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Climate talks see bold promises, protests

Frustration at the slow pace of climate action was a common theme

Climate talks see bold promises, protests

Glasgow: Armed with raincoats, umbrellas and colourful banners, thousands of protesters took over the streets of this Scottish city on the official culmination of the first week of the two-week-long 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) under the UK Presidency.

Throughout the hectic week the weather was an odd combination of dark clouds, pouring rain and blue skies that switched over short periods of time, and ended up with a few rainbows -- an appropriate greeting from Mother Nature, marking its own special day at COP26.

Indigenous leaders, as nature keepers, raised their voices inside and outside the COP26 venue, while delegations made a few new commitments to invest in nature-based solutions and greener farming practices.

COP26, with a gathering of around 200 governments, is being held in uncertain times of weather-related disasters have increased five-fold in the past 50 years alone. Humanity and especially vulnerable communities are adapting to a new reality of weather extremes.

The most important highlights from the first week at COP26 were global methane pledge, global forest pledge, carbon pricing, etc.

Climate negotiators said on Sunday the commitments and initiatives seen in the first week of COP26, if fully delivered, would amount to 40 per cent of the emissions cuts needed by 2030 to keep 1.5C alive.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes the commitments made in the first week could put world on track for 1.8C warming, which means they were short-term actions and credible policies still lacking.

According to the UN, there was no clear indication of where talks will lead or how ambitious countries will be in tackling the climate emergency.

Ministers arriving early this week will seek to resolve points of contention, with COP26 President Alok Sharma calling this "where the rubber hits the road". The aim is to conclude with agreement on greater emission cuts, stronger efforts on adaptation and resilience, and more climate finance.

Many issues must still be worked out. With progress so far being insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there is a strong call for countries to update nation climate plans more regularly, even annually. Many countries are pushing for eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and phasing out coal-fired power plants.

Negotiations are proceeding on boosting measures for climate adaptation and resilience as well as "loss and damage" compensation for those harmed by climate change. Also under negotiation are contentious provisions on finance, trade and transparency.

In the past week, the COP26 Presidency announced that 45 governments, led by the UK, will ramp up efforts to protect nature and shift to more sustainable farming.

Over $4 billion in new public sector investment was pledged for agricultural innovation, including climate-resilient crops and regenerative solutions to improve soil health. This would help make such techniques affordable for hundreds of millions of farmers.

Canada announced C$1 billion in international support for nature-based solutions, a fifth of its climate finance. It supports an international target to protect 30 per cent of lands and oceans by 2030, and earlier announced it would back a fund for coral reefs.

The youth press for action

Presenting a position paper endorsed by 40,000 people, youth representatives urged world leaders to consider young people's demands in climate talks. The paper calls for ensuring the representation of underrepresented groups, recognising the role of cities in achieving a just transition, and respecting, protecting, fulfilling and promote all human rights in climate action.

World leaders have left Glasgow. Attention at COP26 turned to the specifics of moving the climate action agenda, with a focus on how to finance the transition to a greener future.

The issue of finance is all encompassing. There is much concern over the failure of developed countries to meet their promise to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries finance climate mitigation and adaptation. At the same time, there is a broader effort to mobilize vast amounts of private investment globally behind low-carbon and eventually no-carbon growth.

In the COP26 onset, there were tough words for, and by, world leaders on why the world needs urgent climate action as the COP26 World Leaders' Summit got underway.

"We face a moment of truth," UN Secretary-General AntAnio Guterres pointedly told the 120 leaders who came to Glasgow. "We are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating."

Frustration at the slow pace of climate action was a common theme.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK, which is hosting the conference, said, "I was there in Paris six years ago when we agreed to net zero and to try to restrain the rise in the temperature of the planet to 1.5 degrees, and all those promises will be nothing but blah blah blah -- to coin a phrase -- and the anger and impatience of the world will be uncontainable unless we make this COP26 in Glasgow the moment when we get real about climate change -- and we can."

Many leaders said Glasgow represents a last chance to make a difference. Many said it needed to be a pivotal moment to set the world on a sustainable trend.

The Glasgow Climate Conference officially got underway on October 31 with palpable tension as it has to deliver real progress on climate action with the science showing that time is running out. But collective global ambition and trust remain woefully insufficient.

"We are not where we need to be," UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said at a press conference.

November 6 was also Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. In Glasgow an estimated 50,000 people made their way through the city. Climate marches also took place in many other cities around the world.

"What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!" echoed throughout Glasgow on Friday as thousands of protesters took the streets during the dedicated Youth Day at COP26.

Although the march was initially organized by Fridays for Future, the youth-driven movement inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, people of all ages gathered at George Square to demand climate action.

Responding to weeklong developments, Mohamed Adow, Director of Nairobi based think tank Power Shift Africa, shared his concerns with IANS that COP26 is undermining the principles which underpin the UNFCCC.

He said: "This week has seen a blitz of announcements from the UK government with pledges and alliances committing to various positive sounding initiatives such as ending deforestation, stopping overseas fossil fuel financing and the absurd claim from Mark Carney that he has mobilised $130 trillion of private finance to tackle climate change.

"These announcements may generate headlines but assessing their true worth is hugely difficult, especially at speed during a COP meeting. The UK can claim to be leading a coal phase out and tackling fossil fuels while opening a coal mine in Cumbria and an oil field off Shetland.

"If the countries want to be taken seriously on their latest announcements, then they should first halt the new fossil fuel projects they are licensing at home, end fossil fuel subsidies and shift the fossil fuel financing to renewables. And they should include these new commitments in revised and updated NDCs, rather than dressing up empty promises as climate leadership."

Taking about the outcome from the ongoing negotiations that will culminate on November 12, Harjeet Singh, Senior Advisor, Climate Action Network International, told IANS the UK Presidency is trying to create through grand announcements.

"There are claims of trillions of dollars being mobilised for climate action but inside the negotiations, there is huge resistance to even define what climate finance entails. This allows rich nations to fudge numbers and take no accountability.

"At the events, there is a recognition that vulnerable people are facing climate impacts and the need for increasing financial support. But, behind closed doors, rich nations are pressuring developing countries to hold their tongue and avoid setting up a new stream of finance to help communities recover from devastating floods and rising seas," he added.

Vishal Gulati
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