COP26 – Combating the Writing on The Wall

Almost all Indian citizens have now come across quirky taglines printed across paper bags along the lines of “ there is no planet B”. Our celebrities endorse green energy efficient brands and car gears running on alternate sources of energy and the brouhaha about climate change is not just about “woke”-ness or being radical, the time has come for drastic action to prevent a climatic catastrophe.

The UN Climate Change Conference or the COP (Conference of the Parties) is the most significant summit on climate change in recent history. With its 26th edition being held at Glasgow, UK, in collaboration with Italy, the event received high media coverage (presumably due to conflicting positions taken by different nations of late) and was attended by over 30,000 delegates. Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist, arrived by train to give a strong message to the attendees as train emits much lower carbon as compared to an airplane. All the signatory countries under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change) joined this summit from 1st to 12th November. World leaders moved beyond nature activist Greta Thurnberg’s viral mocking or the “bla bla bla” stance that world leaders usually take on and comprehensively addressed the environmental concerns. Many analyse it as the toughest climate summit that has happened since the Paris Agreement. The primary objective of the Glasgow summit this year was to ensure the treaties of the Paris Agreement translate into effective action from the signatory countries involved. In fact, the signatory states were set on ensuring that the terms of the original Paris Agreement of sustaining global temperatures to a 2 degree Celsius trajectory was reworked and lowered to 1.5 degrees. Host nation UK was especially keen to affirm a degree of workability that does not remain mere paper agreements that climate change agreements and discourse is very often purported as.

A debilitating statement watering down the language on coal emissions came from the three largest emitters of coal- China, the USA and India. At the fag end of discussions, India introduced certain terms and dealt with certain technicalities in its national interest to ensure that the use of coal is watered down rather than completely stopped. The original draft of the agreement at COP26 called for the phasing down of unrestricted coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. However, acting in its national interest, the Indian government said it would accept the language with one tweak — that coal should be phased “down,” not phased “out,”. Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga commented that this change will make it harder to achieve the international goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) since pre-industrial times. Australian climate scientist Bill Hare, associated with tracking world emission pledges for the science-based Climate Action Tracker expressed deep disdain for the Indian discourse on cutting down coal emissions yet not cutting it out. The US and China didn’t formally oppose the changes demanded by India, which sought a fair and equal recompense for climate change from the first world, economically flourishing countries. India’s position during the COP26 was affirmed by its Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, who had said that it would be difficult for the nation to end coal use and fossil fuel subsidies while it tries to address poverty. Elaborating further, he asked how can anyone expect developing countries to make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies? “Subsidies provide much needed social security and support,” he said, giving the example of how India uses subsidies to provide liquified natural gas to low-income households. Fortunately, India’s position was accepted in the 11th hour and the COP26 deal was signed by almost all the nations. Considering the domestic constrains that India has to work around, the COP26 deal it had signed is perceived as an accomplishment of sorts besides India’s pledge to go net zero in 2070 as announced by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the opening day of COP26. Thus, at the end of the day, the Glasgow Climate Pact consists of enough economic incentives for the more economically challenged nations to contribute effectively for cutting down on carbon emissions.

The advanced nations such as the USA and UK are, from the vantage point of history, the maximum contributors of greenhouse gases and pollutants directly translating to accelerated global warming – mainly from the wave of progress and mechanisation brought in by the Industrial Age (the London Smog is still one of the deadliest events of air pollution that turned air into poison itself). The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, called for $100 billion in overall contributions from these nations on an annual basis to support environmental protection and conservation in developing countries and emerging economies. Five years into the Paris Agreement, the contributions are falling criminally short of $100 billion. Besides, efforts to mitigate the processes of climate change and to propel adequate adaptation to the implications of changing climate conditions have not been made in the expected manner. Only processes of mitigation for reducing the have been adhered to (and not to the very best possible efforts) and adaptation has either been completely disregarded or carried out on perfunctory grounds. Thus, in comparison with any progress made over the last few years, the COP26 Agreement is a step head as the nations have shown acts of good faith in combatting the climate crisis.

From the perspective of India, some of its recent initiatives in renewable energy with low-carbon footprint are a step in the right direction. The Indian Prime Minister’s One Sun One World programme is touted to be a huge project, which if successful, will shoulder a magnanimous 170 countries in a trans-national renewable solar power grid that could effectively reduce the costs of energy transmission and solve the issues of solar energy storage. One might recall that India had initiated the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015 – an alliance of 124 countries – as a prelude to the Paris Agreement. During the COP26, the Indian Prime Minister’s commitment to attain net-zero emissions by 2070 has been applauded by climate pundits. While such goal may not be realistic, the fact that India is proactively working toward alternate sources of energy and making global commitment is deemed a milestone in itself.

One of the positive outcomes of the COP26 is that the signatory countries have been requested to strengthen their NDCs by next year. They have been asked to establish properly delineated work programmes for implementation of mitigatory measures. A proposal for an annual meeting for raising morals and ensuring ambitious commitment to climate action has been raised. A call to action was observed for reducing coal emissions and abolishing “inefficient” sources of fossil fuels. A lot of the spotlight was fixated on the phase out of coal and fossil fuels, at least the systematic phase down at the very least. The goals on climate adaptation by the economically deficit nations have also been given utmost priority.

Many had hoped for a more aggressive action in the Glasgow Pact. However, this is an attempt at solid baby steps by world leaders in a global setting to come forward in unison to adapt sustainable means of combating climate change. As James Hansen pronounces in chilling terms: “Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening”.

– Bipahsa Bhowmick

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