A conference two years in the making, finally culminated in tense final negotiations that went on late into Saturday night. The Glasgow Pact has caused mixed reactions in environmental and political circles. The agreement has mentioned fossil fuels explicitly, which marks a seismic shift. However, the vague phrasing could create too many loopholes.
What were the outcomes?
Touted by the media as “our last best chance”, there were high hopes for ambitious targets and comprehensive plans to tackle the climate crisis. In theory, the COP talks are a space where all nations have an equal say in negotiations. In reality, the entire event was fraught with issues. As a result, it was almost a perfect diorama of our broken capitalist system; inaccessible, unequal, unjust, obsessed with money and glossy branding, over just solutions that work for everyone. Nonetheless, the outcome of the summit will have a significant bearing on what we do next. So we’re going to take a look at the key results of The Glasgow Climate Pact.
On greenhouse gas emissions
This is one of the issues that has elicited especially mixed feelings. On the upside, fossil fuels are specifically mentioned for the first time. This was not the case with the Paris Agreement. Thus, it has been something activists and scientists have been pushing for. However, the tough fight (especially from polluting countries) against strong wording on fossil fuels, ended in a last-minute change. What started out as a “phase-out of fossil fuels” became an unambitious, nebulous “phase-down”. This leaves far too much room for the continuation of fossil fuel use. You can bet that countries and corporations will take this as a green light to pollute…
In addition to the first time mention of fossil fuels, methane likewise made its debut. The official text states that nations are “invited” to reduce methane emissions this decade. It’s vague, as we have come to expect, but there has already been some progress. Over 100 countries declared commitments to cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
What does this mean for 1.5°C?
At COP in Paris in 2015, attending nations signed an agreement to keep global warming below 1.5°C. The basis for this is robust climate science that presents compelling evidence that anything above that level in temperature rise will be catastrophic. We are already seeing the impact of 1.2°C degrees of warming. Even our ambitious target of 1.5°C degrees will see those numbers increase, and bring with it crushing consequences for people on the frontline. (People, of course, who have contributed little to the crisis.)
Prior to the summit, nations shared their updated plans, in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Analysis of those plans revealed that the planet is actually on track for a destructive 2.4°C. This would be a death sentence for millions of frontline communities. Yet, we saw little support from wealthier nations to change this reality.
During the talks, representatives from island nations that already face immediate existential threats spoke of their experiences. The Tuvalu finance minister gave an emotional speech detailing the impact of rising sea levels in his homeland, imploring global leaders to take action. “It is not fiction, it is not projected to happen in the future – our land is fast disappearing. Tuvalu is literally sinking,” he stated. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, heeded island nations would not be the “canary in the coal mines” of the climate emergency. Bainimarama declared the 1.5°C target is “battered, bruised, but alive”.
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope. As part of the Paris Agreement, parties should present updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for emissions reductions every five years. The Glasgow Pact stipulates that they will have to submit updated plans in 2022. This will be another opportunity to check that promises are being kept.
In addition to the creation of the Glasgow Pact, negotiations also revisited “Article 6”. This is the section of the Paris Agreement that deals with carbon markets and how emissions reductions under NDCs are accounted for. This has been an area of contention for some time because it is the part of the agreement that talks about carbon offsetting, carbon markets and technology. Discussions pertaining to article 6 have been ongoing since 2015 and negotiations were supposedly “tortuous”. Carbon Brief reported that “In the end, all parties were forced to make significant compromises on their starting positions, with multiple negotiating alliances having to breach their “red lines”.
Government and corporations use offsetting, in particular, to greenwash and avoid emission reduction. While it seems to be a hard pill to swallow for those in power, we are only going to limit warming to 1.5°C if we cut emissions off at the source. Continuing to burn fossil fuels while offsetting will lead us to disaster.
A disappointing outcome here is that the agreement will allow countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying offset credits. On the other hand, there was a positive outcome as well. The pact has blocked any “double counting” of emissions cuts by two different countries or groups. For example, if the UK invested in tree planting in Ghana this would only be counted by one of the nations and not by both.
Before COP26 even kicked off, wealthy nations were already lagging far behind their goal to provide $100 billion in funding for cash-poor states. In recognition of this, one of the goals for the Glasgow Pact was for developed countries to make good on those promises. The good news is that extra funding has been agreed upon. It’s not enough but it’s a starting point. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends on this point.
The details of how they will disperse this funding are critical. Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate has spoken out on this, sharing that “this funding needs to come in the form of grants, not loans”. Many countries facing the brunt of climate change are already in debt and taking on loans will drive their economies further downhill.
Palpable disappointment on the issue of finance came from the fact that developed nations vetoed the “loss and damage facility”. Activists had prioritised loss and damage at the top of their list for the Glasgow Pact. At the 2019 talks in Madrid, the Parties established the “Santiago Network” to provide technical assistance to support loss and damage in relation to climate change in vulnerable nations. The hope for COP26 was that the funding desperately needed for this technical assistance would be integrated into the plans.
Filipina climate activist, Mitzi Jonelle Tan, expressed her heartbreak at the “betrayal”. Speaking to Democracy Now, she shared: “It is painful for me knowing that the Philippines is such a vulnerable country for the climate crisis and that we know that we are hit year after year, month after month with climate impact and all the world leaders are talking about are five to ten years from now….There has been no real progress in terms of loss and damage and climate finance.”
Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance
One of the biggest wins over the past fortnight actually came from something created in the months prior to COP26. Denmark and Costa Rica have formed an alliance – the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA). This international coalition is on a mission to facilitate the managed phase-out of oil and gas production. The two nations have now been joined by France, Ireland, Sweden, Wales, Greenland, Quebec, New Zealand, Italy and California. Costa Rica is ahead of the pack when it comes to ambitious climate action, so this is an exciting development.
The pressure is on in the UK
COP26 hosts, the United Kingdom, will retain COP Presidency until the UN meets again in 2022 for COP27 in Egypt. This means that there is still an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate strong leadership and build on progress made through the Glasgow Pact.
Activists in the UK have seized every available opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the UK government. UK parliamentarians are keen to portray themselves as climate leaders while simultaneously exploring up to 40 new fossil fuel projects. The proposed oil field off the coast of Scotland, the Cambo oil field, was of particular interest to the media. As a result of the coverage and after months of campaigning and lobbying representatives, the first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has finally spoken out against the project. In parliament, Robert Buckland became the first Tory MP to come out in opposition to the project. The #StopCambo campaigners are optimistic that this is the beginning of the end for the oil field. If that is the case, this will set the precedent for the 39 (yes, you read that right!) other proposed coal, oil and gas plans and make it much harder for them to obtain approval.
The question now is whether the UK will continue to do what it needs to do to bring the Glasgow Pact to life. And to raise ambition on climate action.
Success or failure?
The science is unequivocal, staying within 1.5°C of warming requires global emissions to drop by at least 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach zero by 2050. One of the primary goals of COP26 was to ensure 1.5°C is still possible. If we were to judge the success of The Glasgow Pact on that metric alone, it was a failure.
However, The Glasgow Pact is not the be-all and end-all of climate progress. On November 6th for Global Day of Action, an estimated 1/2 million people joined the hundreds of marches, rallies and stunts across the UK. Lead by Indigenous groups from around the world, Glasgow saw its biggest ever climate march. Over 150,000 from all walks of life marched for climate justice. New relationships and alliances have been forged through activist networks. COP26 also attracted a lot of media attention. Issues of climate justice (or injustice) were finally highlighted in the mainstream media. There has been a much stronger focus on critiques of offsetting. The movement is growing in numbers and in strength.
At the same time, the agreements are not legally binding. We know this from the Paris Agreement. Nations can make “pledges” and sign agreements but they are not legally bound to fulfilling them. No nation was on track to meet its previously set targets. The $100 billion funding that was supposed to be dispersed by 2020 was also off track. By remembering this, the results of this COP feel more in line with what was expected.
Ultimately, how we feel about COP and its outcome is a choice. How we frame things is a conscious decision. While world leaders may not have stepped up to the plate there are many positives, if you choose to seek them out.
Powerful momentum has been built during COP26. If we are to make the most of that chance, here is no time for purity politics and squabbling. We need people who have access to the establishment working to make changes from the inside and we need people on the outside creating alternatives. We can invest in grassroots movements, community organising, mutual aid and civil disobedience. Those of us fortunate to live in a democracy can protest and vote.
What if, rather than arguing over which approaches are most effective, we agree that they all have their place and that if we work together they can in fact complement one another? The make or break here is listening to one another, really listening. Understanding intersectionality and seeing strength in the diversity of not only the people within our movement but also in the solutions.
If you haven’t done it yet, now is the time to join community organising. Proof that campaigning works is all around us. The internet has made it easier than ever to connect with like-minded people and learn from one another.
Political engagement, too, is fundamental to change. As seen with Nicola Sturgeon’s statement against Cambo, putting pressure on leaders works.
A pause for reflection may seem counterproductive when the energy has been built but the truth is we are in this for the long haul. The most important sustainability plan is how we sustain our own energy and the energy of this movement. It’s important to process the information and experiences that we have had throughout the intense time around COP. The initial reaction might be anger, grief, frustration. We do need to allow ourselves the space for all of those feelings. But, then, we must organise our considered and collective response. We will nurture the connections we have made, continue the learning journey’s we have started and reflect on the unlearning we have begun.
I’d like to wrap up with a beautiful poem, penned by activist Tolmeia Gregory (@tolmeia) during her time at COP26 in Glasgow.
One day, we will look back on this –
The long days,
The back and forth,
The we’re all fucked,
And we will hold hands with our loved ones,
Gazing upon whatever is left
And know it was all worth it.
Every tiny, messy scrap
Was worth it
It will always be worth it,
IMAGE: Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A group of young people are holding home-made signs at a climate protest. A sign that reads “Change the Politics, Not the Climate” is in the centre of the image and takes up more of the frame. The person holding it is wearing a black hat and white mittens, they are looking down at the sign.
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