2 weeks at the Glasgow climate conference


The annual international climate conferences – usually referred to as COPs – appear to follow a common and by now predictable script: First, there is general acknowledgement of the crisis, hope and expectations. Then comes a bit of drama with an outcome that is generally portrayed as a compromise and – because parties do not walk out on each other – a kind of “happy ending” with, of course, further important work to start immediately. “After the COP is before the COP.”

This was pretty much the same in Glasgow. Despite the effective exclusion of civil society as well as some smaller developing country parties from parts of the conference and bad logistical arrangements for the average participants, the world media generally succumbed to PR narrative managed well by the hosting UK government. At the beginning of the conference the focus was on the climate emergency. Different groups of countries agreed an unprecedented number of new policy instruments and projects – also involving businesses, funders and other non-government stakeholders. This included a declaration on forests and land use, a pledge to reduce methane emissions, the “Glasgow Breakthrough” on green technology, initiatives on agriculture (“AIM 4 Climate”), aviation (International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition) or access to clean energy (“One Sun One World One Grid” – seriously?) as well as the “Dhaka-Glasgow Declaration” on support for the most vulnerable countries.

Meanwhile in the official inter-governmental negotiations fundamental issues that divide the parties but are key for the success of the Paris Agreement (PA) were either ignored or badly concealed by diplomatic language: Where is the new and predictable finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Global South? If and to what extent does the UNFCCC definition of developed and developing country parties still apply under the PA? When do early industrialized countries accept responsibility for current loss and damage caused by climate change? How can the “global goal on adaption” be relevant in practice? How much longer will fossil fuel companies be allowed to participate in the meetings? Is the ambition in parties’ nationally determined contributions a fair reflection of their capabilities? If some countries cannot be carbon neutral by 2050 who goes carbon negative? And so on and so forth. But despite these substantive differences, after a day of extra time and some nail-biting, ministers from around the globe “hammered” out another deal. Job done, till next time….

Nevertheless, the decisions adopted (or not) in Glasgow – which includes three covering decision by the governing bodies of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the PA termed the “Glasgow Climate Pact” – reflect many of the contentious issues at least “between the lines”. To tackle at least some of them head on could have shown that states are really willing to “do things differently”. Something promised by probably all governments during the global pandemic. For an alternative – but purely fictional – approach in this context see: https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/cop26_peoples_climate_deal_11/?fpla

So – maybe apart from the extreme visibility of sponsors – the climate conference in Glasgow was business as usual. The US returned to the fold and via a string of senior current and former government officials immediately attracted much of the limelight again. The way, however, John Kerry (the presidential climate envoy) laid into China (without calling it by name) for failing to attend the so called “Leaders Summit” and not taking climate change seriously was simply self-righteous and arrogant. Returning to the process with some humbleness could have been another sign (to do things differently). But for a proper assessment of the geopolitical ins and outs of the conference see: https://www.zero.cam.ac.uk/stories/dr-joanna-depledge-reflections-glasgow-cop-26-beyond-headlines

To the extent possible, we stay clear of the political wrangling and focus on providing independent legal assessments. In connection with the Glasgow climate conference we worked on advice related to, for example, the common timeframes (under Art.4.10 of the Paris Agreement), the overlapping mandates of UNFCCC governance bodies, the functions and institutionalization of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, the global goal on adaptation (in Art.7.1), compared the different iterations of the draft decision text on Art.6, and analysed the EU’s proposal for a carbon border adjustment mechanism. The requests for assistance came predominately from African delegates (22), 9 from Asia and 2 from Latin America. In addition, we supported 5 civil society organisation and distributed hundreds of guidebooks on the Paris Agreement.

While we do not promote positions, it can be a little frustrating to see how towards the end of a climate conference the proposals of small, particularly climate vulnerable countries are usually watered down or completely disappear in the final versions of the text. All our advice, however, remains available via the LRI data at https://legalresponse.org/legal-assistance/ And for those still wondering whether the negotiations under Article 6 on market approaches had a “happy ending” – read the article by LRI expert David Rossati in Climate Law: https://brill.com/view/journals/clla/11/3-4/article-p298_298.xml