed by one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, costing the world precious time in fighting climate change. The 2020s are a critical decade for quick and ambitious climate action necessary to fulfil the UK COP presidency’s key objective for the conference: keeping the goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C within reach. However, even the additional pledges to increase climate targets, which many countries made in the run up to or at the summit, are not enough to close the emissions reduction gap.

Technical negotiations on outstanding parts of the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement were high on the agenda in Glasgow, as was climate finance – the support wealthier nations provide to developing countries to cope with climate change and its effects.

Results from COP26

Cover decision: Accelerate mitigation plans and cut fossil fuel subsidies

1.5°C warming limit, phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies, pledging higher climate commitments sooner – the cover decision of a COP is the political outcome that shows the overall ambition of all parties to fight climate change, and is most widely used to mark whether the UN climate summit can be considered a success or not.

Carried by the announcements of heads of state and governments, financing pledges and multilateral alliances on crucial climate issues, the bargaining of the final deal took well into Saturday afternoon. Many observers said (reactions see below) that the outcome could be considered a partial success, as it contained the following key points:

  • 1.5° and the mitigation accelerator

The COP26 decision “requests” all parties to raise climate targets in line with 1.5-2°C warming by the end of 2022. Moreover, it “urges” countries who have not yet submitted updated, i.e. more ambitious climate action pledges (NDCs) and/or long-term climate targets, to do so within the next 12 months. The Glasgow Climate Pact mandates “accelerated action” that is needed “in this critical decade”, underlining it by referring to the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) on the urgency of global warming.

  • Fossil fuels

The decision “calls” on parties to accelerate the transition to a low-emissions energy system, and therefore “accelerate efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. Despite the qualifying language (unabated coal, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies) this is a remarkable and unprecedented pledge, since never before under the UNFCCC architecture has there been a mention of limiting the climate-harming impact of fossil fuels in particular, the German delegation said. For a long time during the second week of COP26 negotiations, it looked as though this wording would not make it through to the final stage at all; instead it remained part of the decision albeit in a watered-down fashion.

Climate finance, adaptation, loss & damage - Germany pledges support

Talks in Glasgow were off to a bumpy start, as developed nations did not deliver on their key promise to poorer countries to provide 100 billion USD per year in climate finance from 2020-2025. The German government was instrumental in devising a climate finance delivery plan for the UK COP presidency, aimed at sending a signal of trust to poorer nations and ensure a successful climate summit. However, the plan had shown wealthy nations are unlikely to reach 100 billion before 2023. At the COP, the German government pledged an additional 50 million euros to the Adaptation Fund, which helps vulnerable communities in developing countries adapt to climate change. This was welcomed by NGOs.

The Glasgow outcome on climate finance included:

- the "deep regret" of developed countries for missing the 100 billion USD target 

- urging countries' to 'fully deliver on the 100 billion USD goal 'urgently' through 2025

- developed countries double collective adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025.

Another point of contention for years has been what is known as “loss and damage”. In Glasgow, developing countries again called for support to deal with losses and damages incurred from the effects of climate change. Rich nations have long resisted acknowledging financial liability for their emissions which fuelled climate change.

Developing countries said they were "extremely disappointed" that a clear plan on future loss and damage funding was not agreed.

As the conference went into overtime, the German government promised to provide 10 million euros to the Santiago Network on loss and damage, which was created at the last COP in Madrid. The network aims to ensure exchange of knowledge and facilitate access to technical support in facing climate risks. It was decided that the Santiago network will be provided with funds to support technical assistance as countries were "urged" to provide funds to the Santiago network.

Article 6 - carbon markets

After five years of unsuccessful negotiations on the exact rules for a future carbon offset market, COP26 achieved the breakthrough. UN nations agreed on the rulebook both for trade of carbon reduction credits between countries and by private projects and companies. For the main issues of global carbon offset markets, see here. What sealed the deal in Glasgow was:

- Five percent of the proceeds from private offset trades will be funnelled into the Adaptation Fund that supports poorer nations in their efforts to combat the effects of climate change; but no such tax will apply to the bilateral offset trades between countries. (Article 6.4)

- Old credits from the pre-Paris era can only be used when issued after 2013. NGOs had warned against billions of old credits flooding the market; this has not been entirely prevented but limited. (Article 6.4)

- Two percent of generated emission reduction credits will be cancelled to achieve an overall cut in greenhouse gas emissions and not just a trade of offsets

On the carry-over of old Kyoto-era credits into the new emission market mechanism, climate policy expert David Ryfisch of NGO Germanwatch said: "The number of certificates that enter the system in this way without additionally serving the climate is not known exactly. The announced expert group of the UN Secretary General on the accountability of announcements by non-state actors must establish clear rules so that companies do not stock up on second-rate certificates in order to achieve their climate neutrality goals on paper."

Paris rulebook: Transparency and timelines

Delegates also agreed on rules and standards on how to report emissions and their reduction from 2024, which will provide more robust information for further climate action. The aim of more transparency is to build mutual trust between nations with progress reports that have to be submitted every two years, said Germanwatch. “One gain in reporting is the - voluntary - addition of information on climate-related damage and loss,” said the NGOs Rixa Schwarz.

Parties also agreed that all countries are “encouraged” to present updated ten-year climate plans every five years, the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

First reactions from Germany

Christoph Bals, Political Director Germanwatch: "COP26 could one day be seen as turning point for phasing out coal"

"Despite the momentum this climate summit has built for a global phase-out of coal and more climate protection, the 1.5 degree limit is not within reach without rapid improvements in the targets of the largest emitters. In retrospect, this climate summit could one day be seen as a turning point for phasing out coal worldwide. And this despite the fact that China, India, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba watered down the coal text from 'phase out' to 'phase down' at the last minute."

Jan Kowalzig, climate expert Oxfam Germany: "Next German government must significantly increasing climate aid from Germany"

"The small steps that COP26 has taken forward must not lead us to the illusion that we are going home with a real success. Once again the poorer countries of the Global South, which are particularly affected by the climate crisis, have been marginalised. [...] This colossal injustice is the ugly stain on the outcome of Glasgow. [...] In the final document, the industrialised countries are called upon to double their support for adaptation to climate change. This leaves the conference well short of the demands of low-income countries. Nevertheless, this is a step forward that the next German government must now also take by significantly increasing climate aid from Germany in the coming years beyond the current pledges of the previous German government. The conference's appeal to all countries to improve their climate targets will only be a success if the G20 countries in particular follow suit. No one should sit back now. None of the major economic nations is currently prepared to contribute sufficiently and fairly to the globally necessary climate protection, not even Germany. Glasgow thus sends an unmistakable signal to the ongoing coalition negotiations in Berlin: the next federal government must immediately present a robust plan that puts Germany on a path compatible with the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement."

Luisa Neubauer, Fridays for Future Germany: "COP has failed to initiate the structural changes we so urgently need"

"This is not about some interesting diplomatic game of patience, it is about climate catastrophe. This COP has failed to initiate the structural changes we so urgently need. The heads of state and government have not delivered, but the climate movement is growing and more and more people are joining in. When we say '1.5 degrees is non-negotiable', we mean it."Germany in particular now has to act. The pressure from the global community and the climate movement is massive. We are one of the richest nations in the world and we are always good at making big promises. The new German government must stop the climate betrayal of young people and future generations. If Germany doesn't deliver, who else can we expect it from?"

Michael Schäfer, Head of Climate and Environmental Policy at NABU: "Glasgow momentum now needed in Berlin"

"In Glasgow, some countries tacticked, blocked, played for time - instead of doing what was necessary in the face of the climate crisis. And the situation is similar in the coalition negotiations in Berlin. With its many pioneering alliances, however, Glasgow has brought new momentum to international climate policy despite the meagre conclusion. Momentum is also needed in Berlin so that Germany does not continue to remain a guest on the fence in international climate policy. Obviously, the CDU/CSU has not even managed to back up the climate targets of the grand coalition with measures, let alone go beyond them. Olaf Scholz (SPD) must now overcome these blockades, because global warming is too dangerous and time is too short for tactical games."

Sven Harmeling, climate expert CARE: "Good that countries have to increase reduction targets within the year"

 "It is positive that the signatories have been given the homework for 2022 to revise their emission reduction targets in the course of the coming year. But if negotiations continue to be slowed down by oil, gas and coal countries, we must state clearly: The 1.5°C limit on maximum warming needs more political speed."

Germany absent to several “cars, coal and cash” initiatives, as ‘lame duck govt’ not united

This year’s COP was marked by an unusually large number of additional deals and pledges beyond the official climate negotiations. A surprise declaration of deeper cooperation on climate action by the U.S. and China was seen by many as one of the most important outcomes in Glasgow and was welcomed by the German government. The U.S., the UK, France, Germany and the European Union joined together in a first-of-its-kind partnership to support South Africa with 8.5 billion USD to move away from coal more quickly. Germany said it would spend 700 million euros on the initiative, which was immediately hailed as a blueprint for future climate partnerships.

The UK COP presidency had organised several major initiatives on “cars, coal and cash” which were announced at the summit. In what was hailed as a “game changer”, Germany joined a group of several countries which pledged to end foreign fossil fuel funding by 2022. After some days of delay due to internal government coordination, state secretary Jochen Flasbarth signed the “Statement on international public support for the clean energy transition”, in which signatories promise to shift overseas finance away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Germany must now review its support criteria for foreign energy projects, the economy ministry told Clean Energy Wire.

A day later, however, Germany refused to join several countries in signing a declaration to accelerate the move to zero-emission cars and vans at the COP26 UN climate change conference. The country opted out amid an internal government row over the role of e-fuels in passenger cars, in which outgoing transport minister Andreas Scheuer said the combustion engine technology would be needed in the future. Other major car industry locations China and the United States also did not sign the declaration. Germany was also absent from an initiative to phase-out the production of oil and natural (fossil) gas, launched by Denmark and Costa Rica.

Germanwatch policy director Christoph Bals criticised the government couldn’t agree to join these pledges and called on the future coalition to set up a sort of “transformation ministry” which would have the power to set the direction for all other ministries on climate action. This would ensure a unified voice.

Looking forward to COP27?

The next COP will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The host country has said it will focus on adaptation and climate change resilience. The 2022 COP agenda will also contain work on the post-2025 climate finance target as of 2025.

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
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