Good negotiations are supposed to leave everyone feeling unsatisfied. The US presidential envoy on climate, John Kerry, said as much when the latest UN climate change conference – COP26 in Glasgow – drew to a close. The Glasgow Climate Pact, which it produced, will have disappointed most countries. Most disappointed of all will be those delegates who arrived in Glasgow looking for a new financial arrangement between rich and poor countries to help them weather the crisis.
This is the fifth and final episode of Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiations, a series of COP26 related articles The Anthill podcast. This episode was recorded from Glasgow, where we spoke to academics who have spent decades researching UN climate negotiations and some of the representatives of their countries in the talks.
As we heard in the first episode, developed countries promised to pay the developing world US$100 billion (£75 billion) a year by 2020, but fell short by about US$20 billion. Climate finance is supposed to help some of the world’s poorest people survive a crisis they didn’t create and develop economies which are green and resilient.
But there’s something else developing countries argue affluent countries owe them for: loss and damage. Lisa Vanhala from UCL is a professor of political sciences. She explains that this refers specifically to the irreversible consequences of climate change, which countries cannot adapt to. Compensation for loss and damage was “really the big thing that developing countries came into [COP26] united in asking for,” Vanhala says. But the result was “no cash on the table”, as the EU and US blocked the creation of a facility for delivering loss and damage finance.
The fortnight spent in Glasgow was marked by a series of pre-arranged deals, speeches by world leaders, and a flurry other activities. Delegates from 197 countries met in the negotiating rooms to reach an agreement. They often fought over the lines in the draft text well into the night. COP26 was designated the least accessibleUN climate change summit has yet to take place, due to COVID-19 vaccination hoarding and accommodation price gouging in Glasgow. Civil society groups were also kept away by rules set by the UK presidency.
Long lines kept observers and delegates waiting in the rain for hours during the first days of summit. How did this all affect the final agreement?
“I think a mistake that is commonly made is to assume that all these negotiation outcomes are rational,” says François Gemenne, director of the Hugo Observatory at the University of Liège in Belgium. Gemenne has been studying the UN climate negotiations process for a while and was able to see how administrative blunders led to a halt to an agreement at COP15 in Copenhagen.
While he says the UK’s handling of the talks and the position of other rich countries on loss and damage will have sowed resentment among developing nations which came to hammer out a deal, “COP is not a one-shot event. It’s a continuous process … and it’s important for countries of the global outh [especially] to keep the process rolling.”
Abhinay Muthoo, a professor of economics and expert in negotiating at the University of Warwick, says “trust is very important… in enriching deals.” The Glasgow Climate Pact reaffirmed the desire of all countries to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The discord at COP26, which saw India and China intervene last-minute to weaken a resolution on coal power, demonstrated how much work remains to bridge the gap between developing and developed countries.
In this episode, we also speak to Hadeel Hisham Ikhmais, a climate negotiator from Palestine, who explains what it’s like to be a negotiator behind closed doors at COP26.
Tiffany Cassidy is the producer of Climate Fight Podcast Series. Eloise Stephens provided sound design, and Neeta Sarral wrote the theme song. Gemma Ware is the series editor.
Soon, a transcript of this episode is available.
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Climate Fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is a podcast series supported by UK Research and Innovation, the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation.