24 Nov, 2021

In depth analysis by Trevor Peel: What does COP26 mean for Liberals?

Trevor Peel, Chair of the National Liberal Club Commonwealth Forum, has provided our Pro readers an in depth analysis of events at COP26 in Glasgow and what each measure entails for governments, civil society and corporate organisations. Make sure to read this exclusive summary if you want an executive run-down of agreements made and actions taken in Glasgow.

26th Conference of the Parties (COP26): United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Glasgow, Scotland, UK, Sunday 31 October to Saturday 13 November 2021.

Members of the National Liberal Club Commonwealth Forum (NLC CF) and European Forum (NLC EF) were privileged to attend COP 26, as observer delegates, part of a Commonwealth delegation (Commonwealth Human Ecology Council –CHEC).

The president of the conference was UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma.

The Outcome of COP 26 was a new global agreement the “Glasgow Climate Pact. (FCCC/PA/CMA/2021/L.16), click here for the full text in English. [The 12 page outcome agreement is well worth reading]

All 195 UN member states were represented, as well as international organisations and NGO's, all 53 Commonwealth Countries and the 51 countries of the continent of Europe represented.

The NLC CF/NLC EF are preparing a report webinar/zoom.

The "Glasgow Climate Pact" aims to reduce the worst impacts of climate change but some leaders and campaigners say it does not go far enough.

The Two week COP26 achieved huge media coverage across the world.

I have used BBC sources in the text below.

What was in the COP26 agreement?

The agreement - although not legally binding - will set the global agenda on climate change for the next decade:

Emissions: It was agreed countries will meet next year to pledge further cuts to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) a greenhouse gas which causes climate change. This is to try to keep temperature rises within 1.5C - which scientists say is required to prevent a "climate catastrophe". Current pledges, if met, will only limit global warming to about 2.4C.

Coal: For the first time at a COP conference, there was an explicit plan to reduce use of coal - which is responsible for 40% of annual CO2 emissions. However, countries only agreed a weaker commitment to "phase down" rather than "phase out" coal after a late intervention by China and India.

Developing countries: The agreement pledged to significantly increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and make the switch to clean energy. There's also the prospect of a trillion dollar a year fund from 2025 - after a previous pledge for richer countries to provide $100bn (£72bn) a year by 2020 was missed. While some observers say the COP26 agreement represented the "start of a breakthrough", some African and Latin American countries felt not enough progress was made.

Fossil fuel subsidies: World leaders agreed to phase-out subsidies that artificially lower the price of coal, oil, or natural gas. However, no firm dates have been set.

What else was agreed in Glasgow?:A flurry of other announcements were made:

  1. US-China agreement: The world's biggest CO2 emitters, the US and China, pledged to cooperate more over the next decade (BBC hyperlinks just click) in areas including methane emissions and the switch to clean energy. China has previously been reluctant to tackle domestic coal emissions - so this was seen as recognising the need for urgent action.
  2. Trees: Leaders from more than 100 countries - with about 85% of the world's forests -promised to stop deforestation (BBC hyperlinks just click)by 2030.This is seen as vital, as trees absorb vast amounts of CO2. Similar initiatives haven't stopped deforestation, (BBC hyperlinks, just click) but this one's better funded. However, it's unclear how the pledge will be policed.
  3. Methane: A scheme to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030 (BBC hyperlinks just click) was agreed by more than 100 countries. Methane is currently responsible for a third of human-generated warming. The big emitters China, Russia and India haven't joined - but it's hoped they will later.
  4. Money: Financial organisations controlling $130tn agreed to back "clean" technology,(BBC hyperlinks just click) such as renewable energy, and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries. The initiative is an attempt to involve private companies in meeting net zero targets. However, some environmental organisations have said without a greater commitment to without a greater commitment to ending support for fossil-fuels, this could be little more than a PR exercise.
  5. How will countries be made to meet their pledges?: Most commitments made at COP will have to be self-policed. Only a few countries are making their pledges legally binding.

The NLC CF/EF will be holding an event on The Outcomes of COP 26 in the New Year.

Climate Change and Health

One of my particular interests was “Climate Change and Health”, which was one of themes within COP 26.

The World Health Organisation published, ahead of the conference, a COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health with 10 recommendations, proposing a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policy makers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises. It is worth reading.

The recommendations were developed in consultation with over 150 organisations and 400 experts and health professionals, intended to inform governments and other stakeholders ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to highlight various opportunities for governments to prioritise health and equity in the international climate movement and sustainable development agenda.

Each recommendation comes with a selection of resources and case studies to help inspire and guide policymakers and practitioners in implementing the suggested solutions.

The next few years present a crucial window for governments to integrate health and climate policies in their COVID-19 recovery packages (recommendation 1) and international climate commitments (recommendation 2).

Immediate pandemic responses will largely set the pace and direction of health and climate goals, ambitious national climate commitments will be crucial to sustain a healthy recovery in the mid- to long-term.

To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, health and equity need to be placed at the centre of the United Nations climate negotiations going forward.

The health benefits from climate actions (recommendation 3) are well documented and offer strong arguments for transformative change – and this is true across many priority areas for action: adaptation and resilience (recommendation 4), the energy transition (recommendation 5), clean transport and active mobility (recommendation 6), nature (recommendation 7), food systems (recommendation 8) and finance (recommendation 9). The health sector and health community are a trusted and influential - but often overlooked - climate actor that can enable transformational change to protect people and planet (recommendation 10).

The WHO Pavilion at COP 26 was the venue for a wide range of events on Climate Change and Health.

By Trevor Peel

Chair, National Liberal Club Commonwealth Forum and European Forum, National Liberal Club,

Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HE, UK

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