What’s Happening at COP 26: Week Two
“Blah, blah, blah,” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told audiences at the Youth4Climate summit in Milan in September, looking ahead to the UN’s COP 26 climate conference. “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action.”
After more than a week of COP 26, we’ve seen a lot of blah, blah, blah from countries and leaders more interested in getting through the summit with the minimum of scrutiny than getting the global economy to a real net zero.
But we’ve also seen some leaders rise to the moment. And we’ve seen some signs that real progress is happening.
Is it enough to get the stronger Paris Agreement we need to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees and prevent cascading and irreversible changes to the planet? Not nearly.
But it’s not over and not a done deal yet. With COP 26 truly in the business end of negotiations, we still have a pathway to holding global warming to 1.5 degrees. And if we can’t quite get the final agreement we want in Glasgow, we’re going to have to fight to get all we can get. Then we fight to build on that and build on that. Because we have no other choice.
So where are we and what’s left to play for at COP 26? Our international team is on the ground in Glasgow and is reporting back.
Week One: Finance Is the Story and Closing the Door on Civil Society
After the initial announcements and commitments from the World Leaders Summit opening the conference, the big story part one from inside was the announcement by more than 20 countries and major financial institutions to end financing for fossil fuel projects overseas.
There are some major caveats and loopholes – for example, nations will continue financing for many projects already underway – but the decision will redirect an estimated $8 billion annually from fossil fuels to clean energy projects worldwide and sends an unmistakable message about the future of global energy: It’s time to move on from fossil fuels.
The big story part two was that it appears that wealthier nations will finally make good on their pledge to provide $100 billion in annual financing to help developing nations hit hard by climate change adapt and build resilient low-carbon economies. At least, starting next year after new commitments from Japan. And there will still be an imbalance between funding for mitigation and adaptation actions.
Outside of negotiations, it’s been a story of civil society not being able to get inside. Not only was it tough for many to get to Glasgow given COVID restrictions, but now inside the venue, observers are barred from meetings at a level that is “unprecedented” as civil society organizations have said, limiting activists’ ability to watch and fully hold negotiators accountable.
Then, on Saturday, November 6, 100,000 people marched for climate justice in Glasgow and around the world (including Climate Reality staff and Climate Reality Leaders), in a clear demonstration of a lack of follow-through from negotiators in delivering climate justice protections that the people are demanding.
Week Two: It’s All about the Non-Paper
The ultimate goal of COP 26 negotiations is a decision that sets the agenda for global climate action and various UN bodies and agencies. This decision – which will be drafted and ultimately delivered by the UK presidency running the conference – is not the be-all-end-all, but it is important for establishing the agreed-upon trajectory of international climate efforts.
There is some general agreement on potential elements the statement should contain, currently outlined in what’s called a “non-paper” (no, really). So far, the non-paper (which will someday win the award for the most bureaucratic term ever), contains some good things and omits some important things, but it’s a very vague, early document.
The first real draft text is expected to be delivered Tuesday night in Glasgow, but may come later.
In terms of overall ambition, late last week, the High Ambition Coalition (includes the US and EU) and Climate Vulnerable Forum outlined what they felt like was necessary to keep 1.5 degrees within reach. Their stances aren’t exact, and so they’ve generally been adopted into the non-paper.
The key part missing in the non-paper is any language on fossil fuels. Key because there is no ambition – or realistic path – to reaching 1.5 degrees without formally recognizing the need to cut fossil fuel use and do it fast.
There is yet to be language on fossil fuels in the elements of any COP decision, which would be important because there is no ambition without a recognition of the need to reduce fossil fuel usage quickly. It’s also key because the next two COP conferences will be in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, so if we’re going to get that language, now’s the time.
Time for Loss and Damage Means Time for Climate Justice
Loss and damage from climate change is the next big issue to feature in COP discussions, with activists waiting to see how it will feature in the non-paper and ultimate COP decision. There is some progress in how discussions are beginning to separate out financing for adaptation to climate change and financing for loss and damages already suffered.
In the past, major economies (cough, cough, the US, cough, cough) have resisted, so this is a major step forward for getting affected nations not only the greater financial support they need but also the broader recognition of the injustice they’ve suffered as well, thanks to wealthy nations’ emissions. There’s a growing recognition as well for the need for climate financial support to come from more sources (including multilateral development banks) and in more accessible forms (i.e. more as grants and less as loans).
Really Getting into the Weeds
The non-paper also has to resolve additional issues around carbon trading markets and if countries all need to agree to the same timeframes and target dates for the next round of NDCs. To put it another way, does everyone need to agree to talk about what they’ll do by 2030 and 2050?
This week, country ministers have arrived to hash out the details. It’s time to up the pressure.
There’s more to come at COP 26. To stay up on the latest in Glasgow and the fight for global climate solutions, sign up for our email activist list today.