After COP26: planting the seeds for a more positive future for climate, people & nature16/11/2021

Project :Climate and Sustainability - International

  • Climat action
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Partnerships for the goals

by Elise Buckle, Founder of Climate and Sustainability

As I was coming back from COP26 in Glasgow by train, I was reflecting back on this major event which brought together so many people from around the world, with the hope of fixing the most pressing challenge humanity has ever faced: climate change. We sometimes dream about fixing a very complex challenge with a magic womb, in one go, with one conference, but it doesn't work like that. Addressing climate change will require a deep and systemic transformation of society, at all levels, in all sectors and with everyone on board.

The path to get there is a windy and non-linear trajectory, with unexpected changes. The transformation is also taking place at an uneven pace: a sometimes slow, or sometimes rapid transformation depending on the development of technology as well as the power dynamics of political and social movements at play.

When I look back, I see each COP as a unique and different animal. My first COP was COP in Montreal in 2005. In the last 16 years, I attended 10 of them, in various capacities, including with the COP23 Presidency, with governments, the EU Parliament representatives, civil society, private sector and media.

What was new about this COP?

Rebuilding the political momentum for multilateralism and climate action in a world fragmented by COVID-19

In the whirlwind of moving Heads of States, high-level events, crowd, massive protests, global media coverage and adrenaline, we could almost have forgotten that we were still just emerging from a major pandemic. Having to do a COVID 19 test every morning before entering the venue was a quick reminder and reality check. For the first time ever in the history of the United Nations, last year, in 2020, the climate COP was cancelled. Just the fact that it could still take place this year is a major achievement.

We should be grateful for the UK government, as COP President, to have taken the responsibility to go ahead and deal with an unlimited number of uncertainties until the last minute before the start of the conference. It was not surprising to see Alok Sharma breaking into tears in the last few hours of the plenary, before a round of applause and a wave of solidarity which helped him to get to the finish line.

With the pandemic fragmenting the world and dividing nations among the issues of equity, finance, debt relief and access to vaccination, it could have marked the end of the multilateral system. But the fact that COP26 could take place this year in 2021 should be celebrated as it rebuilt the political momentum for multilateralism and climate action.

One Earth for All: the spirit of shared leadership of the Paris Agreement is still alive

These UN COPs are far from being perfect. They emerge, thrive and survive the way a complex web of interconnected living organisms would do. They are unpredictable and always include a doses of drama with emotional interventions, especially coming from the negotiators speaking on behalf of vulnerable countries, backed up by the reality of harsh climate impacts on people on the ground.

But COPs are still absolutely essential as the only moments in time and space when all nation states can meet and take concerted measures to respond to the planetary emergency and protect our global commons. All of us are still sharing the same home, living on one planet, and should be working together as one team, with one common goal: protecting the future of the Earth for all.

The adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact by 197 nations, is bringing the spirit of shared leadership of Paris Agreement back to life. The commitment to review climate commitments even more often, with a review every year, instead of every five years, is also a strong political signal showing that governments are willing to accelerate the pace of review, after the release of the latest IPCC report.

In the context of the pandemic and after a year of delay, countries reached agreement on the pending issues of the “Paris Rulebook”, including on the article 6 on carbon markets, and are also requested to reduce their 2030 emissions reductions pledges before the end of 2022, to get closer to a 45% reduction by 2030, on the path to carbon neutrality in 2050.

An increasing level of public pressure on governments to raise climate ambition

Even compared with Paris, there has never been as much public pressure on governments to raise climate ambition and accelerate action. The amount of global media coverage, as well as the mobilisation of youth leaders and civil society combined are putting an enormous amount of pressure on decision-makers, at global national and local levels.

Private sector CEOs are also under scrutiny and the commitments to get to carbon neutrality by 2050 using too much of the carbon offsets are not being taken seriously. Reducing carbon emissions is a must. Investing in nature comes next, as a complementary measure that should not replace decarbonization. Walking the talk is becoming essential, also for individuals.

The positive outcomes of these COPs often result from these multiple pressure points. The media is putting all world leaders under the spotlight, creating a "race-to-the-top" environment and a space where lying is not tolerated anymore. Credibility, authenticity, transparency and engagement are at the top of the scale.

Respect as well for others, respect for cultural diversity and for the nations that suffer the most from climate impacts. Valuing diversity is still at the heart of the UN system.

There has been multiple announcements during this COP and we won't list all of them, but we should recognize these ones as major breakthroughs:

Breakthrough commitment to end deforestation, with 133 world leaders responsible for around 90% of the world's forests promising to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, plus 33 financial institutions with $8.7 trillion in assets under management, commit to tackle deforestation in the 2020s. Nature, and in particular forests, had a seat at the table.

107 countries joined the EU-US Global Methane Pledge and committed to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Major agreement on methane speeds up our potential for deep short-term cuts to deliver on climate goals, as one of the most effective immediate actions to reduce near-term global warming. This covers important sectors including land-use, agriculture and food.

Around 40 countries and financial actors committed to phase out external finance to fossil fuels by 2022 - a significant signal to markets that was initiated by EIB and UK, subsequently backed by US, Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Ireland and Slovenia. A group of frontrunner countries formed the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance (BOGA) to take meaningful steps to phase down fossil fuel production - led by Denmark and Costa Rica. The energy transition has never been so urgent and fossil fuels are being mentioned in the text for the first time. The importance of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in particular is now well accepted by nearly all countries.

India adopted a net-zero goal for 2070, leading to 88% of global emissions and 90% of global GDP being covered by net-zero emission reduction goals. This announcement, however, was weakened by a last-minute political move from India to replace the language on "phasing out" coal to "reducing" coal.
South Africa launched a new partnership with EU, US and UK on a coal phase out and just transition deal - a new model that could be replicated with other major economies to ensure higher emission reduction pledges next year, Public-private alignment on key breakthroughs in clean technologies in five key sectors of the economy – power, road transport, steel, hydrogen, and agriculture - responsible for more than 50 per cent of global emissions.

Focus on near-term action with accountability processes built in with progress being tracked and monitored as part of an annual Global Checkpoint Process and with the IEA, IRENA and the High-Level Champions advising governments on opportunities for enhanced collaboration.

Major agreement on methane speeds up our potential for deep short-term cuts to deliver on climate goals, as one of the most effective immediate actions to reduce near-term global warming.
Nearly 8,000 non-state actors - including 1,049 cities and regions, 5,235 businesses, 441 financial institutions, 1,039 educational institutions and 52 healthcare institutions - commit to halving emissions by 2030 as part of Race to Zero, as the UN Climate Champions launch 5-year plan to deepen engagement with regional stakeholders, enhance the implementation of non-state actors’ commitments, and develop tools for accountability across mitigation, finance and adaptation.

But this is not enough: there is a lot more to be done

If we add up all the pledges and NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) submitted by countries to the UNFCCC, we are still on the way towards a +2.4°C global temperature increase. We went from 52.4 Gt before Glasgow, to 41.9 Gt and need to get to 26.6 Gt by 2030. This is better than the last round, according to the UNFCCC expert review and aggregations of the previous pledges which would have taken us towards a +3.5°C temperature increase. Better, but there is still a lot to be done to stay below 1.5°C.

The other weak element of the Glasgow Climate Pact is a lack of solidarity with developing countries. The most vulnerable countries in particular, were asking for a proper mechanism on "Loss and Damage" to repair the damage created by the impacts of climate change: a difficult task for Small Island Developing States and their citizens, as they may lose their country altogether under sea level rise if we go beyond a temperature increase of 1.5°C.

Last but not least: finance. The long-standing promise of developed countries to deliver US$ 100 billion a year to support developing countries has not been fulfilled. Depending on accounting, rules, we are somewhere between 40 and 60 billion per year. This is also not taking into account the trillions being currently injected into the real economy to create jobs and fund the post-COVID 19 economic recovery.

In the case of the EU Green Deal (more than 672 billion euros), countries are struggling to get to 37% of climate funding and less than 1% is being invested into Nature-Based Solutions, despite a huge potential to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The IMF and World Bank are also pumping unprecedented volumes of funding into the economy of developing countries but without the conditions to truly embark on a carbon neutral and nature positive recovery.

All eyes are now on the COP27 Egyptian Presidency

All eyes are now on the COP27 Presidency. Egypt will host the next COP on behalf of Africa. There is no doubt that the issue of climate finance and loss & damage will come back to the table. During COP26, I was privileged to meet in person Yasmine Fouad. She is Minister of Environment for Egypt, former CBD President and a very skilful negotiator who already delivered a lot on the Katowice rulebook at COP24 in 2018, and had been chosen by the UK COP Presidency to co-facilitate the negotiations on the finance track.

Yasmine has a track record of implementing environmental policies and practices in her country, and she has been placing Nature-Based Solutions and food systems transformation at the heart of decision-making. Her vision is also to ensure a more inclusive and transparent process, with all stakeholders at the table, including youth, civil society and supporting women empowerment. With the support of the UN Secretary General, we are hoping that she may become the next COP27 President.

To conclude, it is also very clear that the international climate negotiations will never replace action on the ground, at local and national levels. Vice-versa, the COPs are essential to facilitate a multilateral process and a "race-to-the-top" environment that pushes national and local governments to go further. But it is also up to us as individuals, to take our responsibilities and make the wisest choices in our day to day lives: when we vote, when we consume, when we travel around. Changing and adapting our lifestyle are central to this transformation. Of course, it will be easier, if the governments change the rules of the game and make it easier for citizens and consumers to make wiser social and environmental choices by setting up the right economic incentives and legislations to support these choices. It is also essential that nobody is being left behind on the windy path towards the green transition. That means redistributive and equitable policies for all.

From all the reactions I read about COP26, the wisest statement still comes from the UN Secretary General:

"Success or failure is not an act of nature. It’s in our hands. The path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches.

As the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson said: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.”

We have many more seeds to plant along the path. We won’t reach our destination in one day or one conference. But I know we can get there.We are in the fight of our lives.

Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward. I will be with you all the way. COP 27 starts now."

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