Carbon Copy: The state of play on the six key issues at UN climate conference COP26

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SINGAPORE - The United Nations climate change conference, COP26, finally concluded on Saturday night (Nov 13), more than a day after it was scheduled to end.

The outcome, called the Glasgow Climate Pact, will provide greater clarity for nations to implement stronger domestic climate policies that will help the world avoid harsher climate impacts.

The Straits Times gives an overview of the climate negotiations and the outcomes from COP26. 

Background

In 2015, almost 200 nations adopted the Paris Agreement, which sets out global aims, but not how they can be achieved.

After three years of negotiations, nations agreed in 2018 to adopt the Paris Rulebook - a guide on how the Agreement can be implemented - at COP24 in Poland.

The Rulebook was like an almost complete jigsaw puzzle that was missing a few key pieces: The main outline was there, but a number of thorny issues needed to be worked out for a global consensus to be reached.

Aims of the Paris Agreement

- Limit global warming to well below 2 deg C, preferably to 1.5 deg C, above pre-industrial levels. This threshold is needed to avoid harsher climate impacts.

- Achieve net zero emissions by 2050

- Take action to adapt to climate change impacts, such as building coastal infrastructure to keep out rising seas.

- Direct capital towards a low-carbon future.

The COP26 meeting aimed to finalise details of how the Paris Agreement can be implemented.

The Straits Times highlights six key issues that negotiators discussed - the six pieces of the jigsaw that will help pave the way for putting the agreement into effect.


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The Glasgow meeting was all about limiting warming - meaning the world needs to make deeper, faster cuts to emissions from burning fossil fuels or deforestation.

COP26 host Britain said a key outcome was to "keep 1.5 deg C within reach".

The only way to achieve this was for nations to beef up their climate pledges, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Why is it important?

Under the Paris Agreement, new climate pledges must be submitted every five years. Many countries submitted their first round of pledges in 2015 or 2016. 

This year's conference - which was postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic - marks the second round of submissions from countries. The second round of pledges set out targets to be achieved by the year 2030. 

Countries were expected to collectively pledge much more ambitious emissions reductions.

But in an analysis of the 2030 targets set out by countries, research consortium Climate Action Tracker said the pledges still put the world on a path to warming by 2.4 deg C by the end of the century.

Sticking point

Rapid emissions cuts would require trillions of dollars of investment in renewable energy and slashing reliance on fossil fuels, something many countries, especially developing nations, are unable or reluctant to do.

What was agreed?

The text emphasises the urgent need for all parties to increase efforts to cut emissions, highlighting that current pledges are far from what is needed. It also asks nations to pursue efforts to limit warming to the 1.5 deg C goal, and reiterates that climate impacts would be less severe at this level. 

It requests nations to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets in their NDCs by the end of 2022. It also calls for a “phase down” of coal plants that do not capture CO2 pollution. 

It notes with “serious concern” that emissions are on track for a 13.7 per cent increase by 2030 vs the 45 per cent decrease required to limit warming to 1.5 deg C. 

The pact also “urges” those that have yet to update their NDCs to do so as soon as possible and requests the UN climate body to publish annual snapshots of collective NDCs to gauge ambition.


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If the Glasgow conference was all about cutting emissions, it is money that is going to make this happen.

Poorer nations want wealthier ones to make good on a pledge they made over a decade ago to channel US$100 billion (S$135 billion) in annual climate finance by 2020 to green their economies and help them adapt to climate impacts.

Why is it important?

Developing nations are the least responsible for the decades of planet-warming emissions in the atmosphere. But they are feeling the impacts most keenly, from rising sea levels and more powerful storms that batter their coastlines and wipe out homes and crops to severe droughts and heatwaves.

Climate cash has become an issue of trust, that rich nations will do as they say.

Sticking point

Rich nations have dragged their feet on this issue, with climate funding hitting only US$79.6 billion in 2019.

What was agreed? 

The US$100 billion pledge still came up short in Glasgow. It might be reached by next year, helped by additional pledges from Japan, Denmark and others during the conference. Adaptation finance flows will be “at least double” 2019 levels by 2025, going some way to meet a demand by poorer nations for more adaptation money. 

The final text also calls upon parties to rapidly scale up the deployment of clean power generation and accelerate efforts towards the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.


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The issue of finance also extends to the irretrievable loss and damage caused by climate impacts, such as loss of life and damage to infrastructure.

Poorer nations are seeking additional finance to cope with the rising and repeated costs of climate change.

Why is it important?

This is a critical issue for the poorest and most vulnerable nations, such as small island nations greatly threatened by rising sea levels and storms.

Repeated losses and damage threaten livelihoods and economic development.

Sticking points

This has been a long-running issue as vulnerable nations regard themselves as innocent victims of impacts caused by big polluting nations.

While a mechanism has been created to help look at the issue, developing nations want commitments on new and additional financial resources. But there remains knowledge gaps on the scale of loss and damage and the financing and technical assistance needed.

Industrialised nations are also wary of liability risks and compensation claims.

What was agreed? 

Greater recognition of the need to address loss and damage though no money was committed. Developing nations have pushed for money from rich nations to pay for loss and damage caused by climate impacts driven by greenhouse emissions. But rich countries have resisted, fearing large compensation payments. 

The Glasgow pact agreed to greater funding support for a technical body called the Santiago network, which provides technical assistance to help vulnerable nations avert, minimise and address loss and damage. 

The final text removed a reference to a financial facility for loss and damage that aimed to channel funds to poorer nations. 

Instead, parties agreed to establish the “Glasgow Dialogue” to discuss funding with the aim of concluding the talks by mid-2024. 


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The outcome of discussions on carbon markets, coded under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, was to determine whether countries can trade carbon credits to meet their NDCs.

It would also establish rules on who emissions savings accrued to if one nation paid to set up a green initiative - say a wind farm instead of a coal plant - in another country.

Why is it important?

This was the biggest unresolved piece of the Paris Rulebook, and the only one that failed to reach a consensus at COP24. A consensus was also not reached at COP25.

Carbon markets can enable cost-effective emissions reductions.

In the short term, for example, it might be cheaper for one country to pay to conserve a forest elsewhere rather than replace its entire fossil fuel-based energy grid with one based on renewables.

Carbon credits can also direct public and private capital to green ventures, such as clean cookstoves for poor villages or forest conservation projects.

But an international carbon market that lacks clear rules could increase global emissions if, for example, both buyers and sellers of carbon credits claim the reductions under their NDCs.

Sticking points

The problem of double counting - where the countries selling the carbon credits count the carbon savings under their own national targets - could be tough to overcome.

The aim was still to achieve a reduction in overall emissions, so carbon markets would have to go beyond offsetting, but conflict was possible over which carbon credits are to be set aside and not used for any country's NDCs.

Debate was also ongoing over whether credits generated under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, which expired in 2020, could be carried over to the Paris Agreement, with opponents saying this could prevent new, additional mitigation activities from being developed.

What was agreed?

There will be no double counting of carbon credits. This means that the countries selling the carbon credits cannot count the savings under their own national targets , or sell the same credit to two different parties. 

Parties also agreed to the carrying over of carbon credits generated under the Kyoto Protocol if these credits had been generated since 2013. 

Countries also agreed that there would be a levy imposed on trades made under Article 6, with the funds going to a fund that will help developing countries better prepare for the impacts of climate change. This levy is mandatory for trades made under some parts of Article 6, but voluntary in others.


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Nations agreed at COP24 in 2018 to adopt the enhanced transparency framework by 2024.

This framework requires all countries to report, among other things:

- Their greenhouse gas emissions;

- Their progress in achieving their NDCs;

- How they will be impacted by climate change and how they plan to adapt to these impacts;

- The support they have received from others, such as financial aid or training, and how these were used.

Previously, the reporting requirements and the timetable for the submission of national reports were different for developed and developing countries. Given that developing countries have relatively less developed institutional capacity for transparency reporting, their requirements were less onerous than that of developed countries.

Why is it important?

Transparency in measurement, reporting and verification of emissions will allow observers to monitor progress in limiting global warming.

Sticking points

Some countries have NDC targets that aim to reduce emissions across their entire economy, while others focus on emissions reductions from certain sectors, such as their energy or forestry sectors. It will not be easy to finalise a common reporting format that can accommodate these different types of pledges.

An enhanced framework will require nations to find common ground over the kinds of technical assistance that will be provided to developing countries to help them meet it.

What was agreed?

Some countries had initially argued for the flexibility to delete rows and columns from the reporting table if they could not provide the information, but at COP26, all parties agreed that no deletion would be allowed.

Countries must denote “FX” (which represents ‘flexibility’) in the reporting tables if they are unable to report certain information, but they will need to explain their capacity constraints. 

A new training programme for technical experts to help review the Biennial Transparency Reports from 2024 was also agreed.


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Currently, NDCs have different end dates. Some countries set five-year targets, while others set 10-year ones.

For example, Singapore's NDC is a 10-year one. In its second NDC announced last year, Singapore said it will aim to have its emissions peak around 2030.

Countries had agreed at COP24 that post-2030 NDCs should have a common time frame.

Why is it important?

Further delays on setting common time frames would mean that countries have less time adjusting their domestic planning and reviewing processes to meet their targets.

There was also concern that a longer time frame would lock in high-emitting infrastructure, such as new fossil fuel plants, making it more challenging to limit global temperatures in the long term.

Sticking points

There was likely to be negotiations over the three options on the table: Whether NDCs should follow a five- or 10-year cycle , or a 5 + 5 cycle that would require countries to use a five-year time frame with tentative 10-year targets.

What was agreed? 

Countries generally agreed on a five-year cycle, which will be submitted five years before they take effect. This means that the next round of climate pledges, which are due in 2025, will be for the year 2035. Pledges made in 2030 will be for 2040, and so on. 

This decision sets out the international norm for subsequent climate pledges.

But the language of this provision is weak, with parties merely “encouraged” to do this. This gives outlier countries, such as those who insist on maintaining a 10-year NDC, the flexibility to submit their 2040 NDCs in 2025, for instance.

  • Sources: Carbon Brief, Melissa Low, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Resources Institute