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Here are the points of contention between nations after the COP26 summit

Activists take part in a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain. Picture: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Activists take part in a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain. Picture: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Published Nov 18, 2021


The world watched COP26 with hopes as high as daytime temperatures in Skukuza.

Heads of state at this year's United Nations Climate Summit needed to pull out all the stops and come up with decisions that would help avoid worst-case scenarios of climate disasters.

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The summit’s success depended on the leaders of participating countries reaching consensus on the major points of contention, and coming up with decisive solutions in order to adapt and mitigate climate impacts.

What were the main points of contention? Has the summit succeeded in pushing world leaders to reach common points of understanding?

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The signing and commencement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on March 21, 1994, was the catalyst that led to the world agreeing on the need to act to reduce the impact of human activity on the climate. Since then, annual meetings have been held by world leaders to address the issue and monitor progress made.

The Glasgow Summit was the 26th – hence COP26 – since the UNFCCC came into force. It was the first summit to review the achievement of the goals stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

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According to the Paris Agreement, it would be difficult to avoid worst-case scenarios such as severe and prolonged droughts, floods and heatwaves if the Earth’s temperature rose by 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial revolution levels.

Signatories to the agreement committed their nations to implement several mitigating strategies, such as the reduction of carbon emissions and expanding renewable energy solutions.

It was agreed in 2015 that signatories would conduct a review of the progress made every five years with the first review planned for 2020. This was postponed due to the pandemic and took place earlier this month instead.

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Even though the global community agreed on a broad framework of climate mitigating strategies, each country faces its own unique challenges and differences which would warrant equally unique solutions.

2009 saw wealthy nations including the United States, Japan, western European countries, Canada and the Nordic states pledge to transfer a minimum of $100 billion (R1.5 trillion) annually by 2020 to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse emissions and deal with the effects of climate change.

Developing nations face many difficulties regarding reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and building adequate renewable energy infrastructure. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, these challenges include a lack of capital to invest in renewable energy development and new technology.

The UN noted that an estimated 75% “of government funds allocated to the climate sector in developing countries are borrowed funds that must be repaid and were not in the form of non-refundable grants from rich countries, which places a great burden on developing countries, especially with the losses they incurred during the pandemic”.

Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, expressed his concern about the Glasgow summit, and the leaders’ success in reaching goals compatible with the desired goal in the light of what he described as “a worrying level of mistrust”.

He added: “There is mistrust between the major developed countries and large emerging economies, and a general mistrust between the developed and developing worlds.”

WWF holds a protest 'We Wont Forget' in the COP26 venue - Scottish Event Campus during the twelfth day of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, held by UNFCCC in Glasgow, Scotland. Picture: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/Reuters

Guterres attributed this mistrust to the fact that “developed countries have so far not been able to implement or even provide a set of commitments that guarantee the fulfilment of $100 billion to support developing countries annually”.

Most major economies hope to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, with some countries such as Thailand and Germany committing to reach these targets even earlier.

Meanwhile, two of the world's biggest climate polluters, Russia and China, announced they would reach a level of zero emissions by 2060 and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi India had committed to be carbon-neutral by 2070. Time our planet does not have.

Although China is the largest climate polluter in the world, it is also one of the largest investors in alternative energy sources and, according to the Paris Agreement, China is not obliged to reduce emissions until 2030.

The United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, has pledged to halve its emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

For their part, nations that form the European Union committed, in 2015, to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030.

Closer to home, the South African National Development Plan aims to achieve net-zero by 2050, however, no concrete plan has been put in place to achieve this. South Africa’s recently updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) set a lowered carbon dioxide emissions target, which is in line with achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

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