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The shortcomings of new climate deal

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President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers his statement during the COP26 World Leaders Summit Plenary Session at the Scottish Event Campus, Glasgow. PHOTO | PSCU

Summary

  • The use of coal was one of the key issues in the 2021 Glasgow Climate Change Conference.
  • It was ironic to hear the Kenyan delegation was part of the countries that heavily pushed for a new climate deal despite the fact that back at home that the government adamantly intends to incorporate the use of coal into its energy mix.

After almost two weeks of negotiations in Glasgow, a new global climate pact to limit carbon emissions was finally agreed upon. The use of coal was one of the key issues in the 2021 Glasgow Climate Change Conference. Coal is responsible for about 40 percent of annual carbon dioxide emission — the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases.

But there was a lack of consensus on phasing out coal. India, Iran and China were among the countries that were vehemently opposed to a commitment to phase out coal.

Since all 197 countries were required to agree to the deal, the commitment had to be tweaked to read “phase-down” over “phase-out” to accommodate the opposing countries, thus watering it down. The pact, however, is still the first-ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce the use of coal.

Now, it was ironic to hear the Kenyan delegation was part of the countries that heavily pushed for a new climate deal despite the fact that back at home that the government adamantly intends to incorporate the use of coal into its energy mix.

Back to the new climate deal in Glasgow, the overall assessment is that developing countries, which are the worst hit by climate change, got a raw deal.

First, countries six years ago signed the Paris Agreement acknowledging the “urgent threat” and the need to meaningfully reduce emissions.

But since the Agreement did not impose a substantive requirement on countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emission, implementing it has been a challenge.

The “pledge and review” climate governance has been a major shortcoming dampening the Paris Agreement and it has now been extended to the Glasgow deal.

At the commencement of the Glasgow gathering, the proposal was to have countries substantively commit to limiting temperature rise to 1.5 °C.

But at the end of the conference, this proposal didn’t get to the final deal. The agreed pact simply presses for more urgent emission cuts, meaning the current pledge of global warming remains limited to 2.4 °C. The substantive proposal to further cut carbon with the aim of reaching 1.5 °C has been moved to the 2022 COP27 to be held in Egypt.

The fact that the Glasgow deal embraces the “pledge and review” climate governance similar to the Paris Agreement promises little hope because it this climate governance framework that has enabled the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide to get away with emissions at the expense of the developing countries since 2015.

The second issue was about climate funding. Developing countries were pushing for the “loss and damage” arrangement where a dedicated fund would be established to pay for climate crisis destruction.

For example, hard-hit countries that experience events like floods would receive funding to help them rebuild.

But rich countries declined to take this liability funding arrangement and agreed to instead pledge and review the previous one.

Ten years ago, rich countries agreed to transfer $100 billion a year to developing nations to help transform into low-carbon economies and adapt to the climate crisis but this has never come to pass.

By the 2020 deadline, rich countries had failed to deliver the $100 billion and it is off the track.

The Glasgow Climate Pact commits to doubling the money for adaptation by 2025. So even on climate funding, the “pledge and review” governance has also been a letdown.

Prof Cary Coglianese of the University of Pennsylvania has identified the problem of the Paris Agreement as its depending ultimately on domestic political pressures over global agreement because there are no binding legal obligations to meet the intended goals and plan.

A better way forward is to have a strategy that allows each country to develop its own goals that almost certainly reflect the global goals and a plan that can be achieved.