‘A step in the right direction’: EU reacts to COP26 deal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a session on clean innovation and technology at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Britain, 02 November 2021. [EPA-EFE/ROBERT PERRY]

The United Nations target of containing global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius “remains within reach, but the work is far from done,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission.

UN climate talks in Glasgow ended on Saturday (13 November) evening with a deal that for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming.

There was last-minute drama though as India, backed by China and other coal-dependent developing nations, rejected a clause calling for the “phase out” of coal-fired power and won language calling for a “phase down” instead.

India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, said the revision reflected the “national circumstances of emerging economies.”

“We are becoming the voice of the developing countries,” he told Reuters, saying the pact had “singled out” coal but kept quiet about oil and natural gas.

UN climate agreement clinched after late drama over coal

UN climate talks ended Saturday (13 November) with a deal that for the first time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming, even as coal-reliant countries lobbed last-minute objections.

Despite widespread disappointment over coal, von der Leyen welcomed the Glasgow deal, saying “COP26 is a step in the right direction,” with progress achieved on all three objectives the EU had set for itself ahead of the conference.

  • First, to keep the 1.5°C target within reach, with commitments to cut emissions “also during this decade”.
  • Second, to reach the target of $100 billion per year of climate finance to developing countries.
  • And third, to get an agreement on the Paris rulebook, which lays out rules for the international trading of carbon emission allowances between countries.

“We have made progress on all three objectives,” von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that “COP26 is sending a clear message that time is up for fossil fuel subsidies and unabated coal”.

Under the Paris Agreement, 195 countries set a target to keep average global temperature change below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C, a target von der Leyen said was still within reach.

Before COP26, the planet was on course for a dangerous 2.7°C of global warming, the Commission said in a statement.

But with the new announcements made in Glasgow, “experts estimate that we are now on a path to between 1.8°C and 2.4°C of warming,” the EU executive added.

“If all long-term commitments announced in Glasgow will be implemented, we should keep global warming under 2 degrees,” she said, calling for additional efforts at COP27 next year.

“We need to work further, so that next year’s climate conference in Egypt puts us firmly on track for 1.5 degrees.”

Green campaigners were equally reserved in their assessment of COP26.

Even though the Glasgow agreement failed to deliver the “step-change” necessary to tackle global warming, “we are moving in the right direction,” said WWF, the global conservation organisation.

“We must acknowledge that progress was made. There are now new opportunities for countries to deliver on what they know must be done to avoid a climate catastrophe,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead on Climate and Energy.

“But unless they sharply pivot to implementation and show substantial results, they will continue to have their credibility challenged,” he added.

Ester Asin, director of the WWF European Policy Office, praised the EU for defending the pillars of the Paris Agreement, like aiming for 1.5°C, as well as wording on ending fossil fuel subsidies and coal. “We now have one year for all parties to come back with stronger climate pledges or the 1.5°C limit will start slipping out of reach,” she said.

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