There have been a lot of press releases and promises made over the last two weeks of COP- but all of the pledges made by governments are going to be judged by the final COP decision. It matters, because the official, final document will be used to hold governments accountable to a degree – otherwise, their promises are just promises, with no real way to make sure they are kept.
Finally, the UN has shared a draft – important to emphasise it’s only a draft! – of the final COP26 decision (it’s actually three decisions, but to keep it simple, we’ll put them together).
Much of the text in this draft decision document is not new or original, and it’s not enough to solve the climate crisis – but there are some key pieces that are worth fighting to keep in the text. Some of these are simple yet crucial keywords and phrases like ‘just transition’, ‘climate justice’ and ‘human rights’.
And some are more specific, such as repeating the importance of keeping warming limited to 1.5°C compared to 2°C to avoid the worst of climate impacts, while recognizing climate impacts are already causing suffering around the world. (Although this alone is not enough to “keep 1.5°C alive”, one of the goals of this COP, of course.)
On phasing out fossil fuels:
Let’s move on to some of the other key phrases in the document(s). One of the really important bits in the text is the call upon “…Parties to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. This is vital: fossil fuels are finally being openly named as the problem in official texts.
But the text is also flawed: by singling out coal, it gives a free pass to use fossil gas in energy systems. Coal may be the single biggest source of carbon emissions, but to effectively limit global heating to 1.5°C degrees or even 2°C degrees, ALL fossil fuels need to be phased out.
By focusing only on coal, we risk creating a dynamic in which poor countries with coal infrastructure are punished, while rich countries with more fossil gas in their energy mix are rewarded. Fossil fuels need to go, period.
On funding the just transition:
As we phase out fossil fuels, we have to put mechanisms in place to ensure that developing countries can leapfrog straight to using renewable energy systems, and not become dependent on other forms of fossil fuels – essentially meaning they would have to transition energy systems twice.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much detail in the current draft decision text in terms of the finance that needs to be provided to poorer countries to make the leap, beyond a recognition that more finance, more grants, and greater flexibility is needed. We are yet to see how these issues will make it into the final text – so now is the time to raise our voices to make sure that funding for just transition is not overlooked.
On defunding fossil fuels:
As we all know, we need to see money flows cut off to all fossil fuels, through the regulation of public and private finance. There is a call in this draft decision to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels: we need to lean on that to go further and really push a strong demand to all governments and banks to stop funding fossil fuels altogether.
Now is the time to do that – while it’s hot on the media’s agenda, fresh in people’s minds – raise your voice by signing the petition to defund fossil fuels and fund a just transition and share as widely as possible on social media
This draft COP26 decision has some important points in it that are potentially worth celebrating. For example, there’s a decision to do yearly synthesis reports on what action different countries are taking on climate. If this can be done without creating an additional burden on countries from the Global South, it could help stop rich country governments spreading misinformation on how their pledges will help us keep to 1.5°C degree warming.
It’s also positive to see that there will be a high level roundtable to ensure that we work well together towards 2030 goals. This gives us another opportunity to apply pressure and hold our governments accountable. Every year we want to increase climate ambition – so it’s good that this draft decision supports ways to do this.
In conclusion: there are of course many pieces missing (a focus on phasing out all fossil fuels! Detail on how governments must fund a just transition!) but we can use this COP, as always, as a jumping off point to keep demanding that governments and financial institutions defund fossil fuels and invest in a just transition.