The cruise shipsi have departed, the diesel generatorsii have been removed, the ‘plane spottersiii have put away their notebooks, the 6,000 items of IKEA furnitureiv are being stored in tents, the tens of thousands of revellers, activists and hangers-on have left, Clarion the tissue paper polar bear’s climate crisis pilgrimagev is over, 102,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent have been emittedvi, and Greta has gone home, blah, blah, blah. The party’s over and now the hangover begins.
What’s in a name?
The outcome of COP 26 in Glasgow, which has disappointed many, is the Glasgow Climate Pact. Not the Glasgow Climate Agreement, not the Glasgow Climate Treaty, but the Glasgow Climate Pact. I don’t think this matters much, if at all, from a legal point of view. My Oxford English Dictionary defines a pact as “a formal agreement between individuals or parties”. In this case, however, I suspect the less portentous title reflects the low-key nature of what was agreed.
Because it is low-key. Very low-key indeed. As I pointed out in “A Lot Of Hot Air”vii, when addressing the failure of the Paris Agreement:
Aspirational words like “can”, “may” and “should” abound, but the legally mandatory word “shall” is a rare and shy creature within the Agreement, rarely to be seen, and then certainly not in the context of a meaningful obligation. And the Agreement contains absolutely no enforcement mechanism for use against those signatories who breach its rather limp terms…
The same is true of the Glasgow Climate Pact, but with bells on. A quick word count reveals paragraphs commencing with “recognizing” (6) “recognizes” (10); “also recognizes” (2); “further recognizes” (1); “acknowledging” (2); “expressing appreciation” (1); “expresses appreciation” (1); “welcomes” (9); “also welcomes” (1); “further welcomes” (1); “stresses” (1); “notes” (1); “noting” (3); “notes with concern” (2); “notes with serious concern” (1); “notes with deep regret” (1); expresses alarm and utmost concern (1); emphasizes (9); “re-emphasizes” (2); “urges” (9); “strongly urges” (1); “invites” (7); “also invites” (1); “calls upon” (4); “reaffirms” (1); “encourages” (8); acknowledges (3); “also acknowledges” (1); “reiterates” (1); “endorses” (1); “resolves” (2); “recalls” (2); “expresses its recognition” (1); “takes note” (1); “requests” (2). Of the obligatory, mandating, words “shall” or “must”, there is no sign.
The long and the short of it is that it’s a weak and limp document, painfully thin gruel.
Much has been said about coal and the jubilation that anything was said about it at all, followed by disappointment that what was said was then watered down, apparently, at the behest of China and India. So, how many times is coal mentioned in the pact? Once. In paragraph 20:
Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.
If I was a lawyer representing poor (and even not-so-poor) developing countries that are heavily dependent on coal for future economic growth and for the improvement of living standards of their peoples, I could not be more delighted than to see that form of words. In terms of an obligation to do anything, it’s effectively meaningless. The further watering down of the non-obligation is in three parts. First, it’s simply one part of a vague “calling upon” of the parties to progress towards “low-emission energy systems”. Secondly, it asks for (but doesn’t require) the acceleration (by how much isn’t specified – 1% acceleration would presumably qualify) of efforts (just efforts, mind you) towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and the phaseout (stronger than phasedown, admittedly) of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Contend forcefully that a fossil fuel subsidy is efficient, and it doesn’t fall within the non-obligatory paragraph at all. Thirdly, as part of all this you can demand “ targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances” (and can presumably argue that there’s no reason why you should comply with the painfully thin request above if you don’t receive the support); further, you can insist on “support towards a just transition.” It shouldn’t be too difficult to argue that you can’t be expected to abandon (or even reduce use of) coal if the transition resulting from that would be painful and unjust.
Never mind, the pact must provide for reducing use of oil and gas, surely? No, it doesn’t. Oil doesn’t receive a single mention, and the only gas that is mentioned is of the greenhouse variety – on six occasions. Well, what does the Pact say? It contains 71 paragraphs, divided into eight parts, so let’s take a look at each part, in sequence.
Science and urgency
Not a lot to say here. The the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policymaking is recognised, so with luck the vilification of sceptics will cease, since science doesn’t advance without questioning.
Welcome is extended to the Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report and the recent global and regional reports on the state of the climate from the World Meteorological Organization, and the IPCC is invited to present its forthcoming reports to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice in 2022.
This section is where the phrase “expresses alarm and utmost concern” comes in. The alarm and utmost concern is because they say “that human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region”.
Finally, at paragraph 4, it:
Stresses the urgency of enhancing ambition and action in relation to mitigation adaptation and finance in this critical decade to address gaps between current efforts and pathways in pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention and its long-term global goal.
And that’s it regarding science and urgency.
I think it’s good to see attention continuing to be given to the issue of adaptation. It’s not a lot of attention, though, covering only five short paragraphs. It’s basically just more of what has already gone before.
Serious concern is again expressed regarding the findings from the contribution of Working Group I to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report.
The urgency of scaling up action and support, including finance, capacity building and technology transfer, to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in line with the best available science, taking into account the priorities and needs of developing country Parties is emphasised.
National adaptation plans submitted to date (no mention of how many of the updates are late) are welcomed; more is urged. And (no surprise here) the IPCC is invited to submit the findings to COP 27 from the contribution of Working Group II to its Sixth Assessment Report, including those relevant to assessing adaptation needs.
It is noted with concern that existing finance provided to developing countries is inadequate. Developed countries are urged to give more. The need for adequate and predictable finance is recognised. Recent pledges are welcomed. Multilateral development banks, other financial institutions and the private sector are called upon to enhance finance mobilisation in order to deliver the scale of resources needed to achieve climate plans, particularly for adaptation, and the Parties are encouraged to continue to explore innovative approaches and instruments for mobilising finance for adaptation from private sources.
And that’s it. Not much progress has been made there, by the look of things.
The Pact reaffirms the long-term global goal to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. It also recognises that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared with 2 °C, and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.
Given the supposed seriousness of the situation, resolving “to pursue efforts” doesn’t sound like much of a commitment. It’s the legal equivalent of “well, I suppose we could try to do a bit”.
The lack of serious intent expressed there is in sharp contrast with what the drafters of the Pact think needs to be done:
… limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases
… [T]his requires accelerated action in this critical decade, on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and equity, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
The clarion calls are strident. The actual effort isn’t. The Pact:
Invites Parties to consider further actions to reduce by 2030 non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, including methane.
That’s even weaker than the limited stuff that precedes it. It amounts to asking countries to think about trying to do something.
The next paragraph is the incredibly weak one we’ve already looked at with regard to coal. This section ends by emphasising
the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems, including forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems, to achieve the long-term global goal of the Convention by acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.
Which is all well and good, but given that so many technologies associated with supposedly reducing greenhouse gas emissions are in fact so destructive of nature and ecosystemsviii that it’s difficult to see how this particular circle can be squared. The Pact doesn’t discuss how this might be done.
Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation
Developed countries are again urged to do more, “in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention”, and others are encouraged to do their bit voluntarily. The only problem with this is that the existing obligations under the Convention are really aspirational only and are unenforceable. Nothing has been done here to try to change that weak situation.
Instead it is noted with “deep regret” that developed countries have failed to come up with the $100 Billion per annum promised at Paris, the increased pledges that have been made are welcomed, full delivery on the $100 Billion p.a. Goal is urged, and transparency in the implementation of pledges is insisted upon. Two observations spring to mind here. First, the fact that all that can be done is to urge full delivery on a goal of $100 Billion p.a., and no enforcement action can be taken for non-delivery, illustrates the essential weakness of the deal struck at Paris, despite all the rejoicing at the time. Secondly, the insistence on transparency suggests that somebody has woken up to the fact that all sorts of jiggery-pokery might have been taking place. I’m guessing, but my suspicion is with regard to things like double-counting, loans rather than donations, that sort of thing.
The joint annual reports of the Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network for 2020 and 2021 are welcomed, and the two bodies are invited to strengthen their collaboration.
Much of the rest is aspirational wording of the type seen under the section dealing with adaptation finance.
Loss and damage
This section contains nine paragraphs that achieve precisely nothing. Inevitably, we are told that “climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage and that, as temperatures rise, impacts from climate and weather extremes, as well as slow onset events, will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat”. Let’s assume this is correct; what is to be done about it?
Well, we acknowledge the role of a broad range of stakeholders, including indigenous peoples and local communities, in seeking to avert damage. That’s good. Anything else?
Er, reiterate the urgency of taking action, and urge developed countries and others to cough up some more cash. What else? Well, we can recognise “the importance of demand-driven technical assistance in building capacity”. Anything more? Why certainly. We can also welcome:
the further operationalization of the Santiago network for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including the agreement on its functions and process for further developing its institutional arrangements.
And we can note:
that discussions related to the governance of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts did not produce an outcome: this is without prejudice to further consideration of this matter.
Finally, we can acknowledge the importance of coherent action and resolve to strengthen partnerships. That should do it.
Oh good, an end to platitudes, and some action is in the offing. That depends on one’s idea of action. Recalling that:
the round tables among Parties and non-Party stakeholders on pre-2020 implementation and ambition held in 2018, 2019 and 2020 helped to highlight and enhance understanding of the efforts of and challenges faced by Parties in relation to action and support in the pre-2020 period, as well as of the work of the constituted bodies in that period
doesn’t do it for me, but maybe I’m picky. Also failing to do it in my mind, is strongly urging parties who haven’t done what they should have done under the Paris Convention to do so. But given the failure of Paris to include any binding obligations, that’s all that can be done, I suppose.
I can’t say that welcoming “the action taken to unlock the potential for sectoral action to contribute to fulfilling and implementing national targets, particularly in emission-intensive sectors” impresses me much either. Nor does recognising “the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring ecosystems to deliver crucial services, including acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts and supporting sustainable livelihoods, including for indigenous peoples and local communities”. There’s nothing new here, not even in encouraging parties to take an integrated approach to all this.
The final paragraph in this section smacks of motherhood and apple pie:
[T]he need to ensure just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, including through making financial flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development, including through deployment and transfer of technology, and provision of support to developing country Parties.
It sounds great, but I have no idea how it is to be achieved, given that so much of it is mutually contradictory. It seems that nobody at Glasgow had much idea, either. If they did, they’re not telling.
It’s good to collaborate, of course, and presumably that’s the point of these annual jamborees. Certainly, the section on collaboration takes us to the end of the Pact, and it runs to nineteen numbered paragraphs. I’m left with the feeling that this part of the Pact does little than tick the boxes of those people who might not feel their agenda has been touched on so far. For example, paragraph 55:
Recognizes the important role of non-Party stakeholders, including civil society, indigenous peoples, local communities, youth, children, local and regional governments and other stakeholders, in contributing to progress towards the objective of the Convention and the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Or you could try paragraph 62:
Urges Parties to swiftly begin implementing the Glasgow work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment, respecting, promoting and considering their respective obligations on human rights, as well as gender equality and empowerment of women.
Have we missed anybody out? Oh good heavens, young people, we mustn’t overlook them. Paragraph 63:
Expresses appreciation for the outcomes of the sixteenth Conference of Youth, organized by the constituency of children and youth non-governmental organizations and held in Glasgow in October 2021, and the “Youth4Climate2021: Driving Ambition” event hosted by Italy in Milan, Italy, in September 2021.
Just to reinforce the point, paragraph 64:
Urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes, including under the Convention and the Paris Agreement.
Greta and her cohorts must really have made an impression, because we have paragraph 65 too:
Invites future Presidencies of the Conference of the Parties, with the support of the secretariat, to facilitate the organization of an annual youth-led climate forum for dialogue between Parties and youth in collaboration with the UNFCCC children and youth constituency and other youth organizations with a view to contributing to the implementation of the Glasgow work programme on Action for Climate Empowerment.
Paragraph 55 obviously didn’t say enough regarding indigenous peoples, for we also have paragraph 66:
Emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action and to engage with the second three-year workplan for implementing the functions of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, for 2022–2024.
And not enough has been said about gender issues thus far, it seems. Hence paragraph 68:
Encourages Parties to increase the full, meaningful and equal participation of women in climate action and to ensure gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation, which are vital for raising ambition and achieving climate goals.
And paragraph 69:
Calls upon Parties to strengthen their implementation of the enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan.
I appreciate that I have allowed a degree of cynicism to colour this summary of the Glasgow Climate Pact. However, were I of the view that humankind urgently needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to save life as we know it, then I would be mightily unimpressed with this outcome of a fortnight of noise, emissions, wall-to-wall media coverage, hype, disruption, covid risk, and all the rest of it. The Glasgow Climate Pact is, frankly, a waste of time, whether you think something urgently needs to be done, or whether you think it’s all a waste of money. From either point of view, this document contains nothing of substance.
The Party’s Overix
The party's over, it's time to call it a day No matter how you pretend You knew it would end this way It's time to wind up the masquerade Just make your mind up The piper must be paid The party's over, the candles flicker and dim You've danced and dreamed through the night It seemed to be right just being with him Now you must wake up, all dreams must end Take off your makeup, the party's over It's all over, my friend La-da-da-da-da, la-da-da-da-da You danced and dreamed through the night It seemed to be right just being with him Now you must wake up, all dreams must end Take off your makeup, the party's over
Of course, the party’s never over. There will be COP 27 at Sharm El-Sheikh, due to take place between 7th and 18th November 2022. And COP 28 has already been arranged to take place in the United Arab Emirates in 2023 (given the next two venues, perhaps Glasgow was just a bit too dreich and cold). There will be lots of pre-meetings, lots of hype, lots more climate pilgrimages, and many many more greenhouse gas emissions associated with all this too. And, inevitably, each one will see immense media coverage, and celebrities telling us it’s the last chance saloon (again). It’s difficult to see how COP 27 or COP 28 can achieve less than COP 26, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
ix “The Party’s Over”, composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.