GLASGOW: After facing tense moments in the final hours when India had its way in replacing a reference to “phasing out” of coal with “phase down”, a change that reduces the mandatory nature of the wording, the COP26 concluded with the Glasgow Climate Pact late Saturday night calling countries to further strengthen their 2030 emission reduction targets by next year.
As with the emissions targets where progress was made but success remained elusive, the decision on “loss and damage” lacked a clear plan for a funding facility, much to the disappointment of climate vulnerable countries. Work on having a definite plan to compensate disaster-hit countries will now be shifted to COP27 in Egypt next year.
Some nations criticised India’s insistence on a softer reference to fossil fuels, but Indian officials said the country has voluntarily set aggressive green energy targets and there is need for an overall view of issues, including finance to developing nations.
The pact also moves on finalising the last piece of the unfinished agenda — a mechanism for a carbon market (Article 6) and transparency — of the Paris Agreement rulebook. The declaration also promises to deliver greater amounts of finance to developing countries by deciding to double the quantum for adaptation by 2025 and take steps to help vulnerable countries deal with losses and damages from climate impacts.
The overall pact was finally adopted when the COP26 presidency accommodated India’s concerns where the country objected to phase-out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. The change from “phase-out” to “phase-down” with respect to coal power use in the final text was agreed during the last-minute amendments to build the consensus.
Just before convening the final plenary, UK COP26 president Alok Sharma and his team members were seen trying to convince India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav over the text as the latter strongly objected to it on the reference of coal and fossil fuel while intervening during the stock taking. Both leaders were even seen looking at the amended version which Yadav finally proposed and the plenary accepted.
India, in fact, got the amended paragraph by opting “phase-down” for coal in the final text instead of “phase-out” and even included points on “targeted support to the poorest and the most vulnerable in line with national circumstances” while referring to fossil fuel subsidy, even as Switzerland and EU objected to it before reluctantly agreeing on it as a compromise to finally arrive at the Pact.
It was quite an emotional moment for Sharma who chaired the plenary that finally adopted the COP26 decision. It reflected the difficult moments which he negotiated as he sought to bring all countries on board through little compromises on different fronts.
Though smaller island nations and Mexico, along with Switzerland and EU, criticised India’s move on watering down the text on coal and fossil fuel by calling it a bad economic choice, Indian delegation defended the country’s position.
A senior official from Indian delegation said, “All fossil fuels are bad for the environment. Singling out coal without talking about other fossil fuels like natural gas is not the best way forward. But India, in the spirit of compromise, helped evolve language that was acceptable to all. This language takes care of concerns of many developing countries including India.”
He further said, “India has always maintained that it does not favour sectoral targets. We have taken on economy wide target like reduction in emission intensity of GDP. This gives countries more flexibility to meet mitigation targets in line with the national circumstances and developmental needs. One size fits all approach is not the best way to evolve consensus on global issues.”
China too wanted clarity on coal and fossil fuel references. However, it was India which decided to call it out during the stocktake and finally Yadav suggested the amended paragraph which was adopted by all countries.
Nevertheless, it was for the first time the coal and fossil fuel subsidies found place in the COP decision text, making the issue much more important in the context of the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degree celsius at a time when the world would try to collectively achieve ‘net zero’ (carbon neutrality) by 2050.
In any case, India’s substantial focus on renewable energy and its commitment to increase non-fossil fuel installed electricity capacity to 500 GW by 2030 and achieving 50% of cumulative electric power installed capacity from renewable energy by 2030 are testimony of the country’s own efforts to gradually reduce its dependence on coal without compromising with its current development trajectory.
The outcome of COP26 is also significant in view of finalising the rulebook for 2015 Paris Agreement after six years of discussions. The rulebook provides guidelines for full implementation of the Paris deal. This will allow for the full delivery of the landmark accord, after agreement on a transparency process which will hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets.
The final rulebook now includes rules for carbon markets (Article 6), which establishes a framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the UNFCCC.