Editorial

COP26: The big polluting rich world cop out, yet again

| Updated on November 15, 2021

At the COP26, the rich countries yet again failed to show leadership in arresting climate change

After nearly two weeks of hectic parleys between “almost 200 countries”, the Glasgow climate pact yet again failed to break through on the vexed issue of ‘climate justice’ — which is, making the rich countries that are responsible for the stock of carbon emissions finance the transition of the rest of the world to greener fuels and other technologies. The key talking point was around India and China diluting the clause on ‘phase out’ of coal, with the two countries insisting that it be replaced by ‘phase down’. Finally, the clause in the pact reads as: “...accelerating efforts towards phase-down of unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. This is just as well as far as India is concerned, which has already announced an ambitious transition plan to renewables and cannot be expected to phase out coal overnight when it still accounts for 75 per cent of electricity generated. Coal producers such as Australia and major consumers such as China and US have won a reprieve. However, as the UN Secretary General, among other cautious optimists, has noted, the COP26 sets the “building blocks for progress”. Besides flagging climate finance and continuing reliance on fossil fuels as key issues, the meet can boast of two major achievements: commitments to end deforestation and drastically reduce methane emissions. While oil and gas have not been explicitly called out the way coal has been -- and this is despite the fact that coal, oil and gas have an equal share in current emissions – the sector may have to step up its role in curbing methane emissions. While animal husbandry and agriculture are major contributors to methane emissions, it is a tricky issue to tackle since it is linked to livelihoods.

The Glasgow text accepts the need for adaptation finance for dealing with ongoing climate events in vulnerable countries. However, to break the deadlock on climate finance (the $100 billion per annum promised years back has not seen the light of day) a different tack may be needed — one that looks at China as an equal partner with the OECD in cleaning up the atmosphere. If it is indeed the case that emissions since 1990 account for a major share of the emissions since the 1750s, as EU-based researchers suggest, then China too must own up to more responsibility. China is the world’s biggest polluter, accounting for 27 per cent of annual emissions, with US in second place at 11 per cent and India at 6 per cent. China, which accounts for over 60 per cent of global coal demand, has indicated that its emissions will peak by 2030 and that it will hit net-zero by 2060. These goals are not convincing enough.

India’s climate ambitions with respect to energy transition are exemplary, given its low per capita income and development ambitions. However, it should have signed the deforestation pledge taken by over 110 countries. With emissions once again climbing to near pre-pandemic levels, business as usual cannot go on. The economic costs of climate change are getting too serious to ignore.

Published on November 14, 2021

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