COP26 is over. Now what?

Walid Khadduri
Walid Khadduri
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Nearly 40,000 people took part in the COP26 summit held in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November. In 2022, COP27 will be held in Egypt, and in 2023, COP28 will be in the UAE.

Many observers were disappointed by COP26 decisions, for despite being highly ambitious, they failed to secure the funding and legal support required from concerned states. An article in the prestigious London-based Financial Times reflected the general atmosphere that prevailed in the summit perfectly: “In a way, Boris Johnson was the perfect host for COP26. The British prime minister specialises in groundless optimism and empty pledges. The Glasgow climate summit produced plenty of both.”

The summit’s highlights can be summarized as follows:

- Unofficial remarks that appeal to the media rather than binding decisions supported by adequate budgets

- Member states must return next year with stronger and clearer obligations and more commitments

- Fossil fuels will be “gradually reduced” rather than “eliminated”

- Developed countries came under harsh criticism for failing to provide developing countries with financial support or to commit to their previous pledges ($100 billion a year).

- Developed countries also promised continued commitment and more aid, to be unveiled in COP27 in Egypt. These promises remain no more than expectations that lack clear, binding, and financially supported policies. They will be a hurdle in the way of global climate change programs if they continue to lack funding and legal commitments.

Developed countries failed to commit to providing reparations to developing countries for the damage and losses resulting from environmental and climate disasters. This was one of the main hurdles that faced the summit and that will face future summits if these commitments are not translated to implementation. The financial burdens, amounting to billions of dollars, weigh on developing countries and exceed their capacities to actively participate in hopeful climate change programs adopted by developed countries.

It goes without saying that tackling climate change at the global level cannot begin without the active participation of the entire world. It cannot happen on a global scale if the process does not take into account the capacities of developing countries or help them achieve the ambitious policies set forth by their developed peers. After all, the size, populations, and forests of developing countries are all key to effecting global change.

As evident in the summit, most developed countries are committed to limiting global warming to 1.5°C (and no more than 2°C) above the pre-industrial levels of the 17th century, when the average global temperature began to rise. This variance between 1.5°C and 2°C has been a key point of contention among green movements and among developed countries themselves. Eventually, it was decided to set 1.5°C as a threshold not to be crossed (to the extent possible). However, there are many question marks surrounding the achievability of this goal given the rising doubts in the extent of commitment to the pledges made.

COP26 was different from other climate summits in that it clearly mentioned fossil fuels (coal, crude oil, and natural gas) for the first time. In fact, the summit was seeking an end to the use of coal power, but failed to bring on board coal-rich China and India, two of the world’s biggest coal producers and consumers. The two giants announced that they will carry on with coal production in reduced quantities, as did Australia. Coal is highly criticized for its intensive carbon pollution.

As for oil and gas, major producing countries have invested heavily in carbon capture and storage in view of achieving net-zero through the nascent carbon circular economy model, which still requires modern scientific development. Saudi Arabia and the UAE had largely spearheaded these costly initiatives requiring billions of dollars each year, as did Egypt and Oman, thus curbing criticism addressed to oil-producing countries.

Still, a general atmosphere opposing oil and gas in general prevails. Calls were launched to halt government subsidies on oil and gas, with no consideration given to the living standards in many developing countries and the possible repercussions on the poor therein.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration launched a campaign against the OPEC+ decision not to increase oil production, despite several considerations that justify the choice. First, the Organization had committed to a monthly production increase of nearly 400,000 bpd. Second, covid-19 outbreaks are emerging in many continents and lockdowns have returned in many European states (such as Austria), which will inevitably curb demand on oil. Third, the US and China, the world’s biggest energy consumers, can provide markets with huge supplies if they take the needed decisions to use their respective strategic oil reserves. This is still under consideration in both states.

Surely, the big problem that markets face lies in complying with mounting calls to reduce investments in the petroleum industry, which resulted, inter alia, in a drop in commercial gas reserves in European countries despite forecasts of a harsh winter, followed by increased demand by these same states for fuel oil to compensate for the commercial reserve shortage. These calls also led to a slump in investments in the US fossil fuel industry when prices collapsed during the covid-19 pandemic, leading to a drop in US production.

The geopolitical conflict between Europe and Russia on gas purchase contracts only adds salt to the wound. As the biggest gas exporter to Europe, Russia wants European states to sign long-term import agreements instead of short-term ones, in order to secure the highly costly gas production projects. However, it is becoming clear that the US is pressuring European states to lower reliance on Russian gas import in favor of the budding US gas exports.

In the light of all these developments in Glasgow and in previous climate summits, developed countries must either take more realistic decisions, even if they do not align with the agendas of radical green movements; or put their money where their funding pledges to developing countries are.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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