COP26: How did the final document come about?

 COP26: How did the final document come about?

COP26 also served as the third meeting point of the Conference of Parties to the Paris Agreement. The comparative analysis of the drafts its final decision and the Cover Decision itself show how its negotiations evolved and what decisions were difficult to agree on.

By Clàudia Cruanyes and Oliver Herrera | Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Barcelona

Last November, the Scottish city of Glasgow was the scenario of the XVI Conference of the Parties (COP26). It is an event taking place in the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN body responsible for climate policies.

The Conference of Parties is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention: all State members, 197 in total, are represented in there. The COP also serves as the meeting where the 193 States that ratified the Paris Agreement monitor its implementation and take decisions to promote it. In this regard, the COP becomes the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA), to which the non-member States participate as observers. 

COP26 was also the 3rd Session of CMA (CMA 3), during which the Parties negotiated to reach an agreement on the final text of CMA decisions, which could only be approved by consensus.

The Cover Decision, the final document of the meeting, better specifies the necessary actions that need to be taken by the developed and developing countries. Although these actions failed to reach more ambitious targets to achieve faster adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, the document presented many initiatives to advance the response yo climate change. 

This results was not immediate. As a matter of fact, the first draft of common decision was proposed by the COP President on November 10. Other drafts followed, on November 12 and 13. Only on this day, after three of negotiations, all the Parties approved the Cover Decision. 

Between this documents and the drafts there are several modifications

Most of the changes occurred in the Mitigation, Adaptation and Loss Damage sections. On the other hand, sections such as Finance, Technology Transfer and Capacity Building and Collaboration saw very few alterations. 

When looking at the less-discussed CMA articles, it is possible to identify a type of language (notes, acknowledges, recognitions) which does not imply a demand for stronger commitments on these statements, agreed on in previous meetings. Among them, there are “the importance of the best available science”, the “reaffirmation of the Paris Agreement Goal”, the “acknowledgement of the progress made on some matters such as the capacity-building” and” the role of the High-Level Champions”.

The language used shows the concern and the urgency felt by the Parties in relation to some topics. Linguistically and practically, the need for accelerated action, the financial provision for adaptation (which remains insufficient) and the request to Parties to strengthen their 2030 mitigation targets were given less importance on the common agenda. On the contrary, the increasing needs of developing countries, the call for developed countries to double the current levels of financial support for adaptation and the security of youth participation in decision-making processes were given more importance.

As a final remark about the language, it can be noted that very strong verbs were generally avoided. In fact, the only article where a mandatory action was indicated (“continuous and enhanced international support shall be provided to developing country Parties”) was deleted after the first draft.

Leading up to the COP26, the goal to provide 100 billion per year by 2020 as financial

support from the developed countries to the developing countries was not met. This was reflected in changes to the document to once again encourage these Parties to come

together and fulfill this commitment by 2025. Indeed, there is an increased pressure on

developed countries to provide financial support, technology transfer, and capacity-building to developing countries.

Tracing the evolution of the articles related to this issue illustrates that, in many cases of much modified articles, the discussion was focused on better defining concepts

contained in requests for Parties. In these instances, Parties wanted to avoid ambiguous phrases that allow for very different interpretations and to add actions to develop, when it comes to implementing decisions.

Another important element was the emphasis on the goal of keeping the temperature below 1.5°C. In this sense, there were important changes to furtherly indicate how all Parties should present their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and reach more ambitious 2030 targets. Among those, we can highlight the importance of aligning NDCs with the Paris Agreement Goal and the long-term low greenhouse gasses emission strategies. And all Parties are urged to present their NDCs every five years.

Some of the other most notable changes were made to emphasize the importance of cooperation and collaboration between party stakeholders and non-party stakeholders, including indigenous people, local communities and even children, to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with climate change. Furthermore, gender equality and youth involvement were given more weight to enhance equal participation in these climate actions.

A very notable element that was included in the final text is the first appearance of “fossil fuels” in a cover decision of a COP. The phrase was included in probably the most controversial article, changed several time and untile the last minute. In fact, the very last change was requested in the final plenary by the Indian Minister of Environment

Bhupender Yadav. 

This article’s first version contained a clear and strong request to countries “to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. It was showing a Global North vision, with all Parties having the same responsibility to act. Thus, it ignored the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities embodied in the Paris Agreement and related to the historical emissions and the different needs of countries. Later on, the Global South managed to include the importance of supporting the poorest countries, a just transition and the consideration of national circumstances that allow developing countries to adhere to this call.

Then, another drastic request changed the text to only consider the use of coal for energy production without pollution control measures (“unabated coal power”) and “inefficient” subsidies for fossil fuels. Finally, the last modification went from a gradual elimination of coal power to just its gradual reduction (the verb “phase out” became “phase down”). The largest energy and fossil fuel companies, as well as the countries with the highest production and consumption of coal, were probably most satisfied with this version. 

The discussions around this article can be considered an example of the different interests and points of view involved in the negotiations.

Overall, the COP26 discussions made it possible to reach agreements representing a step forward in the fight against climate change. Yet, they are still insufficient ones. This is in part due to the difficulty of the negotiations because of the differences between developed and developing country Parties on the necessary actions that need to be taken to address mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, as well as about the financial initiative to be taken by developed countries.

Sources used in the analysis 

The documents used in this paper can be found at the following links from the UNFCCC. 

All UNFCCC documents:

Final CMA Document – 13/11/2021 – Cover decisión -/CMA.3.

3rd Draft CMA Document – 13/11/2021 – Draft decisión 1/CMA.3. Proposal by the President.

2nd Draft CMA Document – 12/11/2021 – Draft decisión 1/CMA.3. Proposal by the President.

1st Draft CMA Document – 10/11/2021 – Draft decisión 1/CMA.3. Proposal by the President.

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