Comment on COP26 from Metung

Weekly Commentary No.5*

So COP26 in Glasgow has come to a close. What did it actually achieve? One answer seems to be that it has kept alive the idea of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees. That’s some sort of good news for our recent guest contributor Christine Danger, because the scientific consensus is that at around 2 degrees the Great Barrier Reef will be gone. But what was actually achieved?

The final agreement known as the Glasgow Pact is 10 pages long and the Conference of the Parties continually use words like “urges”, “requests”, “calls upon” etc, rather than words suggesting mandates of any kind. The reason for this language is presumably because the agreement is voluntary (not legally binding). That said however, the document has been signed by virtually every country on Earth and as such, it is clearly expected that all signatories will take the appropriate actions. The final text says;

“[The COP] requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances.”

Where does Australia stand on this issue? Well, unfortunately within hours of signing the agreement, our Federal Government told voters that it had no intention of abiding by the terms of the Pact and would not be revisiting our 2030 targets! This is, apparently, a demonstration of the Australian Way of doing business! And, in the meantime, our esteemed Deputy Prime Minister has stridently pointed out that The Nationals didn’t sign the Glasgow Pact and neither did he!

We also should note that, in a last-minute change to the wording of the final draft, China and India pushed for a change in the words accelerating the “phase out” of coal and fossil fuel subsidies to the much weaker  statement – accelerating the “phase down” of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. It is widely understood that these two signatories were working on behalf of a wider group of “silent” countries, including Australia, who opposed the language around phasing out coal but did not want to be seen publicly expressing that view. It was also worth noting that Australia released the modelling of its climate policies close to the end of the conference – we can perhaps wonder why?

The overall verdict on COP 26? I think we should hold off on that for a while as it will very much depend on government actions rather than words. However, there can be some optimism around the issues discussed and agreed upon – not the least the financial aspects of supporting climate mitigation in those countries that have done very little to create the problem but will nonetheless bear the brunt of changes to come.

* Metung Science Forum