COP 26: A loudspeaker for climate action

M. Ramesh | | Updated on: Jan 09, 2022

Demonstrator on the city protesting against climate change and pollution - Global warming and environment concept - Focus on banner | Photo Credit: Vanessa Nunes

Though the Glasgow negotiations had profound shortcomings, it united the world to urgently address the environmental emergency

The COP26 climate talks, held in the Scottish city of Glasgow, has ended in such a manner that you might call it a success or a failure, depending upon how you see it. You might call it a failure because nobody believes it is anywhere near the Paris Agreement target of limiting the rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, over the average temperatures during the pre-industrialisation era (1850-1900); and because it talks in no concrete terms about finance flows to developing countries or technology transfer to them. These are couched in non-specific, platitudinous language.

However, those who see it as a success too have a good number of arrows in their quiver.

How it helped

First of all, it did succeed in underscoring the urgency, as evidenced by the fact that nobody even mentioned “2 degrees Celsius”; it was all about 1.5 degrees. This semantic shift signifies a realisation that a lot more needs to be done.

Second, there is, after all, an agreement, despite all the mumble-moans and anger. This again highlights the point that everybody realises that not agreeing to move forward is not an option. This is illustrated by what Tina Stege, the extremely articulate climate envoy for Marshall Islands said — that she was “profoundly disappointed” with some parts of the agreement, but still accepted the agreement “with greatest reluctance, because there are some critical elements of this package that the people of my country need.” The “critical elements” was an allusion to the references to ‘loss and damage’ provisions of the agreement.

Third, the agreement, for the first time ever, speaks directly about doing away with coal and fossil fuel subsidies. India has been much criticised for “watering down” the language by forcing a change from “phasing out” to a less ambitious “phasing down”, but still, many see naming coal directly as a positive.

Fourth, issues such as ‘adaptation finance’ and ‘loss and damage’ have received more prominence, despite a push back mainly by the US and the EU. Fifth, there is an agreement that countries would report their climate actions more frequently than the once in five years that was planned earlier. This will spur countries to do more.

Sixth, there has been some action on the sidelines of the conference. For example, over 100 countries, including the US, Canada and Japan, took a Global Methane Pledge to cut down methane emissions by 30 per cent by the year 2030, over what they were in 2020. Over 40 countries took a pledge to quit coal by 2030 or 2040. These did not include the US, India or China, but nevertheless, it adds to the momentum of the anti-coal campaign. And last but not least, the US and China vowed to work jointly.

Certainly, the Glasgow glass is more than half full.

Encouraging action

On the overall, the Glasgow talks have been a loudspeaker for climate action, like the Paris (COP21) talks in 2015. Experts see this benefiting India in a few ways. First, given its weight in the carbon world, climate action is a geopolitical tool in the hands of India.

Second, Indian companies can benefit from the growing market for carbon offsets. The markets, driven singularly by companies that have voluntarily moved towards net zero emissions, are robust, and carbon prices are going through the roof.

One Indian company, GHG Emissions Reduction Pvt Ltd plans to give away hundreds of crores of cookstoves, each worth ₹1,600, to the rural poor for free, hoping to make profits by selling the carbon credits. Delhi Metro, which has taken millions of vehicles off the roads, is a regular seller of carbon credits.

In the final analysis, India did have its say on the reference to cutting down coal power plants. As such, one could say India is only better off after COP26.

Published on November 14, 2021
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