Negotiators from nearly 200 nations agreed to a major deal in Glasgow Saturday that is meant to push the world to take more action to combat climate change but fails to outline a clear path to avoid the kind of warming that experts have warned would be catastrophic for the planet. After two weeks of intense negotiations, countries agreed on a deal that pushes countries to strengthen climate targets and cut down emissions.
Backers of the deal insisted that at the very least it keeps the overarching goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, which was the ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris deal. But the pledges on emissions cuts don’t come close to reaching that goal, leading many to characterize the final agreement as deeply disappointing. In many respects, countries essentially agreed to postpone difficult decisions, vowing to return to the negotiation table at next year’s conference in Egypt with more ambitious targets.
Hours before the agreement was sealed, many diplomats said the final deal didn’t go far enough to deal with the urgent warming crisis. But they repeatedly insisted something was better than nothing, that incremental progress was at least progress even if it could not be characterized as a victory for the planet. “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5C alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action,” Conference President Alok Sharma said.
Activists celebrated that the deal sealed in Glasgow marked the first time that a global climate agreement explicitly mentioned fossil fuels. But the difficulties of reaching a global agreement were made evident when there was some high-profile last-minute drama as India, which Is highly dependent on coal, raised objections to wording that would have called on countries to “phase out” coal power and government subsidies for oil and gas. In the end, the clause was amended to read that countries pledged to accelerate “efforts to phase down unabated coal power, and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” Several countries expressed shock and anger at the last-minute change to “phase down” from “phase out” but agreed to stick with it in order to make sure there was an agreement. “This commitment on coal had been a bright spot in the package,” said Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege. “It was one of the things we were hoping to carry out of here and back home with pride. And it hurts deeply to see that bright spot dimmed.”
Immediately the Glasgow conference looks more to be a failure than a success, writes Damian Carrington in the Guardian. Even though it’s true that the deal takes the world a little closer toward keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, “in absolute terms, there is still a mountain to climb.” Before the conference, the pledges to cut emissions pointed to a warming of 2.7 degrees, now the figure is 2.4 degrees, which is “still a catastrophe.” That means the next few months will be even more important. Carrington explains:
The climate emergency is a slow motion disaster and our escape was only ever going to be in slow motion too – remaking a world that has run on fossil fuels cannot happen overnight, particularly in the face of lobbying by rich vested interests.
But the world has been kicking the climate can down the road for three decades now. The Cop26 deal means the next 18 months will truly be make or break.
In the closing hours of Cop26, countries repeatedly said they were accepting weaker proposals than they wanted in the “spirit of compromise”. But there is no compromising with the science of global heating. UN secretary general António Guterres said in Glasgow that the goal of 1.5C was “on life support”. It still is.