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LONDON: Simon Retallack, director for Latin America at the Carbon Trust, says despite not agreeing to reduce global warming to less than a catastrophic +2.4 Celsius, delegates at the COP26 summit at least decided the following:
• Most of the world is now covered by Net Zero commitments:

Over the last few months, Europe has been joined by the US and China, among many others, in committing to Net Zero. At the COP in Glasgow, to many observers’ surprise, the Net Zero club was joined by another major emitter – India (which simultaneously committed to generate 50 percent of all its electricity needs from renewables by 2030).

This is a big deal that few would have believed was possible until recently. The global coverage of Net Zero commitments is transformational – no longer are countries haggling over percentage point reductions in emissions – the destination is very clearly zero. Whether you’re working in government, in business or in finance worldwide – you know where we are all heading and it’s a very different world. It also makes a big difference to our ability to get closer to the Paris temperature goal: if countries meet their Net Zero promises (admittedly a big if), global warming would be reduced to around 1.8°C by 2100.

• A signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending:

The Glasgow Climate Pact commits governments to ‘accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’.

A lot of coverage has been given to the substitution of the term ‘phase-out’ by ‘phasedown’ at the insistence of India and China in the final hour of the negotiations. However, this should not distract from the significance of what happened in Glasgow. It marks the first time in nearly three decades of climate diplomacy that governments have committed to reducing coal use in the official agreement. It was also accompanied by other initiatives launched in Glasgow which signal the end of the coal era, such as the pledge by 23 countries – including Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland and South Korea (all heavy coal users) – to phase-out coal, and the commitment of 39 countries and multinational agencies to end new direct financial support for unabated fossil fuels by the end of 2022. Now more attention needs to turn to oil and gas – building on the momentum created by the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance launched in Glasgow to facilitate the managed phase-out of these fossil fuels.

• Powerful commitments were made to redirect finance:

Developed country governments have been criticized for missing their 2020 deadline for providing US$100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries (it will now happen from 2023).

But while this was a missed opportunity to build goodwill among developing countries, public funding was never going to be enough to decarbonise our economies – unlocking private investment was always more important and here we saw real progress in Glasgow. Banks and asset managers representing 40 percent of the world’s financial assets – more than 450 firms representing US$130 trillion of assets – signed up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero and have committed to reach Net Zero carbon by 2050, with 2030 goals.

While signatories still need to set out action plans and not all the capital under management by alliance members is allocatable, it still represents a huge pool of money that can be invested in decarbonisation. We also saw important announcements on mandatory disclosure and rules for new carbon markets, which could be another important source of finance for clean energy, as long as those businesses that participate in it ensure that they are credibly contributing to global emissions reductions.

• Crucial steps were taken to drive down emissions beyond the energy sector and carbon:

We can’t prevent dangerous climate change without protecting the world’s natural carbon sinks, notably the world’s carbon-absorbing forests, nor can we do so unless other greenhouse gases such as methane (25 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than CO2) are reduced too.

In Glasgow, 130 countries signed the Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use, committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. To many people’s surprise, the signatories included deforestation hotspots like Brazil and the Congo, and came with nearly US$20 billion to support work to protect, restore and sustainably manage forests from 12 countries between 2021-2025.

On methane, 109 countries representing nearly half the global methane emissions and 70 percent of global GDP signed a pledge to cut their methane emissions by 30 percent over 2020-30, using the best available inventory methodologies to quantify emissions. Although signatories still need to spell out their individual targets and policies to achieve this goal, it could represent a game-changer for a long-ignored greenhouse gas.

We need to keep [this] momentum going now to fix the problems that were left unresolved in Glasgow. In particular, pressure needs to be increased on governments that did not toughen their NDCs, using the ratchet agreed in the Glasgow Climate Pact (another surprising outcome of COP26), requiring governments to strengthen their 2030 targets to align with the Paris temperature goal by the end of 2022.

To do that, governments need to be bolder in linking progress on issues like trade and security to action on climate, campaign groups need to keep up the pressure on developing and developed countries that need to do more, and the media needs to keep the spotlight on climate change turned on.

Developed countries also need to do better on climate finance by the time they meet at COP27 in Egypt. They need to honour their commitments on US$100 billion and double the finance provided for adaptation, as requested in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

They must also take seriously the dialogue created at this COP to develop and operationalize a new ‘Loss and Damage’ mechanism to compensate developing countries for climate impacts, as well as take meaningful steps to help ensure a just and inclusive transition for those communities most affected by the transition away from fossil fuels. This is vital to build trust and facilitate further ambition from key emerging economies.

Lastly, we will all need to be more vigilant in exposing greenwashing and, above all, keep up the pressure on governments and corporates to turn their pledges and promises into action. The mantra needs to be ‘implement, implement, implement'. If we can do that, Glasgow will be remembered as a turning point in humanity’s journey to address climate change and not just a beautiful city on the Clyde.

Prior to joining the Carbon Trust advisory and standards-setting service in 2010, Retallack oversaw the Institute for Public Policy Research’s climate change team and led the Secretariat for the International Climate Change Taskforce, which provided evidence-based advice on addressing climate change at the international level for the UK’s G8 Presidency.
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