How Will COP26 Decisions Affect Students, Researchers and Farmers
1. On the Energy day, 39+ signatories (UK, US, Canada, Germany along with institutions such as the European Investment Bank and East African Development Bank) signed "end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with a 1.5C warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement" - diverting the spending to green energy and innovative solutions. This might be great news to researchers studying alternative energy pathways, as those would get even more demand after reduced investments in unabated coal. Additionally, countries might want to use abated coal, and scientists might help figure out better coal usage technologies.
2. Under the ACE work program (Action for Climate Empowerment), the CP.26 decision (Glasgow work program) text included:“11. Also requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to: (b) Hold an annual in-session Action for Climate Empowerment dialogue at its first regular session of each year with the participation of Parties, representatives of relevant constituted bodies, and relevant experts, practitioners and stakeholders that focuses on the progress of implementation of the Glasgow work programme and on its four priority areas: policy coherence; coordinated action; tools and support; and monitoring, evaluation and reporting;”Thus, this dialogue will act as an additional step for capacity building for new enthusiasts and as it says, will give new avenues for researchers in evaluation and reporting. It also said: “7.Encourages Parties to strengthen the integration of Action for Climate Empowerment into the development and implementation of national climate policies, plans, strategies and action, including by developing and implementing a national strategy that covers all six elements of Action for Climate Empowerment and facilitates broad cross-sectoral coordination and collaboration;” This would further implement the six ACE elements in national policies, creating new opportunities for better climate education worldwide.
3. The UK secured a 190-strong coalition of countries and organizations at COP26, with countries such as Poland, Vietnam, Egypt, Chile and Morocco announcing commitments to phase out coal power." Among the initiatives was a "global coal to clean power transition statement," which committed nations to "end all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally." This included 23 countries "committing for the first time to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power, including Indonesia, South Korea, Poland, Vietnam, and Chile." according to the UK government. This furthered the action said in point a).
4. The India-China watering down of the agreement at the last minute was a contentious topic and might be of interest for students to understand deeper. Here’s an analysis: The Final agreed text said: “Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy effic including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”
- Regardless of the "phase out" or "phase down" debate, the text had already been weakened significantly (mainly by the developed nations) by adding qualifiers such as "unabated" before coal and "inefficient" before subsidies. Only coal was focused and mentioned, and other primary emitting fuels (which the developed countries are expanding) like oil (petroleum, diesel..) and natural gas were discussed (oil use in the US remains the highest globally, at 6.1 tonnes per person in 2020, compared to India's 0.4). Hence, overall the text was weak in itself, but the "phase down" replacement became the face and hid the other shortcomings.
- In terms of whether India (who took a significant lead in this change) should be blamed, the per-capita emissions of India are among the lowest. The dependency on coal is among the highest (both of which are incomparable to the wealthy states). Then if we consider the principles of common but differentiated responsibility, and even by a common judgment, agreeing to phase out would not have been realistic. Furthermore, India's target for 500 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030 might well imply a phasing down of coal use eventually.
5. Another prominent partnership provided much-needed momentum during the negotiations. The United States and China made a joint announcement that the two nations would work together on more ambitious climate action in this decade, doing more to cut emissions, including methane. It said:
"The two sides intend to cooperate on:
- Critical areas related to the circular economy, such as green design and renewable resource utilization; and
- Deployment and application of technology such as CCUS and direct air capture. The United States has set a goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, while China will phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five Year Plan and make best efforts to accelerate this work.
The two sides intend to establish a "Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s," which will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade. This may include, inter alia, continued policy and technical exchanges, identification of programs and projects in areas of mutual interest, meetings of governmental and non-governmental experts, facilitating participation by local governments, enterprises, think tanks, academics, and other experts, exchanging updates on their respective national efforts, considering the need for additional measures, and reviewing the implementation of the Joint Statement and this Joint Declaration."
Thus, this gives further rise to opportunities for researchers to participate and input their suggestions and follow and monitor the success of this pact.
6. In terms of growth opportunities for Research:
The Adaptation Research Alliance, a network of more than 90 governments, research institutions, and communities in 30 economies, is working to increase resilience including by funding research and the development of solutions. Mission Innovation (a coalition of 23 governments) launched four new missions for international collaboration to advance technologies for industry, cities, CO2 removals, and the bioeconomy. Twenty commercial-scale steel facilities are now planned to be deployed by 2030, marking a steel sector breakthrough with two significant additions at COP26. More than 15 corporations across the concrete value chain, including in engineering, are preparing to launch the ConcreteZero buyers club, which will send a strong signal of demand for net-zero-emission concrete. The club will be modeled on SteelZero, in which members commit to making half the steel they buy net-zero by 2030. The Solar Investment Action Agenda identified the high-impact opportunities for scaling up solar energy en route to US$1 trillion of solar investment by 2030. This will be followed by a more detailed Solar Investment Roadmap coming out in 2022. A new initiative of 18 countries + EU, called the Global Partnership on AI, presented a playbook for policymakers on using AI to drive climate action, proposing new partnerships across countries and the private sector. Forty-seven countries have now committed to developing health systems resilient to the impacts of climate change under the COP26 health program. Of those, 42 - covering 34% of health care emissions - have also committed to making their health systems low-carbon.
7. For farmers, The Koronivia Joint work on agriculture (a landmark decision that recognizes the unique potential of agriculture in tackling climate change), at COP26 said: "Having considered the report on the workshop on topic 2(e) of the Koronivia road map, the SBSTA, and the SBI also recognized that livestock management systems are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands, can contribute to achieving long-term climate objectives, taking into account different systems and national circumstances."
This indeed indicated further actions that could be taken shortly towards making livestock management systems more sustainable and leaning towards vegetarian and vegan options; however, no apparent signs of the evolution of direct actions were clear even this time. What the Koronivia process will look like going forward will now be debated at the 56th session of the subsidiary bodies in June 2022. Some other small commitments also came in from non-state actors like A new US$150 million investment in agricultural regeneration, announced by the EverGreening Alliance at COP26, to build the resilience of rural communities in Africa.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of Illuminem.
About the author
Vedant Kulkarni is the UNFCCC representative for India at COP26 and has a passion for climate change adaptation and mitigation.