Proposed Glasgow Accord Calls for Tougher Targets, Phasing Out Coal, and Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies

John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, at the UN climate talks in Glasgow.

John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, at the UN climate talks in Glasgow. Karwai Tang / UK Government via Flickr

With ministers from around the world back in Glasgow to take control of negotiations, delegates at the UN climate talks Wednesday were digesting the first draft of the pact to be signed at the climate conference’s scheduled close on Friday. Having failed to persuade countries to up their commitments to meet the Paris target of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the British hosts suggested that the agreement instead commit nations to having a second go in time for COP27 in Egypt at the end of next year.

The seven-page document urges countries to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement,” and to commit to phasing out coal burning and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.

Will all nations agree? Greenpeace Wednesday accused Saudi Arabia of obstructing progress. And poor developing nations will also be hesitant. The hosts hope that they will be encouraged by text promising more money for adapting to climate change “beyond $100 billion a year” from 2025, and by pledges to compensate them for “loss and damage” caused by climate change.

Many praised the draft. Cansim Leylim of the advocacy group welcomed the call to banish coal as “the first time fossil fuels have been named in 25 years of UN climate negotiations.” But much is vague, say critics. There are too many “urges” and “encourages,” and there is no actual deadline for the phase-out of coal, nor even for ending subsidies for fossil fuels.

Lavanya Rajamani, an Oxford lawyer who helped draft the Paris climate agreement in 2015, warned that the Glasgow draft failed to create a process for anchoring the promises made by most industrialized nations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 into the “institutional architecture” of UN climate reporting, which would make it hard to hold countries accountable for meeting their promises.

Veterans of past COPs know that draft consensus documents are wide open to being shot down. They will be on tenterhooks to see if the coal ban survives. But for many delegates, even if the language is approved, it will be a poor outcome for a conference billed as bringing decisive action on the aspirations unleashed in Paris. Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International called it “an agreement that we’ll all cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

Crossing fingers does not look like a good response to the publication Tuesday of an assessment from the respected Climate Action Tracker science group that poured cold water on some earlier optimism about progress at the conference. It found — in line with our analysis here on Monday — that while net-zero promises could, “under an optimistic scenario,” halt warming below 2 degrees C, actual nationally determined targets for 2030 still set the world on track for 2.4 degrees C (4.3 degrees F) by century’s end. “Even with all new Glasgow pledges for 2030, we will emit roughly twice as much in 2030 as required for 1.5 degrees C,” the assessment said.

The analysis also questioned the difference made by the sectoral pledges on forests and methane that dominated headlines in the conference’s first week. Many methane pledges, including that of the United States, are already included in countries’ nationally determined contributions. And many forest pledges depend on climate finance that rich nations have not yet provided.

Still, the sectoral pledges keep coming. Transport day at the Glasgow climate conference saw three more, covering international shipping, aviation, and road vehicles.

The last is easiest. Electric vehicles are already set to become the new norm in the next two decades. So there was no big surprise when many of the world’s big carmakers, including Ford and General Motors, committed to ending production of all fossil-fuel vehicles, and to switch to zero-emission vehicles in most markets by 2035 and everywhere else by 2040. The big disappointment was that Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Nissan-Renault did not join them, nor did the governments of big car-making nations Germany, Japan, China, and the U.S.

International aviation and shipping have long been stuck in the doldrums. That’s partly because both are excluded from national emissions tallies and pledges, insulating them from political pressure, and partly because long-distance ships and planes are not easy to plug into electric grids or power with batteries, and so may need other low-carbon fuels.

Still, better late than never.

In the late-19th century, Glasgow’s Clydebank was the world’s biggest shipbuilding center, responsible for manufacturing a fifth of the world’s vessels. The conference halls hosting the climate summit are largely built on those old shipyards. Thanks to the Clydebank Declaration, signed by 18 nations from Japan and Australia to the U.S. and the UK, the former shipbuilding site became the focus for a global effort to decarbonize the world’s shipping.

The declaration calls for the rapid creation of six “green shipping corridors,” where all passage between two or more ports will run on zero-emissions fuels, such as green ammonia or methanol. Such corridors could decarbonize 5 percent of the deep-sea fleet by 2030, with the rest to follow by mid-century, said Benny Engelbrecht, Danish transport minister. He proposed to start the ball rolling with a corridor between Denmark and Norway.

But Johannah Christensen of the Global Maritime Forum, a non-profit organization, said the real gains would be on major long-distance container and cargo shipping routes. She published a report Wednesday exploring two of them.

First up, the ships taking iron ore from mines in Australia to steel makers and car manufacturers in Japan could soon run on fuel made from green hydrogen using Australian solar power. Both countries are signed up to the Clydebank Declaration, and the first ships could be sailing by 2025, she said.

Another prospective green corridor was the container-ship superhighway carrying consumer goods from Asia to the European Union. Christensen envisaged up to 70 giant container vessels powered by green fuel supplied at ports along the route by 2030. One problem: Other than Japan, there are currently no Asian signatories to the declaration. Most notably, China is missing.

Such green corridors could be a proving ground for green shipping, said British shipping minister Robert Courts as he introduced the declaration. But they are just a start to dent a forecast 50 percent increase in shipping emissions by 2050 under business-as-usual. Simon Bullock and colleagues from the University of Manchester argued in a paper published last month that a 1.5-degree-compliant target for shipping would require a 34 percent reduction in shipping emissions by 2030, and industry-wide net zero by 2050. He called on the UN’s shipping body, the International Maritime Organization, to bring such a proposal to Glasgow. It has not.

Aviation has been almost as slow to respond to the climate crisis as shipping. Current promises are largely limited to stabilizing emissions by offsetting any future rises with forest conservation.

Nobody thinks that is remotely complaint with holding global warming to 1.5 degrees. So Wedneday saw the unveiling of the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition. It will push for action on “zero-carbon aircraft technologies,” and for the International Civil Aviation Organization, another UN agency, to set tougher new goals aimed at net zero emissions when it meets next year. However, although the U.S. and U.K. are in the coalition, just 16 other nations signed up.

As delegates fly home at the weekend, they may or may not feel content with that.

Follow all of e360’s daily coverage of the UN climate summit in Glasgow.