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India leads negotiations as COP26 deal is done

The UN climate talks, which ended late on Saturday, for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming, even as coal-reliant countries including India and China posed last-minute objections.
A man documents a hanged penguin representation at the Tuvalu pavilion during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. (REUTERS)
Updated on Nov 15, 2021 04:50 AM IST
ByJayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times, Glasgow

Leaders from nearly 200 countries accepted a new climate agreement after the COP26 summit in Glasgow concluded its plenary following a tense overtime, hammering out a deal that recognised India’s intervention for the world to “phase down” rather than “phase out” fossil fuels.

India called the COP26 summit a “success”, saying it put across the concerns and ideas of the developing world quite “succinctly and unequivocally” in front of the world community.

The UN climate talks, which ended late on Saturday, for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming, even as coal-reliant countries including India and China posed last-minute objections.

On Sunday, India called the COP26 summit a “success”, saying it put across the concerns and ideas of the developing world quite “succinctly and unequivocally” in front of the world community. Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav, head of the Indian delegation at the Glasgow conference, said that the world needs to awaken to the reality that the current climate crisis has been precipitated by unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns in the developed countries.


“The summit proved to be a success from India’s standpoint because we articulated and put across the concerns and ideas of the developing world quite succinctly and unequivocally. India presented the way for a constructive debate and equitable and just solutions at the forum.”

The agreement has won applause for keeping alive the hope of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, but many of the delegations said they wished they had come away with more. “If it’s a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable,” US climate envoy John Kerry said in the final meeting to approve the Glasgow Climate Pact. “And this has been, I think, a good negotiation.”

The agreement aims to limit global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The deal, however, is very weak on several fronts, including climate finance and loss and damage.

Countries, as part of the agreement, have also agreed to meet next year to discuss further carbon cuts so that the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius can be reached.

During the formal plenary for adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact, India and China raised objections to the draft Glasgow Climate Pact text and managed to get the changes inserted to reflect their national circumstances in the final agreement.

India wanted a change in a paragraph in the draft text related to “phase out” of coal and fossil fuels to reflect the imperatives of fossil fuel subsidies for the poor in India. India asked the text to be reworded to: “Call upon parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts to phase down unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing support to poorest and the most vulnerable, in line with national circumstances, and recognising the need for support towards a just transition.”

China said that following consultations with like-minded developing countries, the stakeholders also wanted the same change in wording.

Several developed countries said the change watered down the Glasgow Pact but agreed to the compromise. Switzerland, on behalf of the Environment Integrity Group, expressed disappointment that “the para on coal was watered down through an intense parent process. We do not need to phase down but phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies”.

Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission in-charge of the European Green Deal, also expressed disappointment. “It is no secret EU would want to go even further in the initial cover text on coal... European wealth was built on coal and if we don’t get rid of coal, European death will also be built on coal. We know coal has no future. What was read out to us was a further disappointment,” he said.

Brandon Wu, director policy and campaigns, Actionaid USA, however, said: “Already seeing articles blaming India for #COP26 “phase down” instead of “out” coal language. REALLY important to see full context here. The problem is not India; the problem is the US & rich countries refusing to couch fossil fuel phaseout in the context of global equity.”

A senior member of the Indian delegation said: “All fossil fuels are bad for the environment. Singling out coal without talking about other fossil fuels such as natural gas is not the best way forward. But India, in the spirit of compromise, helped evolve language that was acceptable to all. This language takes care of concerns of many developing countries, including India... This gives us countries more flexibility to meet mitigation targets in line with the national circumstances and developmental needs. One-size-fits-all approach is not the best way to evolve consensus on global issues.”

The Glasgow Climate Pact and the Paris Rule book were both adopted, which includes the rules for carbon markets.

“India will be affected by COP26 asking countries to phase out polluting coal power and withdraw inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. India will also have to join other countries to escalate emission reduction actions more frequently. This will not be easy for a lower-middle income country that is trying to lift millions of people out of poverty,” said Ulka Kelkar, Climate Programme Director, World Resources Institute, India.

The British COP26 president, Alok Sharma, was visibly emotional before banging down his gavel to signal there were no vetoes to the pact, after the talks had extended overtime – and overnight – into Saturday. “It is so decided,” said Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, as he declared the new pact after marathon talks which began earlier this month. “I hope we can leave this conference united, having delivered something significant for people and the planet together as one,” he said.

Sharma said he wished he had been able to preserve the originally agreed language on phasing out coal power in the Glasgow climate deal. “Of course I wish that we had managed to preserve the language on coal that was originally agreed,” he told reporters. “Nevertheless, we do have language on coal, on phase down, and I don’t think anyone at the start of this process would have necessarily expected that that would have been retained.”

He apologised for “the way this process has unfolded”.

Several countries criticised the change on fossil fuels promoted by India, even as Yadav asked the Glasgow climate summit how one could expect developing nations to make promises about “phasing out” coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication.

Earlier, at a stocktaking plenary, India made an important intervention to express its disappointment over the draft text of the agreement. The country expressed unfairness towards the developing world and pointed to a “lack of balance” and urgency around achieving climate finance targets.

“Mr president (Sharma) thank you for your continued efforts to build consensus. I’m afraid, however, the consensus remained elusive. India stands ready for constructive debate and equitable and just solution in this forum,” Yadav said.

The minister pointed to climate friendly lifestyles and climate justice, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement, as keys to solving the climate crisis caused by “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns”.

Fossil fuels and their use have enabled parts of the world to attain high levels of wealth, and targeting any particular sector is uncalled for, he said.

Every country will arrive at net-zero as per its own national circumstances, strengths and weaknesses, Yadav said. “Developing countries have a right to their fair share of the global carbon budget and are entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels within this scope,” he said.

With inputs from agencies

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