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COP27: 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 7th to 18th November 2022
COP26: 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference
Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, from 31 October to 13 November 2021
Blog 9, 11th November 2021: U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, by Dr Petra Minnerop, Associate Professor of International Law and Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University
At 6pm on Wednesday 10th November, the US and China released an unformatted document called the “U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s”. Talks that led to this declaration started earlier in 2021 but the release of it took the climate community by surprise. It was immediately endorsed as a turning point for the wider negotiations. This morning, however, at the ministerial informal stocktaking, COP26 President Alok Sharma made no reference to the declaration, rather he stressed that “we are not there yet” and called for ministers to find compromise during the remaining hours of this conference. This means to continue working on the draft texts where brackets are still in place after the negotiations at the level of technical negotiators. Nevertheless, last nights’ declaration could be a decisive moment for this conference, and define to some extent who can claim ownership of any success story that comes out of COP26. Compromise and sharing are the order of the hour on all matters COP.
The following points make the declaration so important.
Both countries affirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement’s temperature target and are “alarmed by reports including the Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report released on August 9th, 2021, further recognize the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis.”
They are committed to tackling the seriousness of the climate crisis through accelerated action in the 2020s and recognise that this decade is critical. There is a strong focus on procedure that is shaped through “cooperation in multilateral processes”, including through the UNFCCC, “to avoid catastrophic impacts”.
The commitment goes beyond this bilateral cooperation, both countries strengthen their firm commitment to step up efforts for closing the gap between the global efforts and their aggregate effect thus far, and the efforts that are necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Closing this gap is seen as “vital”, and is to be achieved through acting individually, jointly and together with other parties, through “stepped up efforts”. These efforts will include “accelerating the green and low-carbon transition and climate technology innovation.” There is an intention to seize “this critical moment to engage in expanded individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy.”
Closer Cooperation is envisaged with respect to the following areas (extracts from the declaration):
The significant role of methane emissions are addressed through “increased action to control and reduce such emissions, and this is a “matter of necessity in the 2020s.”
The declaration sets out that to this end (extracts from the declaration):
Cooperation for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will include policies to support renewable energy generation, transmission policies that balance electricity supply and demand across broad geographies, distribution policies that encourage solar, storage and energy solutions that are closer to the end user, and policies and standards to reduce electricity waste.
In terms of individual commitments, the “United States has set a goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.” China commits to “phase down coal consumption” and make the best efforts to accelerate this work. Both sides “recall their respective commitments regarding the elimination of support for unabated international thermal coal power generation.”
Finally, concerning COP26, an “ambitious, balanced, and inclusive outcome on mitigation, adaptation, and support” is supported by both sides. The aim of achieving as soon as possible the finance goal of developed countries of raising jointly $100 billion per year to address the needs of developing countries is stressed, and cooperation for finalising the Paris Agreement Rulebook for Articles 6 and 13 Paris Agreement and common time frames for NDCs is promised.
During the 2020s a “Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s” will be established “which will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade.”
Through this cooperation, “continued policy and technical exchanges, identification of programs and projects in areas of mutual interest” could be facilitated, and “meetings of governmental and non-governmental experts” could take place, also to consider progress made and the need for additional efforts, and “reviewing the implementation of the Joint Statement and this Joint Declaration.”
This COP has seen various statements of this nature emerging, and a considerable number of agreements between “coalitions of the willing”. During the informal stocktaking on afternoon of 11th November, UN General Secretary António Guterres explicitly called on countries, financial institutions, private actors and think tanks, to build these coalitions and work together to implement the enormous transformational changes that the energy transition demands. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa reinforced the message that only through these coalitions would the necessary shift be possible. In an inclusive multilateralism, all stakeholders must be united and facilitate solidarity with communities whose lives are getting worse.
The US-China declaration emphasizes that these individual and joint approaches remain embedded within the wider UNFCCC processes. Since international negotiations depend on the good will of all governments, going forward in pairs or small groups can accelerate progress. This is not entirely unusual, it is policy integration between states at different speeds. Moreover, such sectoral integration could spill over to other areas where differences between partnering countries exist. As the US special envoy John Kerry stated when the declaration was released, “The U.S. and China have no shortage of differences, but on climate, cooperation is the only way to get things done.” That cooperation is the way to get things done, might (need to) be re-discovered for other areas where mutual interests or common concerns exists. For the UNFCCC process, it is crucial to have this leadership that is coupled with multilateral efforts in building consensus.
The cover decisions that have been published in draft versions so far, are presidential “wish lists”. They are based on the maximum agreement between Parties that appears to be possible at this point. Further changes might lie ahead, and they could go in both directions. In fact, the informal stocktaking in the morning was cut short to allow time for further negotiations in the afternoon, in the hope that more progress will be made. The US - China declaration might prove to be an incentive for that.
NGOs representing indigenous peoples and environmental organizations have already voiced some criticism of the draft decisions. They are concerned that there is an imbalance between the detailed mitigation section of the proposed COP decision 1/CP26 and the less concrete part on adaptation. This could pose a risk for adaptation finance and the recognition of the importance of climate adaptation more widely within the process.
These draft decisions have been labelled as “agreements” in some media statements. Decisions of conferences of Parties represent the outcome of the summit, they regularly include phrases that start with “welcomes”, “urges” and “recognises”. Yet they are different from international agreements in the sense of a treaty, they are not, per se, legally binding. That does not mean that they are not important or relevant for the treaty and the refinement of states’ obligations. These decisions can elaborate on treaty provisions, and they are taken in accordance with the mandate that is included in the respective treaty. Consequently, one method of halting progress in negotiations is to argue that a certain part of a decision is not covered by the treaty based mandate.
If adopted, decisions 1/CP.26 and 1/CMA.3 will have an important interpretative function for the understanding of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, and depending on the language, they will dynamically develop the climate change regime. For example, recognizing the scientific evidence of the IPCC reports would be a decisive step in the right direction, and the reference to phasing down fossil fuels would be significant progress: neither the UNFCCC nor the Paris Agreement contain such reference. Whether legally binding agreement or political commitment: concrete domestic action in line with the best available science must follow those promises that have been made in the past, and those that will be made at COP26, and ambition must accelerate for achieving the overall promise of keeping the 1.5 Degree Celsius target within reach.
Blog 8, 10th November 2021: Three days to go and a lot of heavy lifting still to do, by Dr Petra Minnerop, Associate Professor of International Law and Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University
Alok Sharma has no easy task on his hands. On [Tuesdays] news conference he noted that while some good progress had been made, “we still have a mountain to climb over the next few days”.
As COP26 President, Sharma has invited pairs of Ministers to lead informal consultations on important and still unresolved issues that must be addressed to finalise the Paris Agreement Rulebook. These consultations are closed and will proceed through informal meetings “to allow for maximum flexibility”. The objective is to enable and accelerate progress through working rapidly towards finalising texts that reflect consensus.
The following issues are being addressed through these consultations: Mitigation and the issue of keeping 1.5 Degree Celsius within reach; Adaptation; Article 6 of the Paris Agreement; Common Time Frames; Finance; Loss & Damage; Enhanced Transparency Framework; Linkages.
There is certainly a sense of urgency and meetings last well beyond late nights and into early mornings. The draft of the “cover” Decision 1/CP.26 in the version of 10th November (at 05:48am) as proposed by the President includes a direct affirmation of climate science findings. The following draft extracts make clear what is at stake in articulating scientific targets through legal process. The Conference of Parties “Recognises that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this requires meaningful and effective action by all Parties in this critical decade on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge” and “Also recognises that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C by 2100 requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century”.
The draft text of Decision 1/CMA.3 (as the decision of the Parties meeting under the Paris Agreement), version of 10th November 2021, was issued shortly after the draft of Decision 1/CP.26 (at 05:51am) and includes the same wording. This renewed emphasis in both drafts on the lower temperature target that the Paris Agreement sets forth, would be a significant development. It would endorse the findings of the IPCC and the UNFCCC Synthesis report.
As a further development, a paragraph is included that specifically mentions fossil fuels and “calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. If there is agreement, these decisions could contribute to the dynamic evolution of the international climate change regime, even though they are at sub-treaty level. The next task is, of course, to find consensus so that they can be adopted.
Some major economies stressed in the negotiations that any elements that, in their view, go beyond the original mandate and open up the negotiations on the Paris Agreement itself, could not be supported.
In terms of climate finance, draft Decision 1/CP.26 further reads that the Conference of Parties “Notes with 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” and it “Acknowledges the Climate Finance Delivery Plan: Meeting the USD 100 Billion Goal presented by developed country Parties and the collective actions contained therein”. This plan was developed jointly by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada and the State Secretary, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Germany, at the invitation of the COP26 President. Based on the pledges received by developed countries up to October 2021, the plan outlines the expectation that developed countries will make significant progress towards the US$100 billion goal in 2022. The plan speaks of confidence that this goal will then be met in 2023 and that it will likely be exceeded in subsequent years.
It is unclear how the impasse on negotiations on the guidance on cooperative approaches under Article 6, paragraph 2, and the Rules, modalities and procedures for the mechanism established by Article 6, paragraph 4, will be resolved. If these core problems are not solved, the Paris Agreement Rulebook would again be left unfinished, and a decision on the important market instruments postponed for a later climate summit. New texts were issued at 1am in the morning of the 10th November, with several brackets yet to be removed. The International Emissions Trading Association estimates that a potential cost reduction of implementing nationally determined contributions (NDCs) using the Article 6 instruments would amount to $250 billion per year in 2030. Market mechanisms therefore not only make achieving NDCs cheaper, they could also lead to enhanced ambition. The quality of the rules is important, in particular around accounting. COP26 has formed new “coalitions of the willing” but time is running fast at this climate summit for the heavy lifting ahead.
Blog 7, 9th November 2022: The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement - “It always seems impossible until it is done” by Dr Petra Minnerop, Associate Professor of International Law and Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University
“It always seems impossible until it is done”, were the words of former US Vice President, Al Gore, in the COP26 Plenary. Last Friday, 5th November, he sent an encouraging message to delegations: “we can do this together”. It is not the solution to the climate crisis that is lacking, but rather the political will. And yet Gore stressed that political will is always a “renewable resource”. His speech started with a science lesson, pointing to the devastating consequences of the most extreme weather events globally. It ended with an emphasis on solutions and solidarity with the next generation and those countries that are worst affected by climate change.
Al Gore highlighted the “Sustainability revolution” as the biggest investment opportunity in the world, with green hydrogen being the solution the fossil fuel industry had been hoping that it would never be found. In 2020, 90 percent of newly added electricity capacity worldwide came from renewable energy sources, mainly solar and wind energy. Scaling this up demands international cooperation, and the pledge of the US, the UK and the EU to provide US$8.5 billion to help South Africa transition to solar electricity may provide a model for such targeted cooperation.
The timing for this forceful speech was certainly well chosen. It came shortly after the COP26 Presidency had announced two “soft” law instruments as major outcomes of the first week, one concerning the end to deforestation, and the second one sending “coal on its way out”.
133 Parties, including the European Union, have signed up to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and together, they represent 90.07% of the planet’s forests. All signatories have committed collectively to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 (links to full statements and reports are provided at the end of this blog). The declaration is a positive step, not least because it stresses the interconnectivity of different binding international treaties. This emphasis on the interdependency of forests, biodiversity and sustainable land use is a concretisation and a re-affirmation of existing commitments, with references in the text to the collective and individual commitments that exist under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Sustainable Development Goals and under “other relevant initiatives”. The declaration is also a success because Australia, Brazil, China, as well as Russia and the US have signed up to it. The exact scope of the commitments will depend on the interpretation of critical words such as “reverse”.
A significantly smaller number of twelve signatories, including Canada, Germany, Japan, the EU, Norway and the US has agreed to the Global Forest Finance Pledge. The pledge announces the “Intention to collectively provide US$12 billion for forest-related climate finance between 2021-2025” in the hope that this will “incentivise results and support action in Official Development Assistance (ODA) eligible forest countries where increased ambition and concrete steps are shown towards ending deforestation by no later than 2030.”
The second major commitment concerns the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement. The text is not binding but somewhat resembles an international treaty, with four paragraphs setting out the commitments for signatories. It starts with a brief preamble “We, the undersigned, noting that coal power generation is the single biggest cause of global temperature increases, recognise the imperative to urgently scale-up the deployment of clean power to accelerate the energy transition.” The statement includes the shared vision to accelerate ending unabated coal power generation, in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature targets, while ensuring access to “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 (SDG7)”.
This introduction is followed by four “operational” paragraphs. The first sets the objective to “Rapidly scale up our deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures in our economies, and to support other countries to do the same, recognising the leadership shown by countries making ambitious commitments, including through support from the Energy Transition Council” (ETC). The ETC was launched by the UK Government ahead of COP26, as part of its COP26 Presidency. The purpose of the ETC is to support countries in meeting their energy demand while moving away from fossil fuels, and ensuring a just transition. The ETC connects partner countries through dialogues and involves key stakeholders for solution-oriented and needs driven approaches. As part of the 2022 strategic priorities it was agreed at COP26 that the ETC will continue at least until COP30 in 2025. A project with the ETC concerning legal support for raising ambition under the Paris Agreement is ongoing at Durham Law School.
The second paragraph of the statement refers to rapidly scaling up the technological means and policies in this decade that are necessary to “Achieve a transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter) for major economies and in the 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter) globally, consistent with our climate targets and the Paris Agreement, recognising the leadership shown by countries making ambitious commitments, including through the Powering Past Coal Alliance.”
The statement defines “unabated coal power generation” as “the use of coal power that is not mitigated with technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), in accordance with the G7 and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) definition in the “Net-zero by 2050 report”. In his speech, Al Gore made clear that there is “no such thing as clean coal”. He had the numbers to support his claim. Worldwide, carbon capture and storage projects only capture 36.6 million tonnes carbon, the equivalent of less than 6 hours of global emissions per year.
One reading of the time horizon that is envisaged for the transition away from coal would be that as a general rule, by 2039 at the latest, all major economies will accomplish the shift. However, the text in the brackets “or as soon as possible thereafter” could also be understood as an alternative to the “in the 2030s” rule and, in effect, mean 2040 and beyond. A good faith interpretation must, therefore, stress that the brackets matter, and that signatories have no intention to make use of the longer time horizon.
The third paragraph concerns the issuance of permits for new unabated coal-fired power generation projects and to cease new construction of unabated coal-fired power generation projects. It includes ending new direct governmental support for unabated international coal-fired power generation. This commitment refers back to the mentioned IEA report that stated that for pathways consistent with limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 Degree Celsius, no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be added. The declaration makes a start on this with coal as the most polluting fossil fuel. Given that the international law principle of the permanent sovereignty over natural resources guarantees every state the right to extract, this is a significant limitation of this principle and reflects progress that must be built upon in subsequent steps.
The fourth and final paragraph pledges to strengthen the domestic and international efforts to provide a robust framework for a just and inclusive transition and to “expand access to clean energy for all”. The overall positive development of this Global Coal to clean Power Transition Statement is that it increased the membership of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, with Ukraine, Poland and Singapore bringing the total number of participating signatories to 46. If China, India and the US were to join, this would increase the significance of the commitment considerably. Finally, it is worth mentioning that not every signatory could agree to everything. Botswana, Hungary, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Morocco, for example, endorsed some but not all elements of the four paragraphs. Some subnational units also signed up, such as Jeju, Special Self-Governing Province, Republic of Korea, The State of Hawaii, and The State of Oregon, as well as the Australian Capital Territory Act Government. Signatory corporate actors include ASWA Power, Carbon Tracker, EDF Group, Legal and General and Ørsted.
For more information about the research of Dr Petra Minnerop, including the ETC project: Dr Petra Minnerop
Read the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the The Global Forest Finance Pledge here
Read the The Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, the G7 Definition of unabated coal power generation and the International Energy Agency “Net-zero by 2050 report”.
For queries, please email the IHRR: firstname.lastname@example.org