SOAS Hopes & COP26 Outcomes: Part 3

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In parts 1 and 2 of the current blog series I’ve summarised the key insights provided at this year’s SOAS COP26 Briefing and assembled what you may call a nucleus of SOAS COP26 demands. In my opinion, each of the items on this list of demands highlights how the Paris Agreement has failed to properly integrate the recognition that climate change Impacts, Responsibilities and Response Capacities (IRRC) are globally differentiated. In this blog entry, I discuss whether the Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP) rehabilitated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Since the final decision documents are still unavailable, my discussion will be based on advanced and unedited versions and some of the various pledges to which countries have committed.

Starting off with NDCs, Article IV of the GCP on Mitigation reaffirms the pursuit to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees. In order to accomplish this, the aim is to achieve a 45% reduction in global carbon emissions between 2010 and 2030. As I’ve mentioned in part 1, the NDCs submitted as of September 2021 are projected to lead to a 16.3% increase in emissions by 2030 – making this aim extraordinarily ambitious. Article IV also mentions non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases, particularly methane which is associated with the agricultural sector. As such, the EU and United States have launched the Global Methane Pledge and 100 countries have joined and agreed to achieve a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030.

Paragraph 18 of Article IV stresses that the attainment of the 45% emission reduction target should reflect “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities.” So how does the GCP suggest to achieve this target while simultaneously upholding the IRRC principle? In Paragraph 20, signing parties are called to accelerate the development and deployment of low emission technologies, energy efficiency measures but also “to accelerate the efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

The reference to phasing down and phasing out represents the very first COP decision that is explicitly targeted against the most polluting energy sources. As such, 28 countries have additionally joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, leading to a grand total of 48 countries. China, India, but most importantly, the United States and Australia have thus far not signed up as members. Furthermore, 39 countries, this time including the United States, pledged to end the direct and public finance of new and unabated fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022.  A sub-group of nine countries, led by Denmark and Costa Rica, launched the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, representing a coalition that will work together “to facilitate a managed phase-out of oil and gas production.”

While these results definitely represent an accomplishment, I think it’s important to single out and define unabated coal power and fossil fuel projects – something the GCP fails to do. Unsurprisingly, unabated refers to the absence of technologies that are able to capture carbon emissions. A 2021 report by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Institute reveals that Oman and the UAE are planning to construct new coal generation plants which include CCS. Hence, no need for phasing down here!

The same report also projects that CCS technologies will play a significant role in both existing and new coal power plants. The appendix reveals that the bulk of operational and planned CCS facilities are located in advanced and industrialised nations. Which is all to say that the extent to which the GCP will actually lead to reduced coal dependency, particularly in developed nations, is not entirely clear. A closer look at the Powering Past Coal Alliance also exposes their friendly attitude towards CCS. Assuming CCS technologies are actually effective (there are reasons to believe they are not), wouldn’t it be more IRRC-compatible to foster CCS technology transfers to coal dependent, developing and climate vulnerable nations instead of granting developed nations such a heavy discount on phasing down?

All in all, Paragraph 20 of the GCP offers a techno-optimistic outlook on how to achieve the 45% emission reduction target. The exact composition and, more importantly, the distribution of efforts across globally differentiated nations are left unclear. Why hasn’t the GCP used the Climate Equity Reference Project’s fair share approach as a guideline? This approach is based on Responsibility Capability Indices which integrate the historical responsibility for, and the current capability to curb, carbon emissions.

The GCP merely urges signing parties to enhance their NDCs every five years from 2020 onwards. Unfortunately, whether these NDCs represent a fair share is left entirely up to the signing parties. This is a crucial aspect on which the GCP has failed to provide clarity. For now, we can only hope that COP27 in Egypt will evaluate the submitted NDCs against the IRRC principle. In the final part of this blog series, I’ll discuss the GCP in relation to climate finance, losses and damages, the Just Transition and Article 6.

Dr Chandni Dwarkasing is a postdoctoral fellow at the SOAS Department of Economics working on climate change policies, low-carbon transitions in developed countries and abstraction and formalization practices in the field of Ecological Economics.

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