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Leaders Must Stop Subsidizing Fossil Fuels

After extending the COP26 climate negotiations an extra day, world leaders still fell short of a meaningful plan to save the world from global warming and climate change. Instead, most large nations are still hung up on the economics and politics of the apocalypse.

Nearly 200 countries met in Glasgow, Scotland last week. After nonstop smoke and mirrors, they adopted an outcome document that ignores global dynamics. According to the UN Secretary-General, the new pledge “reflects the interests, the contradictions, and the state of political will in the world today.” It was, in the end, an agreement of compromise. Crisis capitalism is gaining speed.

While the Glasgow Climate Pact firms up the global commitment to accelerate action on climate this decade, it left many wondering if this deal is enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition next year, at COP27, set to take place in Egypt.

COP26 President Alok Sharma struggled to hold back tears following the announcement of a last-minute change to the pact, by China and India, softening language about “the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” That language was revised to include a “phase down” of coal use, not an abolishment.

By other terms of the wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions and statements that make up the outcome of COP26, governments were among other things, asked to provide tighter deadlines for updating their plans to reduce emissions. The agreement also emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“It is an important step but is not enough,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net-zero will itself be zero.”

The UN chief said that it is time to end fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities, and delivering the $100 billion climate finance commitment.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress,” he said. Mr. Guterres also had a message to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, and all those leading the charge on climate action.

“I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there. We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward”.

There is also fear, particularly from indigenous communities and civil society, that the agreement is too little and too late.

“We are drowning in promises,” said Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda said. “Only immediate and drastic action will pull us back from the abyss.”

Despite these concerns, some progress was made at COP26. A roadmap for updating Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) was produced – which the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) analysis shows fall short to meet the 1.5°C targets.

With new pledges from world governments, UNEP published an addendum to its 2021 Emissions Gap Report, demonstrating that new commitments are still not strong enough.

Coal was discussed. The term was used in a COP text for the first time. Unfortunately, the context is for a phase down instead of a phase out. Apparently some governments agreed to phase out subsidies for inefficient fossil fuels. These subsidies are blocking free-market solutions to alternative energy.

Beyond the political negotiations, the conference also brought together about 50,000 online and in-person participants to share innovative ideas and solutions and build partnerships. COP26 achievements include:

  • Delivering climate-friendly cooling;
  • Reducing methane emissions;
  • Calling for more ambition;
  • Boosting nature-based solutions;
  • Universities pledge to net-zero; and
  • Ending deforestation, protecting peatland ecosystems.

The United States and China pledged to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. In a joint declaration they said they had agreed to take steps on a range of issues, including methane emissions and a transition to clean energy. They also reiterated their commitment to keep the 1.5C goal alive.

More than 100 national governments, cities, states and major car companies signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets, and by 2040 worldwide. At least 13 nations agreed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

Meanwhile, 11 countries formed the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. Ireland, France, Denmark, and Costa Rica among others, as well as some subnational governments, launched this new alliance to end national oil and gas exploration and extraction.

In 1992, the UN developed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In this pledge, nations agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to protect earth’s climate system. Since 1994, the UN has brought together nations for the Conference of the Parties (COP) to discuss goals and strategies. This year should have been the 27th annual summit, but the COVID pandemic postponed the conference. The goal is to minimize global warming and climate change.

Today, the treaty has 197 signatories. COP27 will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 7-18, 2022.

Greener Cities and climate action

Greener Cities is a division of Crossbow Communications. Greener Cities is a resource for sustainable and resilient cities and communities around the world.

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Author: Gary Chandler

Gary Chandler is a sustainability strategist, author and advocate. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler