Will countries reach an agreement at COP26? – Dr Moazzem and Abdullah Fahad

Originally posted in The Daily Star on 18 September 2021


The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) is following the developments of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. Being one of the major climate-vulnerable countries, Bangladesh is a major party to this international conference. The CPD Power and Energy Study will publish a series of articles on key climate change-related issues highlighting the contexts, main debates and their impact and implications for Bangladesh. Articles will be published in The Daily Star every week till the middle of December 2021.

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is just 15 days away. The COP26 secretariat, the UK and Italian government and governments of the participating countries are finalising their last days of preparation before meeting in Glasgow, UK from October 31 to November 12.

The major point of discussion now is: Will countries reach an agreement on three key issues? (a) phasing out of coal, (b) scaling up nationally determined contributions (NDCs); and (c) raising financing for adaptation.

Different parties and bodies related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and, more specifically with the COP26, such as supreme bodies, subsidiary bodies, constituted bodies, funds and financial entities, ad-hoc working groups and non-party stakeholders, are now busy with dealing with issues.

Different party groups are taking preparation for the COP26, including developing country parties, the African Group, the Arab States, the Environmental Integrity Group, the European Union, the Least Developed Countries, the Small Island Developing States, the Umbrella Group, the OPEC countries, the CACAM, the Cartagena Dialogue, and the BASIC Group, which includes India and China. These groups have diverse offensive and defensive interests which need to be lessened to reach a consensus during the conference.

Global climate debates around COP26

Reaching consensus in the three key debating issues is the most difficult and complex process. First, countries need to agree to phase out coal by 2030 (developed countries) and 2040 (developing countries), abandoning fossil-fueled internal combustion engines.

There is a global call for saying no to any new coal-fired power plants and to join “Powering Past Coal Alliance”. The global coal-based power generation was 2,044,831 MW in 2019, of which 405,205 MW (19.8 per cent) is generated in developed countries and 80.2 per cent in developing countries. Currently, many coal power plants are under construction, which adds up to a capacity of 184,503 MW.

China, one of the biggest global investors of coal power plants, has recently announced that it would no longer invest in new coal power plants abroad. Such an announcement is highly appreciated. However, reaching the target of no-coal in developing countries by 2040, China needs a more aggressive commitment to its domestic use of coal.

Similar commitment will be required from India, with 228,964 MW of coal-based power generation capacity in 2019, for domestic and foreign-based power plants. Developed countries such as the US (246,187 MW), the EU and Japan and developing countries such as Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam need to commit to reducing coal-fired power plants.

Second, an ambitious target setting is necessary with a view to keeping 1.5°C within reach by 2050. As of July 30, 2021, 113 out of 191 parties submitted updated NDCs.

Based on the update, emissions are likely to decrease by 12 per cent by 2030, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently identified that we need about a 45 per cent net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions reduction from 2010 level by 2030 to keep 1.5°C within our reach.

The current level of emissions will lead to an overall increase in the temperature of the planet by 2.7°C by the end of this century, which would be catastrophic. Will the heads of state of major developed and developing countries come forward with an ambitious commitment of targets for the reduction of carbon emission during the COP26?

Third, in the “Copenhagen Accord” adopted at the COP15 in 2009, developed countries promised jointly to mobilise $100 billion to address the needs of the developing countries by 2020. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the mobilised amount was $79.6bn in 2019.

The richest countries are behind in their commitment that needs to be met before the COP26 takes place. The UK has doubled international climate finance commitments, and this kind of initiative may help reach the target of $100bn on climate finance. The commitment made by the private sector on adaptation is highly discouraging, according to the UN Secretary-General – only 0.1 per cent of the total funding for adaptation.

While the Paris Agreement promised poorer countries technical and financial assistance in loss and damage, putting it in practice yet to be decided. The Santiago Network for Loss and Damage was established as part of the Warsaw International Mechanism in 2019. This COP can be the one where we operationalise the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage.

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement provides a foundation for an international carbon market that presents the possibility of trading emission reductions between countries. The challenge is that it may offer a loophole for not investing in emission reduction strategies while meeting the country’s target.

The Paris Rulebook implementation guideline for the Paris Agreement, which was adopted during the COP24 in 2018, with few unresolved issues, need to be finalised and agreed upon by parties. The COP26 is expected to finalise the Paris Rulebook.

Bangladesh in COP26

Bangladesh has a strong interest in the upcoming climate conference.

First, climate vulnerable countries like Bangladesh are already in climate emergency, characterised by more frequent and severe heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts.

As the current Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) presidency, Bangladesh released Climate Vulnerable Manifesto on September 7 following the CVF high-level exchange on the COP26. The manifesto calls for a “Climate Emergency Pact” in rebuilding the confidence in international climate cooperation.

This pact asks every country to enhance its effort on emission reduction to keep 1.5°C goal alive and 50 per cent of the $100bn climate finance to go to adaptation actions in the most vulnerable developing countries.

It is about time the global community acknowledges this by adopting a “Climate Emergency Pact”. Although there was supposed to be a 50:50 balance between climate change mitigation and adaptation actions, only $20.1bn went to climate change adaptation actions from $79.6bn in 2019.

Bangladesh has asked to include a delivery plan for a 50:50 balance between mitigation and adaptation in the pact. In the pre-COP closing plenary statement, Bangladesh emphasised the importance of the “Climate Emergency Pact” and is also looking for a much stronger role for loss and damages at Glasgow.

Second, it is expected that Bangladesh would make a forward-looking commitment to its nationally determined contributions. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who is going to head the delegate in the COP26, would consider delivering Bangladesh’s energy transition plan, particularly in case of phasing out of remaining coal-based power plants – those which are in operation, under construction and under planning. In this connection, Bangladesh may seek financial and technical support for the early retirement of coal-based power plants through the energy transition council.

The authors are respectively the research director and a senior research associate of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.