The world waits for action on climate pledges

Whenever the COPs are in the spotlight, there is a tendency to launch a raft of new initiatives. But do they have any effect? Anke Herold and Lorenz Moosmann have been looking at what became of three initiatives that emerged from COP26.

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt has just begun and as always, public and media expectations are high. Whenever the COPs are in the spotlight, there is a tendency to launch a raft of new initiatives. But do they have any effect? Anke Herold and Lorenz Moosmann have been looking at what became of three initiatives that emerged from COP26.

Any high expectations of COP27 this year are unlikely to be fulfilled. The final issues relating to the technical implementation of the Paris Agreement were resolved last year in Glasgow, so now it is “merely” about action at the national level. And unfortunately, this is where pioneers and progress are still in short supply.

The UNEP Emissions Gap Report, which reviews national policies to mitigate climate change, has just been published – and it shows that a global temperature increase of 2.4°C to 2.6°C must be expected. The emissions gap in 2030 is 15 gigatonnes of CO2e annually for a 2°C pathway and 23 gigatonnes CO2e for a 1.5°C pathway – 20 and 30 times greater, respectively, than Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

In other words, the goal set in the Paris Agreement will probably still be missed. Germany was recently forced to buy 11 million tonnes of emissions allowances from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary because we overshot our mandatory EU emissions target. Emissions, particularly from transport and buildings, are still too high

A USD 16.7 billion shortfall in climate finance for developing countries

Then there are the commitments to provide climate finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries – and here too, the industrialised countries have missed the target. The 2020 figures, now available, show that the developing countries received just USD 83.3 billion in climate funding instead of the USD 100 billion a year which the industrialised countries pledged to mobilise by 2020. Granted, Germany is performing better here: its disbursements to developing countries increased year on year from 2019 to 2021 and the targets announced were met

A taboo subject: climate liability

Climate-related damage is significantly worsening in both frequency and intensity worldwide and the effects are particularly severe in the developing countries. As a result, they are now demanding financial compensation for the loss and damage caused by storms, drought and flooding – and rightly so, for their own contributions to rising emissions have been minimal. Until now, this has been a taboo subject for the US and other industrialised countries: they are determined to avoid any form of “liability” for their past emissions

Industrialised countries sidestep payments …

After the devastating floods in Pakistan and the drought in the Horn of Africa, however, this topic can no longer be avoided. Germany has proposed the idea of a Global Shield against Climate Risks, to be set up by the industrialised countries in order to provide assistance to countries of the Global South during climate disasters. However, given the current state of the economy, with rising inflation, energy prices and national distribution debates, any financial pledges made by the industrialised countries are unlikely to be generous

… and prefer to showcase their national initiatives

As there will be few decisions to take and fewer successes to celebrate at COP27, the governments seem set, yet again, on hosting their own events – at least during those moments when the world’s cameras are focused on the conference. This trend peaked at the previous conference in Glasgow, where a raft of new initiatives was launched: the Global Methane Pledge, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans are just a few examples. According to a review by NGOs, 150 of these initiatives were showcased in Glasgow. So it is worth casting a glance at their status one year on

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use: little verifiable activity

Last year, 143 countries signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which aims to halt deforestation and forest degradation by 2030. Many of the signatory states incorporated comparable forest-related objectives into their Paris climate targets long ago. The initiative does not commit them to any new action. The New York Declaration on Forests, signed in 2014, pledged to halt global deforestation by 2020. However, this did not produce the desired outcome; the new initiative shifts the target back to 2030.

A year on, a clearly defined operating structure and monitoring of activities under the new Declaration on Forests are still absent. The 2014 New York Declaration on Forests provided for ongoing monitoring of progress on forest protection and financial commitments to forest conservation by civil society organisations; there was also a website, which offered an overview of activities under the Declaration. Although the Glasgow Declaration has attracted some interest from scientists, no new information has been available from governments since last year. So what improvements has the Glasgow Declaration made? That’s a good question

Global Methane Pledge: no regular progress reports

The Global Methane Pledge was launched in Glasgow by the US and the EU. It aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. In all, 112 countries, which are responsible for 53% of global methane emissions, signed the pledge last year. However, China, Russia, and India – which contribute around a third of annual global methane emissions – are not among them. There are no targets for individual countries; progress is to be reviewed at ministerial meetings.

Here too, there are apparently no plans for regular progress reports on emissions or on activities covered by the pledge. However, various events relating to the pledge are scheduled to take place at COP27 and will at least consider how last year’s voluntary commitment can now be followed by action. Methane abatement is also the subject of the Global Methane Initiative (GMI), launched in 2004, and the Global Methane Alliance, which followed in 2019; both are supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Since the launch of the GMI in 2004, methane emissions have actually increased by 17%. So unfortunately, despite these repeated efforts, little success has been achieved

The Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans: no discernible progress

The third “ground-breaking” global initiative that emerged from the previous COP was the Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans, launched by the UK COP presidency to signal the end of polluting vehicles. This Declaration has attracted an impressive number of supporters, including governments, companies and investors. Once again, however, it is hard to find any information about activities now being undertaken jointly by these countries and how much progress has been achieved

Criteria needed for initiatives to avoid empty promises

It is helpful when countries join together to form global initiatives in order to achieve the required greenhouse gas emissions reductions. However, if these initiatives are to offer more than empty promises, they must fulfil a range of criteria. They need

  1. clear timelines for achieving reductions, along with clearly defined commitments for participants,

  2. an organisational structure to deal with implementation, possibly based around existing institutions,

  3. transparent monitoring of progress,

  4. a periodic review to determine whether the initiative is proving successful.

Yet again, numerous new initiatives have been announced for Egypt. They should be equipped with a credible governance structure from the outset and should not merely provide a pretext for a press conference.

Anke Herold is the Executive Director of the Oeko-Institut. She was previously an EU negotiator on the topic of transparency under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Her main area of work is European and international climate policy, particularly the design of an international climate regime.

Lorenz Moosmann is a Senior Researcher at the Oeko-Institut. His area of expertise includes the review of emission inventories and national communications under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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