COP26: Multilateralism Has Failed Once Again

Nov 28, 2021: As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a ‘code red for humanity’ early this year due to exacerbated global carbon emission rates, COP26, formally known as Glasgow Climate Pact, became an event of paramount importance.

The event was held in the first two weeks of November and was attended by all major contributors as well as the most affected countries. Despite the hype and hopes of achieving consensus on various political standpoints, very little was achieved in the summit; adding COP26 to the list of failed multilateral initiatives. 

In terms of its meagre achievements, the US and EU have pledged to reach zero emission levels by 2050. China has set the year to be 2060. Despite seemingly a positive development, these dates are quite far-fetched. Many contemporary leaders won’t even be alive when these years come. Furthermore, even if they achieve zero emissions as targeted, they will still not be able to restrict the temperature goal of 1.5°C as compared to preindustrial levels and as agreed in the Paris Agreement.

The developing world has also pledged to curb emissions. Pakistan has pledged to halve its carbon emissions by 2030. However, like the rest of the developing world, this is contingent upon receiving generous climate finance from the developed world. This finance is essential in order to set up renewable power generation projects, retire existing coal based power plants and make the society climate resilient as well as climate adaptable. Thus, conditionalizing emission reductions upon climate finance will only exacerbate climate change.

Besides unrealistic emission reduction pledges, various countries from the Gulf and Europe, whose economies rely on non-renewable fuel sources have proposed secondary solutions. They want to counter the climate crisis by investing in carbon storage technologies instead of implementing behavioral change. This underscores the political and economic motive behind exacerbating emission levels and deteriorating global environment. Moreover, these opinions also dilute the efficacy of collective effort required to counter the threat faced by humanity altogether.

Having discussed the meagre achievements of COP26, it is pertinent to discuss the gaps left unfilled after the 12 days conference. So far, there is no process in place to ensure the implementation with accountability of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) proposed by member nations. The UNFCCC has no powers to hold any nation accountable in implementation of the promises. At the moment, promises of zero emissions seem like kicking the can down the road.

On the other hand, what has been achieved is also quite inadequate. For instance, China and India objected to the wordings of text calling to “phase out” coal. After their objections, the text has been changed to “phase down”. As a result, the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases will continue using coal domestically. 

Another indicator of the failure of COP26 is the unrealistic and overarching expectations being created from COP27, planned to be held next year. The body has already initiated the request process to revisit NDCs and find more realistic pledges before the end of 2022. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the current pledges are not enough to materialize the promises made in the Paris Agreement and restrict global temperature increase to 1.5°C as compared to pre-industrial levels.

In conclusion, multilateralism has failed once again as COP26 achieved nothing more than reiterating the seriousness of the crisis and gathering unrealistic contribution figures. Amid political and economic interests, the world has come closer to an existential fallout. Without climate funding, research, and most importantly, a combined effort, the world will collapse and crumble from within.

The writer is a Computer Science graduate from LUMS.
shanawaraziz@gmail.com

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