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#BTColumn – CoP26: The last chance? (Part 2)

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by Alana Lancaster and Stefan Newton

Based on the current trajectories identified by the UNFCCC Working Groups, scientific groups, and by other technocratic stakeholders, the world is not on track to achieve the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

Both the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emission Report 2021, illustrate that despite new national climate pledges combined with other mitigation, the world is still racing towards a global temperature rise of 2.7°C rise in temperature by the end of the century.

In their Sixth Assessment Report, the IPCC predicts that in all emission scenarios global warming is expected to increase until at least the mid-century.

This, the IPCC further highlights, will lead to global temperatures exceeding 1.5° C and 2° C during the 21st century, unless deep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are achieved.

The impacts of this increase will include both slow onset events such as sea level rise and ocean acidification, and extreme events such as flooding, hurricanes and fires, which in turn trigger the wide-scale loss of biodiversity, lives and eventually the ability of states to function.

this backdrop, CoP26 presents a critical window of opportunity to transform the abstract concepts of the Paris Agreement into hard deliverables. As characterised by John Kerry, the USA Climate Change Envoy, CoP26 is “the last best hope” for limiting climate change.

The outcomes of CoP26 therefore will mark a defining moment in combating climate change, and upon which the survival of the planet as we know it hinges.

What will a successful CoP 26 look like [for the Caribbean]?

There is sufficient consensus that CoP 26 is the “do or die” event for not only climate change, but many related environmental and development issues, and ultimately, the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Nonetheless, consensus on what ‘success’ looks like is more differentiated than common, as obligations and impacts vary between developed and developing countries, and even among them. Overall, for Caribbean SIDS, the metrics of CoP26’s success centre around key deliverables inter alia:

• The question of coal: Coal is the main source of fuel and revenue for many developed states like Australia and developing states such as India and China, but is the biggest single source of climate-changing gases.
Coal is a major battleground, because coal provides cheap electricity and supports millions of jobs in countries at both ends of the spectrum.

CoP26 President Alok Sharma has state categorically that CoP26 must consign coal to history, a goal which looks optimistic at best. So far at CoP26, 77 signatories, including 46 countries have signed an agreement to phase out coal.

The obvious challenge to this metric of “success” is that Australia, the USA, India and China – all major consumers of coal – are excluded (China is not even attending CoP26). Additionally, the CoP26 deal covers coal-fuelled power generation, but not its use in industrial manufacturing, which means that processes like extracting and cooking for steel production will be excluded. However, there are some silver linings, including deals on ending the use of methane, another main greenhouse gas, and roughly $20 billion in funding to help countries phase out coal.
• Ratcheting up NDCs: Achieving decarbonisation, through strong emission reduction commitments from the most emitting countries, is fundamental for the perceived success of CoP26.
It is crucial that parties ratchet up their NDCs, to put the world in alignment with the 1.5° C goal of the Paris Agreement. Every decision and action coming from countries must be compatible with achieving the 1.5 °C goal.

At present 140 Parties have submitted a new or updated NDC report. However, only 81 out of 140 of these reports represent a meaningful progression of ambition, since the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Regrettably, China and India, two of the world’s largest emitters, have not submitted NDCs. Environmentalists have repeatedly urged China and India to abandon their attachment to fossil fuel energy, which at current rates are extremely worrisome for limiting climate change.

The lacklustre re-submission of NDCs, is compounded by the fact that even achievements on emission commitments made at CoP 21 in Paris have been dismal, with 15 countries including the USA, failing to meet their commitments.

At CoP26 there is little or no hope for a climate change victory without big emission reduction commitments from China, which is the world’s largest emitter and responsible for a quarter of total GHG emissions. Advancing China’s progress on reducing GHG emissions is critical to limiting the rise in global temperatures.

It is true that Chinese officials are quick to indicate that China has the most installed solar capacity in the world, but the country’s large-scale use of coal power is a dire problem for global emission reduction.

Coal generated energy still constitutes 58 per cent of China’s energy mix, with the country continuing to show an unabated appetite for coal power.

In 2020, China built over three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries in the world combined. According to the Climate Action Tracker, China’s policies are consistent with a 3° C world.
India is also challenged by the same dilemma of decoupling economic growth from fossil fuels. As the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, India also continues to be invested in coal production to meet its growing energy demand.

On the first day of the CoP 26 Leaders Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi both surprised and disappointed the world by making a pledge that would see India achieving net-zero by 2070 instead of 2050. For some, this pledge is not ambitious enough, and is too little and too late, because it comes two decades later than the Paris Agreement 2050 target.

However, many also point out that it is the first time India has made any concrete commitments, and it represents a substantial shift from their approach in Paris.
India’s focus in its contribution to CoP26 negotiations now seems strongly grounded in climate justice, technology transfer and mobilising finance for the clean energy transition.

Nigeria, the largest fossil fuel producer in Africa, has also pointed out the difficulty of separating economics from fossil fuel use. Nigeria shares India’s position, and prefers to urge climate finance and greening existing energy systems, over rapid decarbonisation.

On the heels of CoP26, Australia, a major per capita emitter, made a last-ditch pledge of achieving net-zero by 2050. The pledge is welcomed, but Australia’s road map to achieving net-zero has been widely criticised, especially by Indo-Pacific SIDS. This is because the plan does not set any tougher emission reduction targets for 2030, a major component that will be needed to meet a 1.5 °C target.

Additionally, reliance on “breakthrough” technology that is not yet available is the main solution advanced in Australia’s emission roadmap.

Regardless of capacity and resource constraints, GHG emission commitments from smaller countries have been laudable. Costa Rica for example, has made commitments to complete fossil fuel phase outs by 2050.
Commitments by developing countries like Costa Rica, who are least able to [unilaterally] adapt to climate change, should send a wake-up call to rich countries that least emitting countries are desperate to save their populations from the calamitous threat of climate change.

To be considered a success, CoP26 negotiations will need secure aggressive GHG emission reduction commitments from the world’s largest emitters, or as Palau’s President, the Honorable Surangel Whipps Jr told the CoP: “… [y]ou might as well bomb us [poorer, smaller and most likely to be affected countries.]”

To be continued.

Alana Lancaster is a lecturer in International Environmental & Energy Law at The University of the West Indies Faculty of Law. She specialises in the law relating to the blue economy, and the interaction between biodiversity law, ocean governance, fisheries and forestry. Alana also researches in the areas of energy law and holds a MSc in Natural Resource Management.

Stefan Newton is a UK Chevening Scholar. He has been a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Development Programme. Stefan has a focus on the intersection of international economic law, human rights law and climate change. He holds a Master of Laws in International Human Rights Law and a Master of Laws in International Economic Law.

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