In November 2021, the climate negotiations in Glasgow made headlines with new announcements on a wide range of climate change solutions, such as those that address forests, finance and methane emissions. While these initiatives grabbed the headlines, behind the scenes, negotiators hammered out the formal outcome of COP26: The Glasgow Climate Pact. Unlike the sectoral announcements made by a variety of actors during COP26, the Glasgow Pact was agreed to by, and applies to, all countries that are parties to the Paris Agreement.
But how does the Glasgow Climate Pact address efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change? There are five main ways:
1. The pact requests parties to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emissions reduction targets.
In the two years preceding the negotiations in Glasgow, approximately 150 countries submitted a new or updated nationally determined contribution (NDC), most of which contained emissions reduction targets to be achieved by 2030. A majority of these would reduce emissions further than the initial NDCs they replaced. Despite these improvements, a yawning gap remained between projected global emissions under the NDCs and a 1.5 degrees C-compatible emissions trajectory.
To close this gap, the Glasgow Climate Pact asks countries to revisit and strengthen their targets “as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances.”
While the pact does not single out specific countries, this language is likely to draw particular attention to large economies — such as Australia, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico — that submitted “updated” NDCs that were no more ambitious than their previous ones. Countries that have not yet communicated new or updated NDCs at all — such as India and Turkey — are also urged to do so. And all major emitters should be expected to review their 2030 commitments to see where they can be strengthened, including through more ambitious targets for methane or key emitting sectors.
2. It links NDCs and long-term strategies to a just transition to net-zero emissions.
Besides their 2030 targets, a growing number of countries have set targets to achieve net-zero emissions around mid-century, and outlined long-term climate change strategies, which typically detail pathways to achieve mid-century goals. In fact, if current net-zero targets were achieved, warming could be limited to 1.9 degrees C. But NDCs — most of which feature emissions-reduction targets for 2030 — do not yet align with the longer-term net-zero targets: NDCs alone would allow temperature to rise to 2.5 degrees C, far from a range compatible with the Paris Agreement. Moreover, not all long-term strategies are yet oriented toward driving net emissions to zero.
For the first time, the Glasgow Climate Pact calls on countries to address this misalignment. It urges countries to communicate long-term strategies “towards just transitions to net zero emissions by or around midcentury, taking into account different national circumstances,” and “notes the importance of aligning nationally determined contributions with long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.”
Taken together, these clauses call on countries to set net-zero emissions targets, design just transition strategies to achieve them, and align their NDCs and other actions for the coming decade with those strategies.
3. The pact extends the life of long-term strategies and requests a synthesis report about them.
Long-term strategies provide a key marker of national action over a mid-century timeframe and are therefore important for driving and assessing progress toward the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
At the close of negotiations, 46 parties had communicated a long-term strategy, with more than half of these strategies submitted in the last year alone. To encourage more countries to develop and submit their long-term strategies, as well as review and update them over time, the Glasgow Climate Pact puts in place the necessary framework to sustain and bolster momentum in the years ahead.
First, the pact urges all countries to develop their long-term strategies as soon as practicable, and by no later than COP27. Second, it invites countries to update their long-term strategies regularly, in line with the best available science, which is essential for these 30-year plans to remain relevant over time. Finally, it requests the UNFCCC secretariat to prepare a synthesis report on long-term strategies by COP27. While the scope of this report has not been defined, it may mirror the synthesis reports the secretariat has previously produced on NDCs, including an estimate of the degree to which countries’ targets and strategies would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
4. It establishes processes to drive ambition this decade.
The Glasgow Climate Pact also put in place three new processes — a work program, an annual round table and an annual report — to enhance climate action and ambition this decade.
First, the pact established a work program to “scale up mitigation ambition and implementation” throughout the 2020s. As part of the work program, countries may address topics such as the sectoral transformations needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, and how to align near-term targets and action with longer-term strategies toward net-zero emissions by mid-century. Relatedly, it requests that a decision on scaling up mitigation ambition and implementation be considered and adopted by parties by COP27.
Second, the pact calls for an “annual high-level ministerial round table” on pre-2030 ambition, beginning at COP27. As part of the round table, ministers will be able to consider the technical discussions under the work program and translate them into key political outcomes.
Third, the pact mandates the United Nations to produce an annual report by each COP that examines countries’ NDCs and the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C. While the UN previously released similar NDC synthesis reports ahead of COP26, these reports will now become annual. Additionally, it will continue to bring countries’ commitments into scrutiny and keep the pressure to scale up their efforts on ambition and implementation.
5. The pact focuses attention on non-CO2 gases, fossil fuels, nature and ecosystems, and a just transition.
Finally, the Glasgow Climate Pact highlights several of the specific, critical transitions that must occur to realize the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C — and the need for justice to underpin these transitions. This language paints a clearer picture not only of what needs to happen — halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by mid-century — but also how to get there. It focuses attention on the particular industries and other actors whose practices must change in order to achieve the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.
For the first time in the history of COP decisions, it shined a light on fossil fuels, calling on countries to accelerate “the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” While negotiations watered down the language (earlier drafts had called for a phaseout, rather than a phasedown, of unabated coal), the text that remained is still unprecedented in its explicit coal call-out as part of the energy transition. It also calls for “rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures.”
Second, the pact asks countries “to consider further actions to reduce by 2030 non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, including methane.” This decision complements the Global Methane Pledge that was unveiled at COP26, in which over 100 countries collectively committed to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
Third, the pact “emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal.”
Finally, to an unprecedented extent, the Glasgow Climate Pact notes the vital role that just transition measures play in the transformation needed to address climate change. In urging countries to submit long-term strategies, the Glasgow outcome refers to “just transitions to net zero emissions,” and in calling for an energy transition and coal phasedown, the decision also recognizes “the need for support towards a just transition.” Additionally, in the section of the decision on implementation, the Glasgow Climate Pact calls for finance to address just transition, decent work and other equity concerns.
Realizing the Emissions-Reduction Potential of the Glasgow Pact
Taken together, the measures in the Glasgow Pact propose to accelerate efforts to close the 2030 emissions gap by asking countries to align their commitments with Paris Agreement goals and with a just transition to net zero. The pact establishes processes to focus attention on these commitments and highlights specific needs and opportunities for reducing emissions in key sectors. This represents a strong outcome that goes beyond what the Paris Agreement itself would have required from countries, extending the timeframe and political focus on their commitments in an attempt to eke out additional ambition.
That said, it is unclear that this prolonged attention will be sufficient to overcome the political obstacles that have hampered more ambitious commitments to date. The onus is once again on domestic actors to overcome these barriers and set targets in line with global temperature goals — even as they ramp up efforts to implement their existing commitments.