COP26: Forward march!

Glasgow shows ratcheting up of the scope and ambition of climate action is working

More than 150 countries, including India, have articulated enhanced ambition for emission reduction
More than 150 countries, including India, have articulated enhanced ambition for emission reduction

By Anirban Ghosh
COP26 has concluded, and nearly 200 countries have signed the Glasgow Pact. It shows that the ratchet mechanism in the Paris Accord is working, the loose ends of the Accord have been tied up, nations have moved beyond Paris and a solution orientation has emerged. Here are some examples of how these four themes have manifested themselves.

More than 150 countries, including India, have articulated enhanced ambition for emission reduction. As a result, the projected temperature increase at the end of the century is 2.4-degree C. This is 0.3-degree C better than the impact of promises made at Paris. We remain far away from the goal of 1.5-degree C, but signatories of the Glasgow Pact have agreed to return with more aggressive goals at COP27. The ratchet mechanism in the Paris Accord is working!
Adaptation is another area where action was ratcheted up.

The Adaptation Fund received new pledges for $356 million—three times its mobilisation target for 2022. Developed countries agreed to double the adaptation funding goal to developing countries by 2025, taking the annual figure to $40 billion. Donors pledged $413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund, the only climate resilience fund that exclusively targets least developed countries. A separate international system for issuing offsets has been conceived, on which a 5% tax will go to adaptation and a two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal or Adaptation has been set up. These are good developments, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Two key loose ends in the Paris rulebook that have been tied-up are market mechanisms and transparency of climate action. Article 6, dealing with market mechanisms, is no longer unfinished business. A mechanism to prevent double counting of credits has been articulated. Carbon credits generated and sold will need to be recorded and added to the selling country’s NDC target. We can now expect the carbon tax, offset and trading ecosystems to develop and drive decarbonisation.

All countries are expected to report emissions, progress on climate pledges, contributions to climate finance, climate impact and adaptation biennially, at least. Countries must submit their first “biennial transparency report” and “national inventory report” by the end of 2024, with small island developing states and least developed countries allowed to do so “at their discretion”. Since whatever gets measured, gets done, this transparency mechanism should see greater achievement of national pledges.

There are four significant ways in which COP26 moved beyond Paris. First, methane, a greenhouse gas that causes 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide, finally found its place in the Global Methane Pledge signed by 105 countries. It is a commitment to reduce overall methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Second, the two largest emitters of the world, China and the US, signed a pact to work with each other to accelerate climate action.

This includes the US’s goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and China’s phase-down of coal consumption during its 15th Five Year Plan. Third, the coal conversation is on the table. It will accelerate transition to cleaner energy sources like solar, wind, hydrogen and biomass. Fourth, 130 nations possessing 90% of the world’s forests agreed to halt and then reverse deforestation by 2030. Each of these steps will accelerate the decarbonisation agenda.

While the rate of decarbonisation must be ratcheted up, climate-friendly solutions that have emerged must be adopted and scaled rapidly. The Glasgow EV Pledge by governments, manufacturers, businesses, investors and fleet owners to transition completely to zero emission cars and vans in the 2030s is a step in the right direction. The Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda will play a similar role for other forms of cleaner, affordable technology.

There is a pithy saying that “the stone age didn’t end for lack of stone.” Similarly, the transition from coal and fossil fuels requires alternative technologies and the advent of a solution orientation at COP26 can make this happen.
A COP is never all roses and no thorns. COP26 did not broaden the clean transportation conversation beyond cars to public transportation and two-wheelers. The inability of developed nations to come good on their funding promises continued to disappoint. There was also the dampener of moving from “phase-out” to “phase-down” of coal. But in the absence of an associated timeline, this change is likely to be less consequential than the others.

On balance, COP26 took many steps forward. But for the miracle of 1.5-degree C to come true, policies, research and funding must drive rapid adoption of available climate technologies and make new technologies like clean hydrogen, flexible solar films, high density storage batteries, and carbon capture and usage a reality. Every commitment, policy and action in this direction is a ray of hope.

Chief sustainability officer at the Mahindra Group. Views are personal

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