What The COP Of Implementation Failed To Achieve
Other than a fund for climate-induced losses in vulnerable countries, the climate conference failed to get commitments for a scale-up of climate financing, to expand the coal phase down to other fossil fuels and stronger action to control the rise in global temperatures
Mumbai: Despite being dubbed the 'COP of implementation', and pressure from developing countries to include issues that matter to them in the final implementation plan, the 27th Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP27) failed to scale up ambition on climate finance, did not mention a phase down of all fossil fuels (versus only coal) as suggested by India, and did not lay out concrete steps to meet the target of keeping the rise in average global temperature under 1.5 degrees celsius by 2100, experts say.
The main win for developing countries came in the form of an announcement of a financing facility for climate-change-induced loss and damage in vulnerable countries. Read our story on the fund here.
Here are the three things that did not make it to the final Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan but are important for India:
Phase down of only coal, not all fossil fuels
India's environment minister had said on November 15 that no fuel source should be singled out for emissions reduction. "In climate action, no sector, no fuel source and no gas should be singled out for action. In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, countries will do what is suitable as per their national circumstances," Bhupender Yadav had said at a BASIC [Brazil, South Africa, India and China] ministerial meeting, held on the sidelines of COP27 last week.
When the COP26 agreement at Glasgow included a coal 'phase out', India had opposed the wording, citing concerns for its energy security. It had insisted that the Glasgow pact call for a gradual 'phase down' of coal and not 'phase out'. Small island states, such as the Maldives and Mauritius, and countries including Switzerland and Mexico disagreed with this change, calling it a "bad economic choice."
As the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, phasing out coal is crucial for limiting global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Coal is also India's main fossil fuel source. At the same time, gas is used extensively for heating by European countries and others that have extreme winters.
"We cannot have a situation where the energy security of developing countries is ignored in the name of urgent mitigation, while developed nations put their energy security above their duty to increase their ambition to mitigation through practical action," Yadav had said in a tweet after he released India's long term strategy for net-zero emissions (becoming carbon neutral and therefore preventing further global heating), also known as LT-LEDS.
The LT-LEDS says that India's per capita consumption of coal was half the world average in 2019 and its natural gas consumption was 30-50 times lower than many developed countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to the LT-LEDS, global oil and gas emissions are 25% higher than coal emissions; the International Energy Agency (IEA) data from 2020 says that the global share of emissions by coal were 45%, while oil and gas combined were 54%.
At this year's conference India had asked for the phase down to include all emissions-creating fossil fuels. But the final plan reiterated the Glasgow Pact's coal phase down and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, without mentioning other fossil fuels, such as oil and gas.
"Perhaps this [no mention of all fossil fuels] was no surprise: the presence of the oil, gas and big agriculture industries hung heavy over these talks, with 600+ lobbyists at the summit and a stream of gas deals struck on the sidelines," noted an analysis by the GSCC Network of communications professionals in climate, energy and nature.
The BASIC countries had also accused developed countries of double standards. "There has also been a significant increase in the consumption and production of fossil fuels in the past year by developed countries, even as they continue to press developing countries to move away from the same resources. Such double standards are incompatible with climate equity and justice," BASIC countries said in a statement last week.
Ritu Mathur, a consultant at the NITI Aayog and at Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation said that India's call to phase down all fossil fuels was a step in the right direction, but that progress is likely to be slow. "In such cases, there are regional perspectives which are difficult to negotiate, especially when countries' economies are completely dependent on fossil fuels such as oil and gas," said Mathur. "These are not easy issues to tackle but at least the discussions have started to move away from only coal to all fossil fuels."
Climate finance a no-show
In 2009, developed countries had pledged to deliver to developing countries an annual climate fund of $100 billion per year by 2020 for funding climate adaptation and mitigation measures. Between 2013 and 2019, only 65% of the finance was delivered, on average, by developed nations to developing nations. The target was then deferred by three years to 2023.
According to the Adaptation Gap 2022 report released by the United Nations Environment Programme on November 3, the combined adaptation and mitigation finance in 2020 fell short by at least $17 billion of the $100 billion.
In the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26, developed countries were asked to double adaptation finance to developing countries by 2025. Prime Minister Modi demanded $1 trillion in finance from developed countries. The African group of countries also called for a $1.3 trillion a year in climate finance to be made available from 2025.
The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, or the final text that resulted from the negotiations at the conference recognised that a global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investment of at least $4-6 trillion per year. As much as $4 trillion per year needs to be invested in renewable energy up until 2030 to be able to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
But neither did the final plan outline new targets of finance, nor did it mention doubling of the adaptation fund, as promised in 2021. Countries announced adaptation finance pledges of over $230 million, including $9.9 million from France and $50 million from the US. At COP26 countries had made new financial pledges to the adaptation fund, totaling over $350 million, and to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), totaling over $600 million.
The only progress was on a financial facility of climate-change-induced loss and damage in vulnerable countries.
Dipak Dasgupta, distinguished fellow at Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) said, "Finance was uppermost on everyone's minds and critical need of the hour but nothing substantively new emerged. No other concrete measures were carved out for a safer world. Still, we moved, an inch at a time [referring to the loss and damage finance facility], when the need was for jumps of several dozen feet."
For India, climate finance will be imperative to achieve its goals of producing about 50% of its electricity from non-fossil sources by 2030, reduce carbon emissions by one billion tonnes until 2030, as well as to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
The justification for climate finance from developed countries is clear. While India is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, historically, between 1850-2019, India has contributed just 4% of global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. The US, on the other hand, is responsible for 25% of historical CO2 emissions since 1750.
Is the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C alive?
In the Paris Agreement of 2015, 193 countries had committed to keep the global temperature increase under 1.5-2 degree celsius by 2100. Going beyond the 1.5-2 degree celsius threshold would expose millions of people to climate-related risks, such as heat waves and floods, IndiaSpend reported in October 2022.
Several reports indicate the gap between countries' climate pledges and the scale of emissions cuts required to keep the world on track for the Paris Agreement's goals. Yet the COP27 talks did little to address the causes of global warming and keep to this Paris Agreement commitment, experts say.
Source: UNEP, 2022
"1.5C was referenced in the deal, but only recognised as a goal. Pathways and plans to actually achieve it were absent…what matters is real, rapid emissions cuts. We need leaders to break from the fossil-fuel industry once and for all," noted an analysis by the GSCC network, pointing to the fact that countries did not commit to a phase down of all fossil fuels.
The Implementation Plan emphasised the urgent need for immediate, deep, rapid and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions by countries, but instead included an increase in 'low-emission solutions' along with renewable energy.
"New language, including 'low emissions' energy alongside renewables as the energy sources of the future, is a significant loophole, as the undefined term could be used to justify new fossil fuel development, against the clear guidance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency," noted the analysis by GSCC Network.
Elaborating further, Avantika Goswami, a programme manager for climate change at the New Delhi-based research organisation, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said that low emissions energy solutions were likely a late addition to the text, "possibly pushed by countries like Saudi Arabia to accommodate a large amount of energy sources beyond just renewables." She said it could refer to natural gas or nuclear energy or simply to oil and gas with carbon capture and storage technology.
"It is certainly a big deal in the context of how much hype and focus there was in keeping the goal of 1.5 degrees celsius alive. On one hand you have that effort and on the other hand you allow terms like low emission energy sources to be slipped into the cover text, it certainly gives a mixed message."
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