Alok Sharma, president COP26 has described the pivotal United Nations discussions. concluded over the weekend, as only a “fragile win” for ambition on climate change. Despite all odds, the summit delivered the goods on several important aspects international climate policy.
It resolved the remaining issues in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It reinforced the multilateral consensus on the need for stronger climate action in the short and long-term.
Stabilizing the climate is dependent on more than the outcome multilateral negotiations like Glasgow. However, these agreements provide a framework for real-world decisions.
Here’s a preliminary interpretation of some of the decisions at COP26 on climate change mitigation, and the implications for Australia.
Coal power “phase down”
Global climate negotiations are often a grind with occasional fireworks. One such moment occurred in the last session. IndiaChina supported the demand for the Glasgow Climate Pact’s language on coal should be weakened from “phase-out” to “phasedown” of unabated coal power.
The revision was agreed upon to prevent the entire agreement from being scuttled by the disagreement, despite protestations from many countries that wanted stronger action.
The United Nations agreements are complicated, but well written. Here’s the full reference to coal in the final COP26 text. It asks the Paris Agreement parties to:
Accelerate the development, dissemination, and dissemination of technologies and the adoption policies to transition to low-emission energy systems. This includes rapidly scaling up clean power generation and energy efficiency measures. In addition to providing targeted support for the most vulnerable, in accordance with national circumstances, and recognising that a just transition is necessary, this also supports the poorest and most vulnerable.
(By way of definition, “unabated” coal power refers to the absence of carbon capture and storage in power stations. This technology is not likely to be used on a large scale as it is too expensive for power generation.
What does the above quote mean? It is clear that the international community expects that countries will reduce their use coal-fired electricity generation and cease subsidising fossil fuels. The original “phase-out” language would obviously have meant nations should stop using unabated coal power altogether.
It seems that a simple change in language can make a big difference. Investors in coal mining and power plants still need to hear the same message: The international community has declared that coal-fired power must end and will soon cease to exist.
There has never been a United Nations climate change resolution that so explicitly called for action to reduce fossil fuels. Even the weaker language is unprecedented.
What’s more, nations can act independently of – and more ambitiously than – the wording in the COP agreement.
China, for instance, has recently been pledgedTo rely less heavily on coal power stop buildingInternational coal-fired power plants Surprise, the surprising US-China joint declaration on climate change announced at Glasgow enshrines the “elimination of support for unabated international thermal coal power generation”.
The international market for thermal coal – the type burned for electricity – will shrink and could do so quickly. Australia is the world’s number two thermal coal exporterBehind Indonesia. We’d better get used to the fact the business is in decline.
The 2030 goals can be achieved
Another important aspect of the Glasgow Pact is the call forStronger 2030 emissions targets and shorter-term action
By the end of next year, nations are asked to strengthen their 2030 targets to align with the 1.5℃ temperature goal. This puts a lot of pressure on Australia.
The federal government has not abandoned the weak target of 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030 based on 2005 levels. It recently stated that this target will be achieved. exceeded by up to 9%. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s insistence on Sunday that the target is “fixed” will not cut it over the next year.
Nearly all other developed countries have increased their targets, some very significantly. A key reference point is the United States which has set a 50-52% reduction target within the same time frame.
In yet stronger language, the Glasgow pact “urges” countries that haven’t yet submitted a long-term emissions-reduction strategy to do so by next year’s conference.
This places the onus on federal government. Its recent “plan” to reach net-zero by 2050 falls far short of the markWhat constitutes a true national strategy?
International carbon trading
COP26 managed to resolve an issue that had proven extremely difficult since the Paris talks – rules for future international carbon markets.
The compromise reached seems to close many loopholes. double-countingEmissions reduction. It remains to see how many international markets for emissions will emerge under the Paris Agreement framework. The rules that will support them are available.
An outcome on international emissions markets is very encouraging from an Australian perspective. It has been achieved by negotiators and governments from Australia.
It allows Australian governments and companies to purchase emission reductions in other countries if it is cheaper than acting more aggressively to reduce their emissions at home. It will allow Australia to collaborate with countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific to reduce their emissions, and to share the results between countries.
Australia’s large land mass and unlimited potential for cheap renewable energy means it’s better positioned than most countries to become a net-negative emissions economy in the long term. Australia could eventually remove more greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere than it emits.
So an international carbon trading framework means Australia could eventually sell emissions reduction credits to other countries, and the revenue could fund large-scale CO₂ removal from the atmosphere.
A momentum that cannot to be ignored
Earth’s climate will not be determined by what is agreed at global climate talks, but by the actions that businesses and people take, and the policies governments put in place.
The Glasgow result shows that there is global resolve and will to solve the problem. Even though governments might prefer to continue using carbon-intensive economies, they cannot ignore this momentum.