Two days before the United Nations conference in Scotland on climate change was to end, negotiators from nearly 200 governments had tentatively agreed on on a joint resolution aimed at tamping down global warming due to emissions of greenhouse gases, especially from burning fuel.
If successfully concluded, the agreement would be the next step beyond the landmark Paris Accord signed by countries at the end of 2015, but like the earlier one, the pending Glasgow accord would not be binding —even in the face of rising dissatisfaction with the slow pace of decision making and lack of concrete requirements.
The draft document released by the UN secretariat for the Framework Convention on Climate Change late Tuesday night, November 9, was labeled a “framework to guide in shaping a final decision,” rather than a actual decision. Wordsmithing and insertions of caveats had occupied negotiators from most of the world’s governments for more than a week, yet the draft framework still contained many bracketed paragraphs and phrases indicating that no consensus had been achieved.
In UN procedures, such wording within prominent brackets indicates that one or more delegates were holding out for terms more to their liking, or the sticky provision was held hostage for concessions elsewhere in the long document.
The drawn-out, stifling process repeats that of the ultimately successful negotiations for the Paris Accord, but this year the world’s citizenry is in no mood for foot-dragging and indecisiveness. A binding treaty to stop burning fossil fuels and releases of hyper-potent chemicals such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons is being demanded in the wake of successive disasters such as climate-related hurricanes, unprecedented droughts and extraordinarily severe rainfall.
For context, one of the climate experts reported earlier in the week that the sizes of storms previously designated once-in-a-hundred-years events now occur every other year in some part of the world.
It’s likely that pressure for the United Nations to take more decisive action on climate change could lead to renewed efforts to reform its decision-making processes. For example, that could mean further constriction of signatory parties to an agreement. In the past, UN diplomats bent over backward to be inclusive; getting everyone, or nearly everyone on board was paramount even if the necessary compromises left the final agreement nearly meaningless.
Or as Bernice Lee, of the British think tank Chatham House of International Affairs put it after the new draft was released, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
At that point after 10 days of wordsmithing negotiations, the crucial elements of the still-to-come Glasgow Climate Pact that were not agreed included: what human rights needed to be respected, particularly indigenous rights; how to compensate for already occurring loss and damage from climate change; transparency; and commitments for climate mitigation.
The president of COP-26, Alok Sharma, implored the diplomats and negotiators “to please bring the currency of compromise with you” to the final round of discussion the following day, Friday, November 12. “The world is watching. We cannot afford to fail.”
See excerpts of the draft declaration text below to understand what the negotiators were hung up on and what was, presumably, easy to find consensus. But even a cursory reading will demonstrate why observers and intensely interested leaders of nongovernmental organizations have expressed deep disappointment, frustration and anger.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:
“Recognizing the role of multilateralism in addressing climate change and promoting regional and international cooperation in order to strengthen climate action in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty,
Acknowledging the devastating impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic and the importance of ensuring a sustainable, resilient and inclusive global recovery, showing solidarity particularly with developing country Parties,
Also acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity,
Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including in forests, the ocean and the cryosphere, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and also noting the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice’, when taking action to address climate change,
Expressing appreciation to the Heads of State and Government who participated in the World Leaders Summit in Glasgow and for the increased targets and actions announced and the commitments made to work together and with non-Party stakeholders to accelerate sectoral action by 2030,
Recognizing the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action,
- Science and urgency
- Recognizes the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policymaking;
- Welcomes the contribution of Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report and the recent global and regional reports on the state of the climate from the World Meteorological Organization, and invites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to present its forthcoming reports to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice in 2022;
- Expresses alarm and utmost concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of warming to date, that impacts are already being felt in every region, and that carbon budgets consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal are now small and being rapidly depleted;
- Recalls Article 2, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement, which provides that the Paris Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the light of different national circumstances;
- Stresses the urgency of enhancing ambition and action in relation to mitigation, adaptation and finance in this critical decade to address the gaps in the implementation of the goals of the Paris Agreement;
- Notes with serious concern the findings from the contribution of Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, including that climate and weather extremes and their adverse impacts on people and nature will continue to increase with every additional increment of rising temperatures;
- Emphasizes the urgency of scaling up action and support, including finance, capacity- building and technology transfer, to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in line with the best available science, taking into account the priorities and needs of developing country Parties;
- Welcomes the adaptation communications and national adaptation plans submitted to date, which enhance the understanding and implementation of adaptation actions and priorities;
- Urges Parties to further integrate adaptation into local, national and regional planning;
- Requests Parties that have not yet done so to submit their adaptation communications in accordance with decision 9/CMA.1 ahead of the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (November 2022) so as to provide timely input to the global stocktake;
III. Adaptation Finance
- Recognizes the importance of the global goal on adaptation for the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, and welcomes the launch of the comprehensive two- year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation;
- Notes that the implementation of the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme will start immediately after the third session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement;
- Invites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to present to the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its fourth session the findings from the contribution of Working Group II to its Sixth Assessment Report, including those relevant to assessing adaptation needs, and calls upon the research community to further the understanding of global, regional and local impacts of climate change, response options and adaptation needs;
- Notes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country Parties;
- Urges developed country Parties to urgently and significantly scale up their provision of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for adaptation so as to respond to the needs of developing country Parties as part of a global effort, including for the formulation and implementation of national adaptation plans and adaptation communications;
- Recognizes the importance of the adequacy and predictability of adaptation finance, including the value of the Adaptation Fund in delivering dedicated support for adaptation, and invites developed country Parties to consider multi-annual pledges;
- Welcomes the recent pledges made by many developed country Parties to increase their provision of climate finance to support adaptation in developing country Parties in response to their growing needs, including contributions made to the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund, which represent significant progress compared with previous efforts;
- Urges developed country Parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025, in the context of achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation in the provision of scaled-up financial resources, recalling Article 9, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement;
- Calls upon multilateral development banks, other financial institutions and the private sector to enhance finance mobilization in order to deliver the scale of resources needed to achieve climate plans, particularly for adaptation, and encourages Parties to continue to explore innovative approaches and instruments for mobilizing finance for adaptation from private sources;
- Reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels;
- Recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared with 2 °C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C;
- Recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid- century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases;
- Also recognizes that this requires accelerated action in this critical decade, on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and equity, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the light of different national circumstances and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty; …”
And then farther into the text one finds the touchy subject of whether burning of coal should be phased out. At the last moment, a compromise was made to satisfy countries that now rely heavily on coal. The all-but completely agreed to draft called for coal to be phased out, but the final wording is that coal use is to be “phased down.” It reads as follows.
“36. Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition; coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition; [emphasis added]
- Invites Parties to consider further actions to reduce by 2030 non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, including methane;
- Emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards;
- Recognizes that enhanced support for developing country Parties will allow for higher ambition in their actions; …”