Cop26 deal falters after 48 hours as US and Australia hint at no new targets next year

The Cop26 deal faltered within 48 hours as the US and Australia, two of the world’s largest emitters, suggested they would not set new climate targets next year.

A key clause in the Glasgow Climate Pact asks countries to set out updated plans to cut emissions between now and 2030 by the end of 2022 in an effort to push more ambitious action over the next decade – seen as crucial to stem the most dangerous effects of global warming.

A joint statement released by Australia’s foreign and emissions reduction ministers on Sunday read: “Australia’s 2030 target is fixed and we are committed to meeting and beating it, as we did with our Kyoto-era targets.”

The country has come under fire for failing to set ambitious climate targets, with its aims barely updated ahead of this year’s conference. It is still heavily reliant on coal.

Appearing on the Australian talk show Insiders, Greg Hunt, the country’s health minister, also hinted that Australia might not make its aims more ambitious.

“We’ve set our target, but what we’ll continue to do is update our projections,” he said. Australia’s plan involves cutting emissions by 26 to 28 per cent compared to 2005.

Greg Hunt, Austalia’s health minister, hinted that it might not make its climate change aims more ambitious

Credit: Lukas Coch/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The pact also states that global emissions need to fall by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.

During the Cop26 process, other countries also suggested they might not update their plans. Among them was New Zealand, whose climate minister, James Shaw, said during the talks that just because they had been asked to strengthen the plans, “it doesn’t mean you have to”, prompting criticism from environmental groups.

The US cited language in the agreement which “requests” parties update their plans “as necessary” and “taking into account different national circumstances”.

John Kerry, Washington’s climate envoy, said the existing US climate plans fulfilled the requirements in the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rises to below 2C and make efforts towards limiting them to 1.5C.

Speaking hours after the agreement was finalised on Saturday, Mr Kerry said: “The language is necessary. I don’t expect it’s going to be necessary because our ambitious goal is 50 to 52 per cent [emissions cuts]… and that’s stretching the limits right now. We need to see what’s doable.”

On Monday in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson also suggested Britain would not update its targets, saying: “The UK is already compliant with 1.5 as a result of pledges made by 2030 and 2035, so if we can deliver on those we believe we will be able to restrain our emissions.”

The Glasgow Pact was also hailed for mentioning a phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies and a “phase-down” of coal for the first time in a UN pact, though the coal language was watered down at the last moment following an intervention by India and China.

Richard Black, the senior associate at the think tank the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said he thought it was also “very unlikely” that the EU would update its pledges. 

“Their priority should be to get stuff done that they’ve pledged already,” he added. “China, very unlikely, I think, given the geopolitics. India, very unlikely. They’ll feel they’ve made their contribution here. I think the opportunity lies in some other countries.” He named South Africa and Brazil.

During the conference, South Africa secured US, UK and EU funding to help it transition away from coal, and both Brazil and Australia have elections next year in which challengers may make more ambitious climate pledges as part of their pitch to voters, he said.

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