COP 26 Outcomes and Challenges for International Law
The Glasgow climate conference was a milestone in the process of putting the Paris Agreement into practice. In multiple ways, it ended the transition period that began with the Agreement’s adoption in 2015 and entry into force in 2016: finalisation of the ‘Paris rulebook’; initiation of the first Global Stocktake; and submission of the first cycle of new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (with some notable absences).
On the topic of climate technology, the Glasgow conference was the COP at which Parties fully entered the period of Paris implementation, due to the following outcomes:
- The mandated work of the 2018 Paris rulebook decisions in Katowice was concluded, with the alignment of technology review processes under the Convention and Agreement.
- Both the COP and CMA gave substantive guidance to the work of the Technology Mechanism under the respective Convention and Agreement mandates.
- The CMA welcomed the first-ever joint activities of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), guided by the Paris Technology Framework and gave guidance on closer collaboration.
- The first periodic assessment of the Technology Mechanism under the Paris Agreement was initiated.
In addition, the COP took important decisions regarding the CTCN, to renew its memorandum of understanding with UNEP – enabling the CTCN to keep working for the next five years – and to reform membership of its Advisory Board to better represent both Parties and observer constituencies.
Beyond the technology-specific negotiations, other COP26 outcomes are also relevant to climate technology. These include the cover decisions (i.e. the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’), the common tabular formats for the Paris enhanced transparency framework, and guidance to the Financial Mechanism operating entities. The CTCN model was also discussed in the context of operationalising the Santiago Network on loss and damage.
From Madrid to Glasgow, via Zoom and Teams
The pandemic and resulting postponement of COP26 to November 2021 created unique challenges for the lead-up to Glasgow. The one-year delay meant negotiations were effectively dealing with two years’ worth of agenda items, resulting in an unusually heavy agenda for the technology room (somewhat mitigated by the deferral of the item on the Poznan Strategic Program on Technology Transfer to June 2022).
The pandemic also meant that the traditional mid-year negotiating session in Bonn could not be held. In its place, a ‘virtual conference’ of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies was held in May-June, allowing technology negotiators to discuss – and make considerable progress on – the alignment of the CTCN independent review and the periodic assessment of the Technology Mechanism. The COP25 and COP26 Presidencies held an informal virtual session on technology items during early October and also engaged bilaterally with Parties during the pre-COP period.
While the pandemic put formal negotiations on hold, the TEC and CTCN continued to implement their respective work plans, adjusting their work as necessary to the realities of the time. Both the TEC and CTCN Advisory Board switched from in-person to virtual meetings. The constraints on in-person capacity-building and stakeholder engagement led the CTCN to a greater focus on technical assistance responses. TEC task forces, which had been meeting virtually for years prior to the pandemic, continued their work in virtual format.
Guidance to the Technology Mechanism
In the guidance to the TEC and CTCN based on their joint annual report (with two reports to consider this time, for 2020 and 2021), Parties in Glasgow accounted for the fact that the Technology Mechanism now serves the Paris Agreement (as provided by Article 10.3) in addition to the Climate Convention. This was the second COP at which Parties gave guidance under both the Convention and Agreement. At COP25 in Madrid, Parties had agreed a lengthy, ‘main’ COP decision and a short, five-paragraph CMA decision which briefly dealt with some Paris-specific matters. In Glasgow, Parties took the time to discuss whether particular aspects of the TM’s work were mandated by COP decisions or the Technology Framework (or both). Parties agreed equally substantive COP and CMA decisions of similar length. This is important because it enables Parties to deal concretely with TM work mandated respectively under the Convention and Agreement.
In the CMA decision, the increasingly close collaboration of the TEC and the CTCN was welcomed and further encouraged. In 2020, as requested by the CMA, the TEC and CTCN finalised their first-ever joint activities, on technology and NDCs, and technology and gender. The two bodies collaborated to implement these activities in 2021, including through the publication of a joint paper on technologies and NDC implementation. The CMA acknowledged with appreciation the commencement of TEC-CTCN joint activities and invited Parties and other stakeholders to consider the recommendations of the NDC paper. It also invited the TEC and CTCN to ‘strengthen’ their collaboration, including by ‘exploring the preparation of a joint programme’. In 2022, the two bodies will be able to consider this guidance when preparing their respective post-2022 work plans.
Parties also gave guidance on other notable aspects of TEC and CTCN work. For example, both the COP and CMA decisions welcomed the efforts of the TEC and CTCN to improve the gender responsiveness of their work, with Parties commending that ‘gender balance is achieved with regard to the speakers at all [TEC] events in 2021’ – a first since the TEC’s establishment in 2010.
Reviewing the CTCN
COPs regularly take decisions on the periodic reviews of bodies serving the three climate treaties. As these bodies have proliferated, so too have the mandates for review decisions. In Glasgow, the COP made two important decisions on the review of (1) the CTCN and (2) the Advisory Board of the CTCN.
During 2021, the second independent review of the CTCN was conducted by external consultants. The outcomes of this review were discussed during the CTCN Advisory Board meeting in September and in a dedicated dialogue on the topic in Glasgow. In its decision on the review, the COP decided to renew its MoU with UNEP, the host of the CTCN, for an additional five years. This decision enables the CTCN to continue its important work in the coming years. It is notable that despite a rich discussion and diversity of views on the challenges confronting the CTCN as identified in the review, such as ‘limited and insufficient financial resources’, Parties were unanimous in supporting the MoU’s renewal.
In a separate decision, the COP reviewed the Advisory Board of the CTCN, which fulfils governance functions including approval of the programme of work and endorsement of the budget, financial statement and appointment of the CTCN’s director. There are two key outcomes in this decision: 1. The number of government members was increased by two (with one additional member each from Annex I and non-Annex I Parties), in order to remove the need for representatives of three developing Party groups to rotate among themselves to fill two seats. 2. Three new seats were added for the observer constituencies of youth, women and gender, and Indigenous peoples organisations. These changes will make the Advisory Board more inclusive. The addition of the observer constituencies is a strong signal of the need to engage with social movements that are rightly demanding more ambitious climate action.
The periodic assessment and alignment
In Glasgow, the CMA initiated the first periodic assessment of the Technology Mechanism under the Paris Agreement. This process is to assess both the ‘effectiveness’ of the TM and the ‘adequacy of support’ provided to the TM in supporting Paris implementation. Its outcomes can include recommendations on updating the Paris Technology Framework, while the assessment should also serve as an input to the Global Stocktake. It was therefore important that the CMA perform its function to initiate the assessment in a timely manner, and this is what occurred. The assessment will conclude at CMA4, with an interim report to be considered at the mid-2022 session.
The CMA also decided to align the timing of CTCN independent review and the periodic assessment, with the CTCN review shifting from a four-year to five-year cycle. This outcome enhances the complementarity and efficiency of the two processes while maintaining the valuable independence of the CTCN review.
The bigger picture
The importance of technology and the role of the Technology Mechanism were acknowledged in a variety of other decisions. The Glasgow Climate Pact emphasised the ‘importance of strengthening cooperative action on technology development and transfer for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation action, including accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation, and the importance of predictable, sustainable and adequate funding from diverse sources for the Technology Mechanism’. Also, guidance to both the Green Climate Fund and Global Environment Facility called for further cooperation with the TEC and CTCN.
Overall, it is clear that technologies are vital to the ‘rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions’, including ‘net zero around mid-century’, which the Glasgow Climate Pact acknowledged are required to keep global warming to 1.5 °C. The Technology Mechanism is called upon to contribute to this increasingly urgent task.
Dr Stephen Minas is associate professor at the Peking University School of Transnational Law, senior research fellow at the Transnational Law Institute of King’s College London and chair of the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee. Stephen participated in COP26 as a negotiator and co-facilitator. This post is written in a personal capacity.