Is the COP26 draft text a genuine call to action, or just more blah, blah, blah?

It is hump day in the second week of COP26, and that entails negotiations, horsetrading, and uncomfortable compromises that are needed to declare the summit a success.

Each COP concludes with a document that becomes the historic record of what has been agreed to, and is subject to considerable change and negotiation during the final week. Late night sessions, appeals from world leaders, and hand-wringing are normal, as all parties struggle to ensure a result that shows progress that they can sell at home to their electorates and legislatures.

After days of dire warnings, protests, pledges, and agreements, the point of final negotiation has been reached. The first stage is the release of the draft text that represents the view of the presidency country (UK) on what can be agreed at the summit. Once the draft text is out, the real negotiations begin behind closed doors.

Just seven pages long, the draft document does set out some key principles:

  • An acknowledgment of the 1.1-degree warming already in place, due to human activity.
  • A need for science-led strengthening of policies and actions in all areas of mitigation, adaptation, and financing.
  • Concern around funding from developed countries to developing nations to help them adapt to climate change. This becomes a call for a doubling of the ‘collective’ provision currently in place.
  • 1.5-degree warming limits is still an ambition, with 2 degrees remaining the goal. The 45% CO2 cut that is needed by 2030 is specifically emphasized.
  • The net GHG output is currently on course to be 13.7% above 2010 levels by 2030, assuming that all Paris pledges and nationally-determined contributions are achieved.
  • All parties to submit their updated goals by COP27 (note that this applies to countries who did not do so for COP26).
  • An annual ‘ministerial’ level meeting to begin in 2022.
  • Regular updating of goals from all parties.

The above points are critical but there are additional comments on the ecosystem and deforestation.

Essentially, the UK government, as COP president, is setting the agenda for a decade of urgent change, from drastic action on GHG emission cuts to fairer funding between developed and developing nations. Details of these goals are likely to stay at the ‘cumulative’ level, thereby avoiding the requirement for governments to sell what may be seen as punitive commitments to their home countries.

Whether or not the draft text is viewed as a success depends on exactly how ‘watered down’ the final text becomes, and the perspective of the stakeholders:

  • If the document becomes a market-marker to drive private finance to de-risked investment in projects supporting final goals, the outcome will be a success.
  • If the expectation is an immediate and collective agreement on short-term, stringent action, then it will likely be viewed as just more ‘blah, blah, blah’.

With two more days of talks to go, and pressure from all around to mobilize towards a decade of change, everything is still on the table.

Signing off for today, best regards from Glasgow…