A flurry of pledges and initiatives was touted as successes from COP26, serving as serendipitous distractions from the watered-down language surrounding coal phase outs and the lack of consensus, even push-back, on official financing for loss and damage. Nonetheless, they still merit evaluation, raising the question – where are they a year later? Was it more hot air or is there real work and weight being put behind the Glasgow announcements? This blog takes a look at the most prominent commitments in terms of their potential to advance the mitigation agenda and what to expect at COP27.
Declaration on Forests and Land Use
The Declaration on Forests and Land Use commits to reversing forest loss and degradation by 2030. 145 countries signed the declaration, covering 90% of the world’s forests, including countries such as the US, Canada, Germany, China, and Brazil (though with the notable absence of India).
As deforestation accounts for 10-20% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this declaration is a powerful lever to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the world is far from meeting the declaration’s goals. And with the target set to 2030, there could be a race to the bottom to extract as much value out of forest assets before then. Brazil leads the signatories in deforestation with record rates in 2022, up by 81 % from August 2021.The Brazilian presidential run-off election at the end of October will be important for deciding the future of Brazil’s forests – especially the Amazon rainforest, nicknamed the “lungs of the plant” – and the credibility of the Declaration over the next half decade.
Global Methane Pledge
The Pledge commits countries to a reduction of global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 and has been signed by 103 states, representing over 70% of the global economy and half of anthropogenic methane emissions. An estimated 5.7% of world emissions could be tackled if the pledge is realized.
Progress on the pledge has been slow. However, the US Biden administration looks to finish a roadmap by early 2023 that will lay out plans to cut methane emissions by nearly 75% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. Recently, at the Global Methane, Climate, and Clean Air Forum, US Climate Envoy John Kerry amplified the message that countries need to ramp up spending dedicated to cutting methane emissions. Canada is also working to publish draft regulations by early next year in support of its goal to lower oil and gas sector methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030.
First Movers Coalition
The First Movers Coalition (FMC) is a public-private sector partnership between the US State Department, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC) team, the World Economic Forum, and now 55 members with commitments in at least one sector (aluminum, aviation, carbon dioxide removal (CDR), shipping, steel, trucking – with aluminum and CDR added over the last year). Launched at COP26, the FMC committed to the reduction of an estimated quarter of a billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030.
The FMC is planning to add two final sectors, chemicals and concrete, at COP27. A host of nations, including the US’ G7 partners Germany and Japan, have joined on. With some of the world’s industry leaders readily involved here (e.g., Maersk making commitments in the shipping sector), there is a good opportunity for constructive public-private partnerships to advance important sectoral decarbonization agendas. Governments can help provide market certainty with the right signals and industry leaders can help push national ambition levels and potentially assist in facilitating policy cooperation.
Pledge to stop financing foreign fossil fuel projects
The pledge to stop financing foreign fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022 was signed by a mix of bilateral and multilateral development banks (MDBs) and various developed and developing nations, including US, UK, France, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. China notably did not sign.
Unfortunately, progress on this commitment has been lacking from developed countries, in large part due to the current energy crisis. Germany will likely be supporting Senegal in the extraction and export of LNG from the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim field. Senegal's government expects to extract 2.5 million tons of gas in the first year and 10 million tons of gas annually from the field by 2030.
In the United States, the Biden’s administration’s call for a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked in the federal court after 14 state governments, including Louisiana and Texas, legally challenged the move. Australia is also deploying heavy government subsidies to ramp up its coal mining and gas exploration. So, while indications of slowing down fossil fuel financing abroad may be somewhat realized, this has not translated into policy back home, further highlighting discrepancies between developed nations’ call for action and their actual actions.
Coal Phase Out Support for South Africa
The UK, US, France, Germany, and the EU together pledged $8.5 billion over the next five years to support South Africa’s coal phase out. 90% of South Africa’s electricity generation comes from coal, making it the 6th largest coal generator (in terms of volume) in the world. This declaration aims to cut coal emissions in half by 2030 and has the potential to mitigate 200 million tons of CO2/year.
In the past year, the Just Energy Transition Partnership model has been extended to India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Senegal. However, the further advancement of the pledge in South Africa remains unclear. In addition to the funding, the South African government changed regulations in their electricity generation, allowing companies to generate a lot more of their own electricity without a license (100MW up from just 1MW). This has spurred the development of approximately 4.5 gigawatts (GW) of projects since the regulation change, including two 100-MW solar PV projects. However, South Africa’s President Ramaphosa simultaneously announced the start of construction of a new 4.6 GW coal power plant in the Limpopo province whose sole purpose will be to supply power for an adjacent Chinese metallurgical complex.
Loss and Damage
Though not mitigation and not as coordinated as the other pledges – in the absence of official consensus on loss and damage there were movements both at COP26 and over the last year here too. Though less clearly defined as other pledges and lacking in official consensus, there were several notable loss and damage (L&D) developments at COP26 and over the past year.
After the US and EU blocked calls for a facility to provide financing for loss and damage, derailing any major progress on the subject, Scotland pledged £1 million towards L&D at last year’s COP. This spurred further movement with Wallonia pledging €1 million and most recently, Denmark pledging 100 million DKK (~€13m) to L&D activities at the UNGA in September 2022. With lots of international attention, heightened by COP27 being hosted in an emerging economy, this will be an area to watch in Sharm el Sheikh. How further funding streams pan out and possible viable alternatives to consensus politics will, again, depend on the positions taken by the EU and the US this time around.
Adding to the field
While countries continue the work on last year’s initiatives with different levels of urgency, this year’s COP can expect even more initiatives and pledges to enter the fray. Some new – such as the US-led Net-zero Government Initiative and the Ocean Conservation Pledge (already announced at the Our Ocean’s Conference in the summer) – some complimentary to those from last year – such as the Forest and Climate Leadership Partnership, which will help operationalize the Declaration on Forests and Land Use.
The German government is also expected to do a bigger launch of its Global Shield Against Climate Risks initiative, with expected pledges from G7 counterparts. There are likely to be more pledges and initiatives too, with some murmurs of initiatives relating to more technical aspects of mitigation implementation such as carbon contracts for difference and work related to Article 6 coordination.
In the absence of consensus politics under the official agenda and in an era of short news cycles and even shorter attention spans, it seems that the proliferation of pledges might continue again this year. Were more to come it would be important that these focus on adaptation, and Egypt as a stage would certainly be the COP to do this. More important, however, is that before penning their name to more lofty targets, Parties should sit down and hash out the details of how to implement what they have already committed to. Ideally countries don’t renege on their promises from last year, and, even better, they create work plans and codify nationally what they’ve been pledging on the international stage. Ambition is great, but not backing that ambition is not only problematic for the climate, but also creates a legitimacy gap that erodes the trust needed for the bottom-up nature of post-Paris climate negotiations. Fewer words and more action, planning, and implementation can turn this from a bad COP to a good COP.