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Net instead of real: the results of COP26

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ended on Saturday, November 13. Negotiations were held in Glasgow, Scotland, and lasted longer than expected. Things got particularly heated towards the end of the second week as the parties to the Paris Agreement could not agree on terminology on the main issues under discussion at these talks: the withdrawal of coal power capacity and the Sustainable Development Mechanisms (Article 6 of the Paris Agreement). The schedule of November 12 did not end the negotiations as originally planned. But thanks to a compromise that not everyone was happy with, the convention parties came to an agreement on the main points.

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The conference was held in person in the difficult circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The RCCI secretariat took questions about security and the conditions of delegates' participation on the eve of the conference. As a result, these talks were the most attended since the Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015. COP President Alok Sharma even called it “the most inclusive Conference of the Parties in history,” a point with which civil society observers disagreed. Due to logistical, epidemiological, and other challenges, the representation of indigenous peoples and vulnerable developing countries was weak. But the fossil fuel industry lobby outnumbered any delegation of parties to the Paris Agreement. Also, due to conference security rules, the direct presence of observers in the negotiating rooms was severely restricted. It can be assumed that these conditions also had some impact on the negotiation process.

At the end of the second week, the most contentious point of contention among the delegates was the phrase about the withdrawal of coal-fired power capacity, a phrase whose inclusion in the Climate Pact the president of the CC set as the main goal of these negotiations. As a result, at the last minute, the negotiators accepted an amendment initiated by India - the statement became extremely blurred in meaning. Instead of the phrase "immediate phase-out," the final document contained the phrase "phase-out" and the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Although the reference to fossil fuels appears in official documents for the first time since the Kyoto Protocol, it is clear that this change in wording was necessary for countries in which the generation of coal and energy from other fossil energy sources occupies a significant part of the energy sector. Softening the wording calls into question the very process of abandoning coal and its speed.

In the Statement of Russian non-governmental organizations, guided by international requests from civil society and scientific data, we demanded that the parties to the FCCC COP26 adopt a coal phase-out target by 2030. Such a goal was not set in this round of negotiations, which threatens the achievement of the goals of the Paris Agreement - there is a high probability that without ambitious goals and global decarbonization of energy, it will not be possible to keep the global temperature rising within 1.5-2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

The Climate Pact adopted at the conference also invites the member countries of the Paris Agreement to revise and strengthen their 2030 goals for reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, a number of countries, including Russia, declare that it is not necessary to revise the goals, arguing that it is first necessary to achieve the already established NDCs (nationally determined contribution levels).

It is important to note that the updated goals of Russia within the framework of the Paris Agreement, which the country provided in November 2020 set a goal of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of the 1990 level. The main hitch of such a goal is that after the collapse of the USSR, GHG emissions including LULUCF in the country more than halved by 1995, and by 2017 they were 50% of 1990 levels, including forests. Experts consider Russia’s mitigation goals extremely insufficient.

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In general, the conference was held under the slogan of achieving carbon neutrality (net-zero) by 2050. Although all major countries have said they will reach this goal by mid-century or later, it has its pitfalls.

Carbon neutrality implies that there will be a balance in the amount of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and their absorption by ecosystems or through technology. Here we may encounter several problems. For example, it is not yet clear how this balance will be monitored and accounted for. Also, we need a structure that will verify this data to avoid mistakes in calculations. For example, when a country overestimates the absorption capacity of its forests. Civil society representatives emphasize that carbon neutrality gives a green light to fossil fuel lobbyists, who conclude that it is okay to continue mining and burning coal, oil, and gas while engaging in sequestration projects.


The commitment of countries to carbon neutrality leads to a 2.5-3 degree Celsius rise in global average temperature by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and ecosystems.


The problem is that forests, on which a number of countries so hope, in the focus of forest projects are a limited resource, and also quite short-lived since modern climate change is already affecting the increase in the number and area of forest fires. The second problem is that forests mainly act as carbon storage - the absorptive capacity of the oceans is much higher, but we should not rely on them either. Carbon-intensive industries require so many forests to achieve neutrality that the planet simply does not have such an amount and cannot have. The third problem is the carbon sequestration projects with carbon capture and storage technology, which energy companies plan to “green”, among others, coal. Even with a balance of sequestration and emissions, this technology does not preclude other damaging effects of fossil fuel extraction and production on ecosystems and human health.

The conference also included the signing of a declaration on forests and land use and a declaration on methane. More than 100 countries signed another forest declaration pledging to stop deforestation by 2030. The signatory countries of the methane declaration have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. In 2019, methane emissions reached 390 million tons (9.8 gigatons of CO2-eq.), and the rate of emissions growth is estimated at 1.3% per year. Russia did not support this declaration, despite the president's speech at the Forum of World Leaders, where he stated the importance of addressing the problem.

The establishment of a fund that would provide developing countries with financial support for the implementation of adaptation measures was also discussed. This decision was made in addition to the Green Climate Fund, which aims to raise $100 billion annually from developed donor countries to support recipient developing countries. Developing countries, especially island nations, are already suffering the most from the catastrophic effects of climate change. Helping to deal with the consequences is the responsibility of developed countries under climate responsibility since throughout history developed countries have emitted most of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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In Glasgow, countries finally adopted mechanisms for international cooperation under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which were negotiated in Katowice and Madrid. These mechanisms include three components: transfer of emission reduction units (carbon units) between countries; transfer between projects and the so-called non-market mechanisms, i.e. a wide range of projects that do not involve trading carbon units. Experts note that we should not expect the development of extensive cross-country trade yet, now more relevant the second component - the inter-project transfer of units. The emergence of such projects can be expected in the coming years. Civil society is largely opposed to carbon markets, considering the mechanisms of trade insufficiently transparent and demanding real action to reduce emissions instead of market mechanisms.

This round of negotiations can be called particularly difficult not only because of organizational difficulties. Here were discussed mainly financial or finance-related issues: the use of carbon credits since the Kyoto Protocol in the Sustainable Development Mechanism of the Paris Agreement, mechanisms of international cooperation, additional funding for vulnerable countries through funds, abandonment of coal generation and fossil fuel subsidies, and others. The overwhelming presence of representatives of developed countries, fossil fuel companies, and the lack of meaningful opportunities for observers - especially indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups - to observe the negotiation process have resulted in a weak outcome that does not guarantee that the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Experts from the International Energy Agency believe, that with all the promises made by countries under the Paris Agreement and declarations by 2030 and 2050, humanity will still not be able to limit global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels by 2100. If all countries successfully fulfill their pledges, the global temperature increase will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius and reach 1.8 degrees Celsius. With all these commitments and promises, by 2030 mankind will have produced twice as many greenhouse gases as are needed to limit the temperature rise to one and a half degrees by the end of the century.

Russian non-governmental organizations appeal to all parties to the Paris Agreement to renew their commitments to reduce emissions from all sources of anthropogenic greenhouse gases by 2030. These commitments must fulfill the goals of the agreement, i.e. lead to limiting global temperature within 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. We also call on all countries to phase out coal by 2030 and develop plans to phase out natural gas and oil capacity. We demand that fossil fuel subsidies be redirected to support renewable energy and energy efficiency and that nuclear power plants, large hydropower plants, and solid waste incineration be excluded from climate projects.

Representatives of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union attended the COP26 negotiations as observers to learn more about the position of the Russian delegation, disseminate information about the negotiations to a Russian-speaking audience, and deliver the Russian NGO Statement to COP26 to the delegation.

 

Written by Victoriia Rudenko, RSEU Climate Secretariat, Friends of the Baltic
 

 

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