Over the past three weeks, climate negotiators gathered online for the UN Climate Change Subsidiary Bodies sessions, aiming to make progress on details within the Paris Agreement. These details are critical to resolve if the world is to meet the agreement’s goals and prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
But overall, despite substantive discussions, progress was uneven and limited on the most critical points. Countries will now have their work cut out for them to reach agreement at COP26 in Glasgow in November.
Logistical and Political Challenges
Negotiators haven’t met in person since COP25 in Madrid in December 2019, and the virtual nature of the last three weeks was unprecedented for the UN Climate Change process. Despite the significant efforts undertaken to make the sessions happen, there were inevitable challenges — including dropped internet connections, poor audio, awkward time zones, and the difficulty for negotiating groups to coordinate across time zones and compile comprehensive insights in a timely fashion.
However, these logistical difficulties paled in comparison to the substantive divide between countries, exacerbated by a complex political context and the lack of informal hallway chats, which precluded bridge-building among participants.
Indeed, the negotiations took place against the backdrop of the G7 Leaders’ Summit. Although the G7 leaders agreed to aim to meet the 1.5C goal spelled out in Paris, they failed to adequately deliver on specific, concrete steps to increase climate finance while also failing to clear the bar on developing countries’ calls for increased support with vaccines.
Amid an uneven COVID-19 recovery and, for the most vulnerable countries, debt distress, the signals of solidarity from some developed countries — such as pledges by Germany and Canada to increase their finance, including on adaptation — came late in the summit and failed to shift the broader international context for negotiators.