UNFCCC COP26 - Climate Change Conference

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) was held in Glasgow.

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was initially scheduled to take place between November 9 and 19, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was rescheduled. It started on October 31, 2021.

In this article, we shall discuss the background, overview and goals of COP 26 and India’s initiatives corresponding to it.  All IAS Exam aspirants must carefully analyse the key outcomes of this meeting, as questions based on the same may be asked in the upcoming examination.


Climate change and its implications:

  • The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in August 2021 had sounded an alert for the nations of the world over global temperature rise and associated risks.
  • The report notes how human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land which is in turn leading to widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere. This is contributing to the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme climate events like droughts, extreme rainfall, rising sea levels and heatwaves.

Insufficient climate action:

  • Despite the signs of impending planetary emergency, most nations of the world have not shown signs of seriousness with respect to climate action.
  • Global GHG emissions have continued unabated. The climate action envisaged seems inadequate to arrest the rising global temperatures. The 12th Emissions Gap Report released by the UN Environment Programme notes huge gap between the updated emissions reduction pledges made by countries for 2030 and what is needed to keep the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees C or even 2 degrees C. This could lead to a rise in temperature by 2.7 degrees C by the end of the century. There is an increasingly narrowing window for the world to taper down emissions before the temperature rises beyond 2 degrees C.

Renewed efforts for global climate action:

  • In this regard, major preparatory conferences and bilateral meetings had been held ahead of the COP26 to persuade countries to raise their emission reduction commitments from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. There had been a growing call for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Pre-summit goals set for the COP26:

  • The COP26 had set itself four goals even before the start of the climate summit.
  • To achieve global net-zero by the middle of the century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.
  • To adapt to protect communities as well as natural habitats from the impact of climate change.
  • Mobilisation of finances for the stated goals.
  • To work together so that the rules could be listed out in detail and help in the fulfilment of the Paris Agreement.

Major initiatives announced at the Glasgow summit

Ending deforestation:

  • In the COP26 climate summit’s first major deal, leaders at the COP26 global climate conference have pledged to stop deforestation by 2030 to help slow climate change.
  • According to the Global Forest Watch, in 2020 the world lost 2,58,000 sq. km of forests.
  • Felling trees contributes to climate change because it depletes forests that absorb vast amounts of the warming gas CO2.
  • This agreement expands a commitment by 40 countries as part of the 2014 New York Declaration of Forests.
  • The New York Declaration on Forests is a voluntary and non-legally binding political declaration adopted in 2014. The Declaration pledges to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020, end it by 2030, and restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.
  • Over 100 national leaders have pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade. Brazil – where stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down – was also among the signatories.
  • The pledge includes almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds to invest in protecting and restoring forests. Some of the funding will go to developing countries to restore damaged land, tackle wildfires and support indigenous communities.
  • Under the agreement, 12 countries pledged to provide $12 billion of public funding between 2021 and 2025 for developing countries to restore degraded land and tackle wildfires.
  • Governments of 28 countries also committed to removing deforestation from the global trade of food including animal husbandry and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soya and cocoa. These industries drive forest loss by cutting down trees to make space for animals to graze or crops to grow.
  • More than 30 of the world’s biggest financial companies have also promised to end investment in activities linked to deforestation.
  • Though the environmental experts have welcomed the move, they have also warned on how a previous deal in 2014 had failed to slow deforestation at all.

Reducing methane emissions:

  • While the main focus of efforts to curb global warming has been on carbon dioxide, experts point out that cutting methane emissions could be one of the most effective interventions to reduce near-term global warming. Although there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere and it sticks around for longer, individual methane molecules have a more powerful warming effect on the atmosphere than single CO2 molecules given their higher global warming potential (GWP).
  • The Global Warming Potential (GWP) of greenhouse gas is its ability to trap extra heat in the atmosphere over time relative to carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and is responsible for a third of current warming from human activities. Some of the major sources of methane emissions include animal husbandry, landfill waste and oil and gas production.
  • The US and the EU have announced a global partnership to cut emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by 2030. The Global Methane Pledge aims to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared with 2020 levels.
  • Nearly 90 countries have pledged support to this U.S. and EU-led effort. The Global Methane Pledge, first announced in September, now covers emissions from two-thirds of the global economy. While Brazil, one of the five biggest emitters of methane, has signed up, three other large emitter nations — China, Russia and India — have not signed up.

Read: What is Global Methane Pledge?

Infrastructure for Resilient Island States:

  • India has launched the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) initiative for developing the infrastructure of small island nations.
  • IRIS initiative becomes critical given that these small island nations remain the most vulnerable countries facing the biggest threat from climate change. They face an existential threat due to climate change.
  • The IRIS is a part of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) initiative.
  • CDRI is a multi-stakeholder global partnership of national governments, UN agencies and programmes, multilateral development banks and financing mechanisms, the private sector, and knowledge institutions, launched at the UN Climate Action Summit of 2019. It aims to promote the resilience of new and existing infrastructure systems to climate and disaster risks in support of sustainable development.
  • The new initiative is the result of cooperation between India, the U.K. and Australia and included the participation of leaders of small island nations such as Fiji, Jamaica and Mauritius.
  • The initiative would involve setting up norms and standards for resilient infrastructure in small island states and coastal areas. IRIS would focus on building capacity, having pilot projects in small island developing states. Promotion of quality infrastructure in the Small Island States will benefit both lives and livelihoods in such states.
  • India’s space agency ISRO will build a special data window for the small island nations to provide them timely information about cyclones, coral-reef monitoring, coast-line monitoring through satellite.
  • The initiative will make it easy for SIDS to mobilise technology, finance and necessary information faster and more effectively.

One Sun, One World, One Grid:

  • The new Global Green Grids Initiative One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG) has been announced at the ongoing COP26.
  • The new GGI-OSOWOG is an evolution of the International Solar Alliance‘s OSOWOG multilateral drive to foster interconnected solar energy infrastructure at a global scale.
  • This initiative aims to tap solar energy and have it travel seamlessly across borders. The initiative will work towards accelerating the making of large solar power stations and wind farms in the best locations, linked together by continental-scale grids crossing national borders.
  • The sun offers a huge source of energy for mankind. All the energy humanity uses in a year is equal to the energy that reaches the earth from the sun in a single hour. Given that the sun never sets and that half the planet is always receiving sunlight, there is the potential to harness solar energy continuously across the globe and trade this energy across borders to ensure adequate energy supply to meet the needs of everyone on earth.
  • Over 80 countries have endorsed the One Sun Declaration.
  • This initiative will bring together an international coalition of national governments, financial organizations, and power system operators.
  • Realizing One Sun One World One Grid through interconnected green grids can be transformational, enabling all the nations of the world to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement to prevent dangerous climate change, to accelerate the clean energy transition, and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These efforts can stimulate green investments and create millions of good jobs. By sharing the sun’s energy, the nations can help build a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Read more about One Sun One World One Grid in the linked article.

India’s New Climate Action Goals

  • India will achieve net-zero emissions latest by 2070. This is notable given that so far India was the only major emitter that had not committed to a timeline to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions and has also argued against the concept of net-zero carbon targets.
  • Renewable energy would be tapped in a big way in India. By 2030, India will ensure 50% of its energy will be sourced from renewable sources. India plans to generate 500 GW of renewable energy by 2030. This marks a 50 GW increase from its current target of 450 GW.
  • India also committed to reducing its carbon emissions until 2030 by a billion tonnes. By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45 per cent. India is largely on track to meet, and even exceed, its Paris Agreement targets: reduce emissions’ intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 33 to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

India’s GHG Emission

Current status:

  • India is the third-largest emitter of GHGs in the world. India accounts for about 7% of today’s global emissions. However, India has extremely low per-capita emissions that are far below the global average.
  • According to the World Bank data, in 2018, India had per capita emissions of 1.8 tonnes. This is projected to expand to 2.4 tonnes in 2030 as per the Paris Agreement obligations of India.
  • In terms of sectoral GHG emissions, data from 2016 shows that electricity and heat account for the highest share of GHG emissions, followed by agriculture, manufacturing and construction, transport sector, industry and land-use change and forestry.

Future outlook:

  • With India’s GDP per capita projected to rise, a rise in carbon emissions in the short term, primarily from energy is expected given that the Indian economy relies heavily on coal and other fossil fuel use.
  • The larger share of services in Indian GDP augurs well for India’s low carbon development path.
  • Though the population growth is slowing, the absolute increase in population and rising consumption behaviour will result in pressure on carbon emissions in the coming years.

India’s Climate Performance

  • India had pledged to cut the emissions intensity of its growth by 33-35% of GDP from 2005 levels by 2030. India has declared that it has so far achieved a 24% reduction on this metric.
  • India has also announced that it would scale up its renewable power target to 450 GW by the end of 2030, in addition to the target of 40% of energy capacity based on renewable energy sources as pledged under the Paris climate agreement.
  • India is also expanding forest cover to create a 2.5 to 3 billion tonne carbon sink.
  • India has recently unveiled a national hydrogen policy to produce hydrogen through green methods, aiming for its deployment in industrial sectors as well as transport, and also for export. This would help India decarbonize its energy sector.

Challenges for India with respect to the new target

Stiff targets:

  • Some environmental experts have expressed doubts over India’s stiff climate action targets.
  • Achieving net zero by 2070 would require India to peak emissions by 2040, following which emissions will have to start to reduce. Available studies suggest that for a 2070 net zero year and peaking year of 2040, India would have to reduce the emissions intensity (emissions per unit GDP) by 85%. This appears a stiff target as notably, India has so far only been able to reduce its emission intensity by 24% from the 2005 levels.
  • To enable such a steep reduction, the share of non-hydro renewable energy has to increase to 65% from the current 11% and the share of electric cars in passenger sales has to go from current 0.1% to 75% by 2040 while the share of fossil energy in primary energy has to decrease from 73% to 40%. These appear too steep a target given India’s financial and technical resources at present.

Implications for India’s developmental process:

  • A study by the think tank Council for Energy Environment and Water said that for India to achieve the net-zero target even by 2070, usage of coal, especially for power generation, will need to peak by 2040 and drop by 99% between 2040 and 2060.
  • This could hurt India’s developmental aspirations.

Finance shortage:

  • The decarbonization of the Indian economy and adoption of renewable energy sources will require huge upfront capital investment. India currently lacks this level of capital and hence will be reliant on external funding as well.
  • The failure of the developed countries to arrange for a $100 billion climate fund annually from 2020 onwards has not materialised as yet.

Also, read => Important Environment Conventions & Protocols

Lacunae in the Global Climate Action Efforts

Insufficient climate action:

  • The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) had emphasised that to keep the temperature rising within 1.5°C, global emissions should be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, on the way to net-zero 2050.
  • However many high-emitter countries are short of the emissions reductions required by 2030 to restrict global temperature rise to well below 2°C or even the goal of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Global emissions in 2030 are expected to be 16.3% above the 2010 level, as against the call for 2030 emissions to be 45% less from 2010 levels for the 1.5°C goal. Thus there is a need for a significant increase in the level of ambition of NDCs till 2030.
  • The updated NDCs submitted by the parties too would not be sufficient to meet the IPCC recommendations. While several large emitters like the U.K., European Union, China and the U.S. have raised their emission targets, this is still grossly insufficient to meet the temperature goals. At the current rate of emissions even with the updated NDCs, much of the carbon budget would be used up fast.
  • Carbon budgets represent the quantum of CO2 the atmosphere can hold for a given global temperature, best assessed through cumulative emissions and not annual flows.

Overlooking the need for immediate action:

  • The net zero 2050 target is too distant a goal and this might divert attention away from the urgent 2030 target that COP26 should focus on.

Contradictory to the CBDR principle:

  • The net-zero target also seems to be contradictory to the foundational principle of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Instead of a common goal, the article argues for a differentiated target year. Developed countries should reach net zero earlier while the developing countries should get more time. The article calls on the developed countries to take up more responsibility for climate action given their legacy emissions. The developing countries should also do what they can, with technological and financial assistance from the developed countries

Also, check:

UPSC Prelims Environment and Ecology Questions Environment & Ecology Questions in UPSC Mains GS-3

Way forward for India

Take up leadership role:

  • Given the global repercussions of climate change, India should participate in global efforts to draw up technological, socio-economic, and financial policies and requirements to demonstrate a commitment to the 1.5° C goal.
  • It should take up the lead in ensuring the voice of the developing and underdeveloped countries are heard in the climate change negotiations.

Make the set targets conditional:

  • Some experts have pointed out that while it had become increasingly difficult for India to dodge the calls to announce a net-zero date, India, however, should have said that it will reach net zero by 2070, only if other developed countries themselves commit to reaching net-zero before 2050 and also offer financial and technological help to developing nations like itself. It should have taken up conditional targets.
  • India should also argue for adequate adaptation measures to complement the mitigation efforts at the COP26.
  • India, in enlightened self-interest, must stake its claim to a fair share of the global carbon budget and it should call for restriction of the future cumulative emissions by the big emitters, to their fair share of the global carbon budget. India should call for the developed countries to compensate for the legacy emissions.

Adopt green growth pathways:

  • Given the global repercussions of emissions for all climate-vulnerable nations including itself, the Indian government should not limit itself to a minimalist approach. India should seek green growth pathways. Notably, India stands to gain from such an energy transition given the economic growth prospects and the sustainability of such green growth pathways.
  • The green growth pathway could involve widespread adoption of renewable energy while also averting long-term lock-in effects of fossil fuel dependence in energy generation, buildings, mobility and so on. India should formulate a clear plan for a multi-sectoral energy transition. The indirect carbon tax in the form of levies on automotive fuels should be used for renewable energy adoption and push for affordable electric mobility. This will help ease the financial challenges in the adoption of green growth pathways.

Structured approach towards net-zero:

  • Net zero can be achieved only through a structured programme that relies on sharp emissions reduction, wide support for clean energy innovation and adoption of green technologies.
  • Some of the major interventions that can help India move towards a net zero target include the following:
  • India needs to create a legal mandate for climate impact assessment of all activities. Low carbon and green technologies must be adopted to reduce the environmental impact of manmade activities.
  • Highly energy-efficient goods that last longer should be legally mandated by appropriate legislation. Also, the consumers should be given a legal right to repair goods they buy. This will help reduce the demand for goods.
  • The creation of dedicated green funds and channelling of adequate finances and investments through them into environmentally sustainable projects, processes, sectors would be inevitable.
  • The governments must support and incentivize the private sector for green innovation and the adoption of the green economy.
  • Enhanced renewable energy adoption should be a top priority with equal emphasis on both centralized and decentralized power production.
  • The mainstreaming of green hydrogen provides an excellent alternative to decarbonize the critical power, industry and transport sectors.
  • India’s urban solid waste management will need to modernise to curb methane emissions from unscientific landfills. Also, the adoption of electric vehicles and renewed cities promoting walking and cycling will help limit GHG emissions from cities.
  • Arresting deforestation and the regeneration of forests can help prevent the release of stored carbon in the environment, such as trees and soil. Additionally, afforestation drives can help absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Recommendations for global climate action efforts:

  • The world must focus sharply on reducing emissions till 2030, rather than on net zero 2050. As a short term goal, there is the need for ambitious and verifiable 2030 targets. The world community should focus on reducing global emissions by 45% compared to 2010 levels by 2030 and then seek to achieve global net zero by 2050.
  • The developed countries in the world should take the lead in the climate action effort Multilateral organizations like the G20, in particular, should take the lead in this respect. The developed countries should support the developing nations through finance and technology transfer to make this transition.
  • The developed world must urgently meet its commitment of at least $100 billion in annual climate finance for developing countries.
  • Donors and multilateral development banks need to allocate at least half their climate finance towards adaptation and resilience. Public and multilateral development banks must significantly increase their climate portfolios and intensify their efforts to help countries transition to net zero, resilient economies.
  • The overall focus should be on the decarbonisation of economies with an emphasis on replacing carbon-intensive energy resources with renewable energy sources. This will require the shifting of subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy investment. There is the need to place a price on carbon in the form of the imposition of pollution taxes. However, this transition keeping in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities can allow for different timeframes for the developed and developing countries of the world.
  • As part of the adaptation measures, the nations should focus on resilient infrastructures and jobs.
  • There is a need for broad-based efforts towards climate action. Everyone including the private sector and the general population have a role to play in this regard.
  • Businesses need to reduce their climate impact, and fully and credibly align their operations and financial flows to a net zero future. Investors should ensure responsible and environmentally sustainable investments.
  • Individuals in every society need to make better, more responsible choices in what they eat, how they travel, and what they buy.

After going through the aspects, goals and outcomes of COP 26, candidates can test their understanding of the same by answering the question given below.

Question: COP26 must focus sharply on reducing emissions till 2030, rather than on net zero 2050, which is too distant a goal. Critically analyse.

Read about earlier UN climate conferences:


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