Views from the capitals on COP26
COP26 concluded on 13 November with the Glasgow Climate Pact, an agreement that sets out the next phase of the fight against climate change. The pact may have disappointed many, but views of it vary a great deal depending on where you sit. Below, experts from three of ECFR’s offices – in Rome, Paris, and Berlin – discuss the implications of the deal.
Rome: Multilateralism and a missed opportunity
Multilateral crisis management conferences do not always go smoothly – and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) was no exception. This was particularly evident in the reluctance of major players China, Russia, and India to commit to a substantive multilateral climate agenda.
However, for the Italian government, multilateralism remains the only effective framework for managing current crises and those to come. It has maintained this position in its year on the front line of crisis management as both co-president of COP26 and the current chair of the G20.
As Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani observes, COP26 was an extraordinary exercise in democracy given that it brought together 194 countries – each with distinct national interests – to shape climate policy. In recognition of their interconnectedness, these countries reinvigorated a process that had been delayed by the pandemic.
The biggest success of COP26 may come from the United States’ renewed commitment to the green and climate agendas, including on issues such as transparency and accountability in climate financing. Italy, for its part, used the G20 presidency to try to sustain countries’ commitments to a key target of the 2016 Paris Agreement: limiting average global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This involved 14 days of negotiations at COP26, an intense diplomatic effort.
Nonetheless, as several of the world’s biggest polluters failed to show solidarity with the states that are most vulnerable to climate change, COP26 proved to be something of a missed opportunity. Leaders in Rome will need to continue their work to ensure that structured multilateralism triumphs where ad hoc regionalism has failed.
Berlin: Cautious optimism in Berlin
Representing Germany’s caretaker government at COP26, environment minister Svenja Schulze praised the Glasgow Climate Pact’s commitment to “phase down” the use of coal globally as an “earth-shattering” achievement. She could point to successes in other areas too: Germany will work with France, the United Kingdom, the US, and the European Union to provide $8.5 billion to support South Africa’s efforts to phase out coal. The agreement could well become a blueprint for initiatives designed to advance both a just transition to global net zero and international climate action more broadly.
Yet Germany’s hedonistic conservatism was also on display in Glasgow: the country refused to sign up to a ban on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles from 2040. This was because the members of the caretaker government could not agree on whether to include synthetic fuels in Germany’s plans for sustainable transport.
The dispute also affected the coalition negotiations between the Social Democratic Party (which is part of the current caretaker government), the Greens, and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP). In the final days of the negotiations leading up to the presentation of the coalition agreement on 24 November, the parties rowed over a credible commitment to the 1.5°C target and efforts to mainstream climate policy in all ministries and the chancellery. The Greens threatened to draw out the talks at the eleventh hour.
Nonetheless, the agreement could help Germany regain its position as a climate champion. The negotiators found creative ways to reconcile the FDP’s demand to maintain the constitutional debt brake with the need to mobilise funds for Germany’s green transformation. The Greens’ co-leaders, Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, are set to take over the foreign ministry and a new super-ministry for the economy and climate respectively. There is now a real chance Germany will formulate and advance a coherent foreign policy on climate – one that works through the EU and has global effects.
Paris: A climate presidency
COP26 had mixed results: the 1.5°C objective of the Paris Agreement may still be achievable, but there is no consensus on how to compensate lower-income countries for losses and other damage resulting from the green transition. As a result, the divide between wealthy nations and the global south has grown.
There may now be a global agreement to phase down coal – which French President Emmanuel Macron describes as an “encouraging step” – but not to phase it out. While this failure hinders efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels, France has announced that it will join an alliance formed by the UK, the US, Canada, and several other states to end foreign investment in these fuels from the end of 2022. France had been criticised by other EU member states for being slow to join the alliance. And it still needs to explain in detail what this commitment will mean for some projects that it currently supports. Nonetheless, coming just before France takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU, this is a welcome move that “creates a dynamic”, as French Minister for Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili puts it.
Climate will be a high priority for France during that presidency, as French leaders attempt to find a coherent and united European voice on the issue before COP27, scheduled to take place in Egypt in November 2022. France will face challenges linked to the ‘green taxonomy’ – particularly in relation to whether to include nuclear in the energy mix, as French and Polish leaders have long advocated – and to the design of the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism, which could have significant internal and external effects.
France’s capacity to build coalitions with other EU member states – especially Germany after its next government takes office – will once again be vital to demonstrating that it has made substantial progress on climate issues. As Macron is keenly aware, these issues will be at the centre of the public debate in the run-up to the French presidential election in April 2022.
This article was made possible with support from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.