COP 26: What was decided? What was Australia’s role and how were we perceived?

COP 26: What was decided? What was Australia’s role and how were we perceived?

There has been a huge amount of reporting on the proceedings and outcomes of the Uniting Nations Climate Conference (COP 26), held in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November.  Many Uniting Church members are vitally interested in the proceedings.

Some media has helpfully summarised the main outcomes of COP 26 and the Uniting Advocacy team has drawn from this to provide this brief outline of COP 26 results, the role Australia played and how this was perceived.

Major COP goals

Keeping 1.5 alive

Overall agreement is not enough to put the world on a path to holding global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, but with increased commitments to increase emissions this decade, hope of that goal is still alive.

Analysis by Climate Action Tracker shows that even with all the new 2030 pledges a global temperature rise of 2.4 degrees is a real possibility.

Emphasis on action by 2030

Action by 2030 was a key theme of COP 26. As part of the final Glasgow Climate Pact, all countries are urged to “revisit and strengthen” 2030 targets before COP 27 in Egypt next year. The Australian Government has already ruled this out. The Prime Minister has said what matters is action rather than promises, and that, “I’ve been very clear about what our target is and that we’ll meet and beat it.” Currently our 2030 emissions targets are the weakest among developed nations.

“Phase down” of coal

COP 26 failed to commit to the elimination of coal as hoped by some.

Countries have agreed on “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. On one hand this is the first explicit mention of coal in 26 years of COP declarations and decisions. On the other the words “unabated”, “inefficient” and “phase-down”, can be viewed as ‘get out of jail free’ cards for some fossil-fuel consuming and exporting countries, including Australia.

Fierce lobbying by China and India saw the language about coal changed in the final communique from ‘phased-out” to the much weaker, “phased-down”.

Only a day after the final Glasgow communique the Australian Prime Minister has disputed claims from the British Prime Minister that the Glasgow agreement had sounded the “death knell for coal.” Scott Morrison was quoted by ABC News as saying: “I don’t believe it did, and for all of those who are working in that industry in Australia, they’ll continue to be working in that industry for decades to come.”

Financial support for developing nations

COP 26 could not reach agreement to create a financial mechanism for wealthy nations to compensate developing nations for loss and damage caused by climate change. Though expressing support for the intent, the EU, UK and US could not support this mechanism and instead COP 26 agreed to establish a new ‘dialogue’ on the issue.

Wealthy countries again failed to secure $100 billion in finance to help developing nations green their economies. This was promised in 2010 but never delivered. The COP communique noted this failure “with deep regret” and urged developed countries to fully deliver on the funds as soon as possible and by 2025.

Other deals and pledges

  • More than 130 nations, including Australia and forestry giants Brazil and Indonesia, pledged to end deforestation by 2030 and promised up to $26 billion in public and private money to support this. Later, both Brazil and Indonesia reneged, Brazil saying it applied only to ‘illegal’ logging and Indonesia that it would not sacrifice economic growth to protect forests.
  • More than 100 countries, including the US, Japan and Canada pledged to reduce methane levels to 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. Australia did not sign.
  • Just 32 nations signed a pledge to stop selling petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 at the latest. Major car manufacturers like China, the US, Germany and France did not sign.
  • A joint announcement – The US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s – caught many by surprise. While it is light on detail its signal that the world’s two biggest emitters are willing to work together on near term action (2020s is mentioned 8 times in the declaration) to avert climate catastrophe, is important.
  • 23 countries pledged to stop building and issuing permits for new coal plants. These included major coal users like Poland, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam and Ukraine. Australia, China and the US were among the nations that did not sign.
  • Global finance firms managing $130 trillion joined a net zero pledge known as the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. This signals that availability of finance is not an impediment to climate action.

Australia’s role

COP 26 has reinforced the perception of Australia as a climate laggard. Our reluctance to update our emissions targets means we are out of step on climate with traditional friends and allies. At COP we were seen as part of a tacit alliance with other fossil fuel export nations like Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. These nations were perceived as trying to slow, rather than accelerate, the transition from fossil fuels. The fact that Australia’s pavilion at COP 26 boasted a prominent display by Santos, one of our largest gas and oil companies, did nothing to dispel this perception.  

Uniting Advocacy team

Articles we drew from in preparing this summary.

O’Malley, N & Shields, B. November 14, 2021. The Glasgow summit’s final agreement: what you need to know. Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/the-glasgow-summit-s-final-agreement-what-you-need-to-know-20211112-p598ih.html

Hughes, L. & Morgan, W. Good COP, bad COP: Climate winds and losses from Glasgow. Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/good-cop-bad-cop-climate-wins-and-losses-from-glasgow-20211114-p598rq.html

Clarke, M. November 15, 2021. COP26 agreement to phase down coal not “a death knell’ for coal power says PM, disputing Boris Johnson. ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-15/cop26-phase-down-coal-agreement-not-end-of-industry-says-pm/100621242

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1 thought on “COP 26: What was decided? What was Australia’s role and how were we perceived?”

  1. The web of financial interests is very wide and complex. This is why reaching agreements between so many diverse parties is practically unreachable. Although these conferences are essential for getting together to get some work done, it is impossible to find easily accessible solutions that would please countries from different regions and with different degrees of development, environmental activists, companies and other entities. More work should be done, but I wouldn’t expect miracles.

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