Paris is out and Glasgow is in. So what are the key points about the new Glasgow Climate Pact?
The Australian Conservation Foundation sent Media and Investigations Manager Freya Cole and Climate Program Manager Gavan McFadzean to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
We got the lowdown from the pair as the world begins to digest what the new Glasgow Climate Pact means, where it falls short, and where are points for hope and optimism.
Q: Probably the biggest talking point emerging from the Glasgow Pact has been about the role of the coal text being watered down. What happened, and can we live with it?
A: This is the first time coal has been mentioned in a global climate agreement. Just to have the language “coal” and “fossil fuels” in the Glasgow Pact is a big step forward for climate action.
At the eleventh hour however, the language surrounding coal was watered down after an intervention by India.
We’re now working with a pledge to “phase down” instead of a “phase out” coal power.
This is disappointing but it’s still something we can accept because several countries including those in the European Union publicly expressed full intention to phase out coal for good.
This sends a very clear message that this COP was the nail in the coffin for coal and we can expect the language to be strengthened even further at next year’s COP.
Q: Australia was named ‘colossal fossil’ of the Conference by civil society groups. Just what was the reception to Australia like at this conference?
A: The fact Australia won “colossal fossil” over the likes of Russia, China and Saudi Arabia paints a very clear picture of how Australia was viewed by civil society here in Glasgow.
Here are some of the expressions we heard: Australia is an outlier, a villain, a laggard, one of the weakest links in the negotiating room.
There was also widespread dismay and disgust at the Santos display at the Australian pavilion. The fossil fuel giant had a permanent spot to showcase its plan for carbon capture and storage — an unproven and eye-wateringly expensive technology that will keep coal and gas burning for longer.
It appeared the Australian Government had come to Glasgow linking arms with one of the country’s biggest polluters.
Also important to note that the First Nations community was not consulted or given a space at the Australian pavilion which we think is hugely disrespectful.
Q: How could Australia turn that around?
A: Australia has a long way to go in improving its climate reputation on the global stage and taking responsibility to do our part.
This COP widened the gap even further between the Australian government and our closest allies and trading partners. The best way to turn things around is to take the science seriously and ramp up our ambition. Let’s lead from the front and not be laggards at the next global conference.
Indigenous Australians should also be consulted every step of the way and have a seat at every negotiating table. Climate action is only possible when there’s climate justice too.
Q: Did Australia sign up to anything of importance at this conference?
A: Well it’s signed the overarching Glasgow pact — and that’s the most important of the lot.
Australia also signed the deforestation pledge which is a significant move. It was good to see acknowledgement of the crucial role that forests and the land sector play in addressing climate change and biodiversity destruction. But logging and land clearing remains in the domain of state governments.
From a national perspective, reversing the damage to the land in Australia will require a complete overhaul of the way the federal government funds and manages the environment. So while the pledge is welcomed, we’ll need to see the Australian government take stronger action to do its part.
Q: Do decisions around global carbon markets really leave a door open for polluters to carry on with business as usual?
A: Global carbon markets could, in theory, be a helpful solution. But that theory will only work if every country and private entity is playing by the same rule book. And that rule book needs to be transparent and ensure integrity in the market. This is where Article 6 comes in and the rules were finalised here in Glasgow.
The major concern with Article 6 is it will allow old credits from the Kyoto era to be carried over — and we all know Australia loves to play this trick. The problem with these credits is they are unreliable and are incredibly out of date, which means the credits are unlikely to actually help today’s climate. The final agreement put a 2013 cut-off date on credits that could be carried over, but didn’t block them altogether. That still leaves us with concerns about the old credits.
Transparency really is key in this area, otherwise it will allow big polluters to keep doing what they’re doing without being held accountable. Double counting is another issue, and in this case the rules were tightened to make sure credits are not counted more than once. It’s important that the carbon credits are used to actually cut pollution instead of just cleaning the paperwork.
Q: What was the discussion on ‘loss and damage’ and why does it matter?
A: Loss and damage refers to the impact caused by climate change on poorer nations. It matters because wealthy countries need to take historic responsibility for the climate damage that they have caused.
Climate change is being felt now in the Global South and it shouldn’t be on those governments to pay for the damage which we know is linked to global warming — like rising oceans and ferocious storms that can destroy lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and eco-systems.
There were stronger commitments on Loss and Damage in the Glasgow Pact. A global resource was set up for the first time to enable dialogue between countries. It’s also been agreed that Loss and Damage will be a key discussion at future conferences.
However, there’s still not enough cash on the table from wealthy countries to help those less fortunate to respond to climate disasters and cope with a changing climate. There were strong calls for a new Glasgow loss and damage funding facility particularly from vulnerable countries, but that hasn’t been secured. There also needs to be a better mechanism to share and transfer technology and intelligence from developed countries to developing countries — if we work together it will help to reduce pollution.
Q: Pacific island nations have described disappointment and optimism emerging from the pact. What are the positive elements for our Island neighbours?
The Glasgow Pact claims to keep 1.5 degrees alive and this for the Pacific is crucial. Anything over this global temperature threshold has been described as a “death sentence” for our island neighbours.
One of the key messages from Pacific climate activists is “we’re not drowning, we are fighting” which highlights the immediate danger communities face right now from climate change. The disappointment stems from the lack of progress on Loss and Damage, as well as lack of climate finance, and the need for all developed countries to step up on ambition to reduce climate pollution. While there were some developments on this (as mentioned above) it’s still not enough.
Q: Keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels has been described as being ‘alive, but on life support’. Are there any points for optimism that can be leveraged to get that target back into the land of the living?
A: Since Paris the world actually has done a lot to get it down — even the IPCC says that. If it wasn’t for Paris and Glasgow we’d be on the path to 5 degrees warming or more. COP26 President, Alok Sharma, has described this as a fragile pact. So yes 1.5 is alive but it can only be kept alive if countries around the world actually do what they’ve signed up to do. Every fraction of a degree matters.
Q: The next UN Climate Change Conference will take place in Egypt in November next year. What can we expect to happen there?
A: The main one concerning Australia will be the pressure to increase its 2030 target. It will be expected within 12 months. The language surrounding coal will be revisited so we can expect from this point onwards that it will become harder and harder for countries to keep mining and burning coal to have a future.
Loss and damage will also be back on the table, along with expectations of all developed countries like Australia to increase their contribution to climate finance and show they’ve got plans and policies to drive down greenhouse gas emissions consistent with 1.5-2 degrees.