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Anton Vilchinskii

Post-Graduate Researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia

The 26 th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021 with delegations from almost 200 countries participating. The strategic goal of the Summit was to sum up the results achieved during six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Combating deforestation, phasing down of coal and increasing financial support for developing countries are among the successes of COP-26 however it revealed certain disagreements.

A breakthrough was unlikely even before the Summit began. The G-20 meeting that had taken place the day before cast serious doubt on a multilateral climate agreement between the world ’s largest economies. The meeting in Rome resulted in the 20 states failing to reach an agreement on reducing the deadline for achieving zero emissions and abandoning coal-fired power. Although the G-20 states upheld the goal of limiting the temperature rise, some countries avoided making firm commitments on how to keep its growth beyond the threshold of to 1.5°C.

The stumbling block during the negotiations on the COP-26 final statement was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It envisages specific mechanisms for international the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the states had to prolong the summit till November 13. Additionally, this very article prevented consensus on the text of COP-25 held in December 2019 in Madrid, which resulted in a failure. COPs are far from punctuality. Out of 26 summits, only seven ended on time (on Friday) 14 ended on Saturday and five were held till Sunday.

The final agreement, published late in the evening on November 13, disappointed many parties. The wording of certain points was softened. For instance, instead of “phasing out” coal and other fossil fuels, the participants made an eleventh-hour decision to use “phasing down”. India, the third largest emitter, insisted on this change. Meanwhile, Special Representative of the President of Russia on climate Ruslan Edelgeriev stated that Russia welcomed the result. Nevertheless, the COP-26 final document has certain breakthroughs.

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021 with delegations from almost 200 countries participating. The strategic goal of the Summit was to sum up the results achieved during six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Combating deforestation, phasing down of coal and increasing financial support for developing countries are among the successes of COP-26 however it revealed certain disagreements.

Conference of strategic importance

At the opening ceremony of COP-26, Chairman Alok Sharma stated that the decisions made in Glasgow should be more vigorous than those of Paris. In Scotland’s largest city, the parties to the UNFCCC, after several unsuccessful attempts made in previous years, were again trying to hammer out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. In addition, the participants were discussing plans for adaptation to the consequences of climate change that can no longer be prevented. The agenda was really demanding.

Ambitious agenda but unfavorable background

There were four issues on the COP-26 agenda. Countries should: 1) submit programs on carbon emissions reduction to net zero by the middle of this century; 2) propose programs to restore affected ecosystems; 3) mobilize finance to achieve all the climate goals; 4) agree on a procedure for reporting on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

However, a breakthrough was unlikely even before the Summit began. The G-20 meeting that had taken place the day before cast serious doubt on a multilateral climate agreement between the world ’s largest economies. The meeting in Rome resulted in the 20 states failing to reach an agreement on reducing the deadline for achieving zero emissions and abandoning coal-fired power. Although the G-20 states upheld the goal of limiting the temperature rise, some countries avoided making firm commitments on how to keep its growth beyond the threshold of to 1.5°C.

Forest conservation: a step forward

Over 100 world leaders agreed on a declaration on stopping deforestation. The key point of the document was the joint work on stopping and reversing “the loss of forests and land degradation by 2030”. The states plan to increase investments in agriculture, in the conservation and restoration of forests, as well as in support of indigenous communities who are struggling due to deforestation.

This is one of the most significant achievements of COP-26 as among the signatories to the agreement was Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whom environmentalists recently accused in the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity over the deforestation of the Amazon region.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video address to the forum on the protection of forests expressed confidence that the Glasgow Declaration “will undoubtedly serve the goals of the Paris Agreement on reducing carbon dioxide emissions”. He added that Russia, in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, relies, among other tools, on the unique resource of its trees, since about 20% of all forests of the world are located in Russia.

Abandoning coal: modest progress

Another meaningful issue on the COP-26 agenda was the abandonment of coal, and certain results were achieved as well. Firstly, major international banks pledged to stop financing coal-fired power plants by the end of 2021. Secondly, 40 countries made a commitment to gradually abandon coal-fired energy – developed countries by 2030, developing by 2040.

At the same time, the Financial Times characterizes the wording of the declaration as vague as it does not set the exact deadline. The document states that the countries should abandon coal by a certain date or as soon as possible after its expiration. In addition, the main users of coal energy – China, India, the US, Australia, Russia have not signed the declaration.

Alexey Kokorin, head of the WWF Russia Climate and Energy Program called the declaration a “conditional agreement”. The countries-signatories allocate certain financial resources to developing states so that they can abandon coal. If Russia had signed the agreement, it would have become a voluntary donor, not a recipient of climate finance.

At the same time, Jamie Peters from the environmental organization Friends of the Earth maintained that the key meaning of this “unimpressive agreement” was that everyone was allowed to continue using coal for many years to come.

Reducing emissions: methane on the agenda for the first time

Back in April 2021 during the virtual Climate Summit Russian President Vladimir Putin designated the reduction of methane as one of the main directions in combating global warming. During COP-26 the leaders held an event dedicated to the methane emissions reductions for the first time in many years. The US and the EU put forward a joint initiative on reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030 which was supported by 105 countries.

China, Russia and India, three out of top five states in methane emissions, did not join the agreement. However, the initiative was supported by Brazil, the country which Climate Watch Data includes in the list of leading methane emitters.

The rationale for Russia not to join the initiative of the Western powers may be economy. In the countries that willingly sign up to the agreement, the share of the oil-and-gas sector is significantly lower than in Russia. According to Igor Makarov, head of the HSE Climate Change Economics Research and Training Laboratory, in Russia methane emissions are linked to both natural gas production and transportation. So, it is challenging for the country to take on such commitments right now.

According to Alexey Kokorin, there is no point in joining this initiative either ideologically (there is no China and India in it) or technically (it is necessary to deal with mine methane, leaks in gas and oil fields, which is more expensive than energy efficiency, energy conservation and forest fire control).

Russia’s position was also shared by some countries from the Anglo-Saxon world. For instance, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out against a concrete deadline for phasing out coal and pointed out that accelerating the reduction of methane emissions by 2030 will result in high costs for farmers engaged in dairy farming and animal husbandry.

Carbon neutrality: commitments without breakthroughs

Among the main topics at COP-26 was carbon neutrality. Even though many leaders spoke of it the goals set vary both in deadlines and in feasibility. Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced that the PRC would strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Prime Minister of India promised to reduce emissions to zero by 2070, setting a zero target for the country for the first time. Environmentalists called the Indian president’s goals “ambitious”, but the Nature magazine noted that it was probably only about CO2, with other greenhouse gases being out of the plan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing the summit virtually, maintained that carbon neutrality in Russia should be achieved by 2060. The international representative of Greenpeace characterized the goal as not ambitious enough.

Meaning of the final Glasgow Agreement

The stumbling block during the negotiations on the COP-26 final statement was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It envisages specific mechanisms for international the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the states had to prolong the summit till November 13. Additionally, this very article prevented consensus on the text of COP-25 held in December 2019 in Madrid, which resulted in a failure. COPs are far from punctuality. Out of 26 summits, only seven ended on time (on Friday) 14 ended on Saturday and five were held till Sunday.

The final agreement, published late in the evening on November 13, disappointed many parties. The wording of certain points was softened. For instance, instead of “phasing out” coal and other fossil fuels, the participants made an eleventh-hour decision to use “phasing down”. India, the third largest emitter, insisted on this change. Meanwhile, Special Representative of the President of Russia on climate Ruslan Edelgeriev stated that Russia welcomed the result. Nevertheless, the COP-26 final document has certain breakthroughs:

  1. It calls on the countries to strengthen national commitments and by 2022 renew Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve zero emissions and curb global warming within 1,5°C.
  2. The first measure will be combined with an annual political roundtable to consider global progress report and a top-level summit in 2023.
  3. The document contains a pledge to increase financial assistance to poor and developing countries to combat climate change.

The participants of COP-26 touched upon the issue of the global green transition based on four principles: energy efficiency, decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization. Many important statements have been made during COP-26. The countries have promised to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, significantly reduce the extraction and use of fossil fuels, completely stop the processes of deforestation, allocate considerable funds for the green transition. However, COP-26 also has its disappointments: ambitions of many countries remained weak, mistrust between developed and developing countries increased, and the real reduction of emissions was partially replaced by compensations.

Although the declaration was signed by almost 200 delegations, every point of it sparks disagreement. The Glasgow Agreement will not replace the Paris Agreement. It acts as a rulebook on the implementation of the 2015 Paris commitments. It defines more concrete actions in financing measures to combat climate change, mitigating its consequences and adapting to the ongoing climate changes.

What awaits us in the future?

Climate Action Tracker has published a report that shows that the risks of rising temperatures in the world are even higher. Even with the current goals of emissions reduction, by 2100 the temperature in the world could rise by 2.4 degrees. It means that the strategies announced at COP-26 would not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Today, the world can only effect the green transition by a gradual replacement of technologies. It is obvious that electricity has been and will remain the main energy source for humanity. But the question is: how to accumulate it more efficiently and more environmentally friendly in the new realities? Hydrogen is recognized as a viable option. At the same time, the issues of green transition and carbon emissions reduction are over politicized and often do not take into account regional peculiarities of the countries. For now, the easiest step to make is to continue focusing on energy conservation and energy efficiency.

Afterwards, it is necessary to reconsider the attitude to the types of energy generation and modernize them according to the environmental agenda. It is important to use technologies that meet economic needs and cause minimal harm to the environment. It means that Russia should rely on three main areas during the energy transition: nuclear power, hydrogen, and natural gas generation.

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