The announcements at COP26 in Glasgow were so rapid that there was barely enough time to examine each one before the next. I’ve attended many United Nations climate change conferences, but this fortnight felt different. The momentum was palpable.
In the past, countries that fought tooth and nail against stronger action in the past stepped up with new commitments. Many of them joined a variety of new alliances and partnerships that were formed in the first week.
As I write, negotiators continue to hold tense talks in an attempt to reach a final COP26 deal. But whether the summit succeeds or fails doesn’t depend solely on the decisions reached this week.
COP26 was not seen as an endpoint, but a launch pad for a decade of truly transformative actions. Only time will tell if the event was a true game-changer for the planet or just empty spin.
COP26: A journey, not a destination
The UK government, as the conference hosts, knew early on that most countries would bring new climate ambition – known in COP-speak as “nationally determined contributions”. It also knew that these pledges would not be enough.
For COP26 to be successful in getting the world on the path of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ this century, two things were required.
To get things moving, there were a number of side deals. These came in the form of a new global pledge to reduce emissions of methane – a highly potent greenhouse gas – as well as deals on coal phase-out, deforestation, climate finance and more.
Second, countries will need to further increase their commitments in the coming years. The final negotiated outcome at COP26, which is due Friday Glasgow time, will require that nations make immediate increases in their emission-reduction ambition.
As I write this, the outcome is uncertain at best.
The first draft of the final agreement urges countries that didn’t bring a new and stronger 2030 target to Glasgow – such as Australia – to do so within a year.
Unsurprisingly, Australia is one of the nations that are trying to get this part of the text removed from the final agreement. Although this is a worrying sign there will be many other countries fighting to ensure that it stays in.
Negotiators have spent countless hours arguing over the minutiae of the final text, and there’s still a way to go yet. But if the final agreement is too weak, the 1.5℃ goal is at serious risk.
The draft wording is weaker than that sought by a group of 50 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, which wantNational commitments to be reviewed annually and strengthened between now and 2025. However, many observers were not expecting the stronger wording.
And while COP26 is not yet over, it’s so far fallen short on one crucial measure – climate finance. A decade ago, developed countries agreed to mobilize US$100 million per year by 2020 to support climate change in developing nations. This pledge has not been fulfilled.
Australia was a success
It is not easy to be an Australian at international climate negotiations. Australia long ago cemented its reputation as a drag on global climate cooperation – known for its weak targets, obstructive approach and demands for special treatment.
However, even seasoned observers have been taken aback by Australia’s actions before and during COP26.
Australia was the only developed country that did not have a stronger 2030 emission reduction target when it went to Glasgow.
The Morrison government used the Australia pavilion at the COP venue to promote fossil fuel companies like Santos.
Australia also refused two signature deals at COP26 – one to reduce methane emission and one global pledge to do so. phase outCoal-fired power
Despite Australia’s recalcitrance, the coal pledge, in particular, is a big step forward in global terms.
Nationalism was a common feature in years past agreeingNot all countries were dependent on coal to be included in a coal phase-out. This time, signatories included countries that use large amounts of coal, such as South Korea and Poland, Indonesia, Poland, Poland, Ukraine, and Vietnam.
Australia was especially pleased with one energy-related announcement made in Glasgow. South Korea and Japan, which are the second and third largest buyers of Australian liquid natural gas (LNG), both expressed their desire to buy it. shiftTo hydrogen and renewables.
This development, along with others, makes it clear that the world moves fast and Australia is still slow. Sooner rather than later, Australia will feel the cost of its inaction – not just in the hit to our international reputation, but in foregone economic opportunities in the clean industries of the future.
‘Try harder. Try harder’
The urgency of the climate crisis can seem far away from international climate talks. However, at every COP, there is always someone who manages rousingly and brutally to cut through the noise.
This year, it was Mia Mottley from Barbados, the Prime Minister of Barbados, who opened the conference excoriatedLeaders who have failed to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s promises.
Mottley’s commanding eight-minute speech was a show-stopping moment. As world leaders including US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson looked on, Mottley declared a 2℃ increase in global temperatures would be a “death sentence” for small developing island nations.
For those who can see. For those with ears to hear. And for those who have a heart to feel … We do not want that dreaded death sentence, and we have come here today to say ‘Try harder. Try harder’.
The world tried harder in Glasgow. The progress we’ve so far seen during the conference, and in the lead up, would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. The surprise pact between the US and China – in which the two nations recognised climate change as an “existential threat” – is a case in point.
But the summit’s final outcome is still likely to fall massively short of what the science demands. The real test of COP26 will be whether the pledges are honored and if the talks have triggered a virtuous cycle that will see more ambition and action in the coming decade.
Simon Bradshaw, Climate Council research director, was with Tim Flannery during COP26 and assisted with the drafting.