Carbon Copy: Climate negotiations get into high gear as ministers arrive

GLASGOW – The high-level segment of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow kicked off on Tuesday (Nov 9), sending the talks into high gear as negotiators handed over thorny issues to ministers, who are expected to smooth over differences so a global consensus can be reached.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office confirmed he will travel from London to the climate talks in Glasgow on Wednesday.

“The PM is going up to meet negotiators and get an update on the progress of talks to encourage ambitious action in the final days of the negotiations,” his spokesman Jamie Davies told reporters on Tuesday.

The aim of COP26 is to agree on a set of rules that will help nations put the Paris Agreement into action.

Almost 200 nations in 2015 adopted the agreement, which sets out global aims such as limiting global warming to well below 2 deg C – preferably 1.5 deg C – above pre-industrial levels. However, the agreement did not stipulate how these targets were to be achieved.

After three years of negotiations, nations agreed in 2018 to adopt the Paris Rulebook – a guide on how the agreement can be implemented – at COP24 in Poland.

The rulebook is missing a few key pieces to make it complete, and hope is that it can be finalised at COP26.

Crunch issues include climate finance, carbon market rules and the degree of transparency to which nations should report to the United Nations on their progress in achieving climate targets.

Singapore is playing a major role in facilitating negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which encodes the rules on carbon markets.

The discussions will determine if countries can trade carbon credits to meet their national climate plans, and also establish rules on who gets the emissions savings if one nation pays to set up a green initiative – say a wind farm instead of a coal plant – in another country.

Major points of contention that remain include how to prevent double counting of carbon credits, and the use of legacy credits from an earlier UN scheme called the Clean Development Mechanism.

But if designed well, carbon markets could unlock billions of dollars of emission reduction projects in poorer nations and represent a potentially significant flow of money to them.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu is facilitating the ministerial consultations on Article 6 alongside Norwegian Climate and Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide.

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COP26 president Alok Sharma told the media on Tuesday that the first draft of the cover text – a document that puts the different pieces of the puzzle into one final agreement – was released overnight, in the hopes that an outcome will be reached by 6pm on Friday.

He said: “It will likely require negotiating teams to consult their leaders and capitals. We have an urgency to our negotiations. So I asked ministers and negotiators to carry out those consultations expeditiously.”

1. Singapore calls on developed nations to make good on climate finance promise

On Tuesday, Ms Fu delivered Singapore’s national statement to COP26, urging developed countries to fulfil their commitment to mobilise US$100 billion (S$135 billion) per year in climate finance to support the climate actions of developing countries.

Rich countries have missed a 2009 commitment to jointly transfer US$100 billion each year by 2020 to help poorer nations. In 2018, wealthy countries contributed about US$80 billion.

The mobilisation of climate finance for developing nations is a major point of contention at COP26.

Ms Fu also highlighted the importance of international collaboration for greater climate action worldwide.

Each country must pursue clear and effective climate actions that represent its highest possible ambition, in the light of its size, resource endowment, capabilities and constraints, she said.

“Our national circumstances may be different, but the problem is a shared one,” said Ms Fu. “Global solidarity will help us overcome our respective challenges and achieve an outcome that is far greater than the sum of our parts.”

2. “America is back”

Ms Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, addressed a packed media briefing room on Tuesday with one key message: America is back to tackle climate change with the rest of the world.

She brought with her five House committee chairs and a delegation of other Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (in orange) with US congress members including US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (fourth from left) during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Nov 9, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The strong showing was intended to reinforce the US message that it wants to be a leader once more on global climate change efforts, after former president Donald Trump withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement.

President Joe Biden put America back in the pact when he took office.

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Representative Kathy Castor, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, told the briefing: “America is back. America is back and we are ready to lead on solving the climate crisis.

“And thanks to Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats, the United States Congress is poised to pass the largest investment in clean energy and climate solutions in the history of America.”

The US Congress last week passed the US$1 trillion infrastructure Bill, which will provide US$550 billion in new funds over 10 years to shore up roads, bridges and highways, improve Internet access and modernise the nation’s power grid.

The measure also includes the US’ largest investment to prepare for climate change: US$50 billion to help communities grapple with the devastating fires, floods, storms and droughts that scientists say have been worsened by global warming.

Mr Biden is also pressing lawmakers to approve a separate, climate and safety-net package known as his Build Back Better plan. It is estimated to cost about US$1.75 trillion and has been the subject of fierce debate on Capitol Hill.

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3. 50 countries pledge to reduce carbon footprint from their health systems

A group of 50 countries – including Britain, the US, Indonesia and Bangladesh – on Tuesday committed to developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at COP26, in response to growing evidence of the impact of climate change on people’s health.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said: “The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet.”

Health systems must also be part of the solution by reducing carbon emissions, he said, adding: “We applaud those countries that have committed to building climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, and we hope to see many others following their lead in the near future.”

4. The key issues blocking consensus on transparency

Another key point of contention at COP26 is the framework for enhanced transparency in reporting climate-related progress.

Nations agreed at COP24 in 2018 to adopt the enhanced framework by 2024. This requires all countries to report, among other things:

– Their greenhouse gas emissions

– Their progress in achieving their climate pledges

– How they will be impacted by climate change and how they plan to adapt to these impacts

– The support they have received from others, such as financial aid or training, and how this was used

Presently, the reporting requirements and the timetable for the submission of national reports are different for developed and developing countries.

The current framework is also less onerous in that countries mainly have to report their emissions inventory, and not other aspects such as adaptation plans or support received.

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The lead negotiator for Britain, Mr Archie Young, said on Tuesday there are currently three sticking points preventing a final deal on the framework.

The first is how to standardise reporting given the different types of climate pledges made by different countries.

Some countries have targets that aim to reduce emissions across their entire economy, while others focus on emissions reductions from certain sectors, such as energy or forestry.

It will not be easy to finalise a common reporting format that can accommodate these different types of pledges.

People participate in a protest rally during a global day of action on climate change in Glasgow on Nov 6, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The US, for instance, is taking a hard “red line” on this issue, The New York Times reported. The US is arguing for a single system through which the carbon reductions of all countries could be evaluated.

But nations including China and Saudi Arabia are objecting to proposed reporting requirements, with The Times reporting that China is concerned that full transparency would “reveal data it wants to keep secret about its economic growth”.

Mr Young added: “The second (issue) is around the structure and format and inputs to the structured summary which is the way by which the progress on (climate pledges) will be tracked.”

The third area, he added, revolves around financial and other support for investments in capacity that would enable countries to fulfil their reporting requirements.

Transparency in measurement, reporting and verification of emissions will allow observers to monitor progress in limiting global warming.

Said Mr Young: “The enhanced transparency framework is crucial to give the confidence that the commitments that have been made will be delivered.”

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