The COP26 UN climate summit on Nov. 13 concluded a deal among the 196 parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement on long-delayed implementation measures. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the deal a “compromise,” and indeed it was saved through eleventh-hour haggling over the wording. Just minutes before the final decision on the text of the Glasgow Climate Pact, India, backed by fellow major coal-producer China, demanded weaker language on coal, with the original call for a “phase-out” softened to “phase-down.” And even this applies only to “unabated” coal, with an implicit exemption for coal burned with carbon capture and storage technology—a technofix being aggressively pushed by Exxon and other fossil fuel giants, in a propaganda blitz clearly timed for the Glasgow summit.
‘Development’ for whom?
This adoption of a corporate agenda by national governments was ironically cloaked in third-worldist rhetoric. India’s climate minister Bhupender Yadav rhetorically asked how developing countries can phase out fossil fuels when they still have to “deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication.” Such statements immediately raise the critical question of development for whom. A group of adivasis (tribal people) from India’s Chhattisgarh state travelled to Glasgow to protest the degradation of their lands and waters by coal-mining. This continues contrary to the consensus of the impacted communities, who say they are only further impoverished by the mining.
The Glasgow Pact calls for the state partiies to revisit their current emissions targets, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), by the next Conference of the Parties, COP27, to be held at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2022. A 55-nation Climate Vulnerable Forum came together to pressure for stronger NDCs. “This is a global justice issue because the poorest and most vulnerable are by far the hardest hit, but also the least responsible” for climate change, Abul Kalam Azad, the climate envoy for Bangladesh, told a press conference at Glasgow.
India’s poorer and low-lying neighbor, Bangladesh is already facing mass displacement due to flooding and coastline loss related to climate change. Earlier this year, Bangladesh abandoned plans for 10 new coal-fired power plants.
The climate-vulnerable bloc also pressed for wealthy nations to meet and increase their commitment to assist poor impacted countries. The text of the Glasgow Pact: “Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met.”
Carbon trading: pollution as global commodity
Another corporate-backed fix that allows polluters to go on polluting was alo embraced at Glasgow: carbon trading. The state parties approved a Guidance document on implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This provision for carbon-trading is in the text of the Paris deal, but the implementing rules were put off for a future date. They have now been promulgated, allowing Internationally-Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) to be factored into NDCs, and traded across borders.
The Glasgow pact foresees a global carbon-trading market to be in place by 2023. The new rules are ostensibly designed to avoid double-counting of emission reductions and mitigations—whether at the government level, as when Switzerland purchased ITMOS from Peru last year, or at the corporate level, when a company in one country purchases ITMOs from abroad to meet compliance criteria at home.
Either way, ITMOs essentially amount to turning a license to pollute into an international commodity.
‘Another decade of false solutions’
It’s an old truism on such questions that where you stand depends on where you sit. Those who stand to lose the most both from climate destabilization and the resource-extraction that fuels it expressed the greatest skepticism about the Glasgow pact.
“The outcome of COP26 locks us into another decade of false solutions, colonialism and unbridled violence upon Mother Earth, full stop,” Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, protested to Environment News Servce.
“The expansion of carbon markets, techno-fixes and finance programs allowing historical polluters to ramp up global fossil fuel production will only intensify the climate emergency,” Goldtooth said. “The consequences of COP26 are dire and will impact the survival of Indigenous Peoples and local communities across the planet, while doing little to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at source. Many communities around the world do not have time.”