After a delay for a pandemic; a huge amount of build-up; and two weeks of negotiation; COP26 is finally over. But what were the key outcomes?
All 197 participating countries have signed up to the so-called ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’. But there was a last-minute intervention by India on the ‘phasing down’ of coal; which left the President of the summit, Alok Sharma, in tears.
During Alok Sharma’s closing speech, he said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for how the negotiations had ended. So was the whole thing an unmitigated disaster?
If you want a really simple guide to what happened at COP26, then this blog’s for you!
We’ll look at what the purpose of the Glasgow climate change summit was; and whether or not we’re still “keeping 1.5°C alive”.
What is COP26?
The UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow on 31 October – 13 November 2021. ‘COP’ stands for Conference of the Parties.
The Parties are made up of the 196 countries and the EU. The parties signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994.
The COP meets every year unless the Parties decide otherwise. The purpose of these conferences is to allow governments to work together in taking action on climate change.
The first COP meeting was held in Berlin in 1995. This year marks the 26th meeting of the Parties, hence the name COP26. It’s the first time that the UK has hosted a COP.
What happens at a COP?
During a COP summit, the Parties are brought together to set climate change targets. These targets aim to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Attended by world leaders; negotiators; government representatives; businesses and citizens; governments are asked to submit long-term goals to address the climate emergency.
Key targets include reaching global net-zero, protecting vulnerable communities and habitats, and securing investment and funding for climate financing.
What is the Paris Agreement and what does it have to do with COP26?
If you’ve heard anything about COP26 on the news; you’re bound to have heard about ‘The Paris Agreement’.
But what is it, and what does it have to do with COP26?
The Paris Agreement was signed by the Parties at COP21 in 2015. It was a groundbreaking moment because for the first time; it saw almost every country in the world enter a legally binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
The agreement was that every country would cut emissions to reduce global warming to below 2 degrees; and ideally to 1.5 degrees. This is why there’s lots of talk in the media about the ‘battle to keep 1.5C alive’.
Why does limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees matter?
Unfortunately, Earth is now in a period of rapid climate change. Global temperatures are rising because of human activities, such as the burning of coal, oil and gas.
The world is about 1.2°C warmer than before the Industrial Revolution.
Although 1.2°C doesn’t sound like much, climate change is already causing fires, floods, storms, and hurricanes around the world. Natural disasters cost the world a total of $150 billion last year.
If global temperatures continue to rise to 2°C, there would be catastrophic results. People across the world would be exposed to severe heat; coral reefs would be destroyed; ice sheets would melt; sea levels would rise; and there would be more frequent extreme weather events.
If our global temperature rise can be limited to 1.5°C, the impacts would be serious, but less severe.
Are we on track to limiting a temperature rise to 1.5°C?
Although all the Parties signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015; the commitments laid down up to now, haven’t come close to achieving the 1.5°C target.
In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released part of its Sixth Assessment Report. The report warns that we will not be able to limit global warming to even 2°C unless there are immediate; rapid; and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions… hence the significance of COP26.
At the end of COP26 Alok Sharma said that 1.5°C is ‘still within reach’ but that ‘its pulse is weak’.
What were the goals of COP26?
There were four main goals of COP26:
Goal 1: Secure global net zero by 2050 and keep 1.5°C within reach.
The first goal was for countries to provide ambitious emissions reductions targets; that will enable them to reach net zero by 2050.
Net Zero doesn’t mean that countries must produce zero emissions. It means that any emissions that can’t be avoided must be matched by removing the equivalent from the atmosphere.
To achieve net zero by 2050, countries will need to make commitments to phase out coal; encourage investment in renewables; curtail deforestation; and speed up the switch to electric vehicles.
Goal 2: Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
Unfortunately, climate change has already had a devastating impact on many countries around the world. For this reason, the second goal of COP26 was for countries to work together to help repair and minimise future damage.
Work needs to be done protecting and restoring ecosystems; building defences; putting warning systems in place; and making infrastructure and agriculture more resilient to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and lives.
Goal 3: Mobilise finance
To achieve the first two goals; developed countries must raise at least $100bn in climate finance per year.
Goal 4: Work together to deliver the Paris Agreement
The final goal was to finalise the so-called ‘Paris Rulebook’. This will be needed to achieve the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
What were the key outcomes from COP26?
So, did COP26 achieve its goals?
We’ve massively simplified the negotiations, to bring you the key outcomes from the summit:
COP 26 Outcome: The Glasgow Climate Pact
COP26 concluded with all countries agreeing to the Glasgow Climate Pact to ‘keep 1.5°C alive’. They also agreed to finalise the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement.
As part of the Glasgow Climate Pact; countries will meet next year (in Egypt) to “revisit and strengthen” their emissions pledges. Unfortunately, the current pledges will only limit global warming to about 2.4°C and that’s only if they’re fulfilled.
This isn’t close to enough. So countries such as China; Australia; Saudia Arabia; and the US; will be under pressure to produce more ambitious plans by the end of next year.
COP26 outcome on emissions – Coal and fossil fuels
The Glasgow Climate Pact calls on countries to ‘phase down’ the use of unabated coal. And ‘phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’.
The wording over the approach to coal caused much controversy, and this is what prompted the teary-eyed apology from Mr. Sharma.
The original wording in the Glasgow Climate Pact was that coal would be ‘phased-out’. But India insisted it be changed to ‘phased-down’, despite protests from other developing countries.
Mr. Sharma said he was sorry for “the way the process has unfolded”. He said that people would be “deeply disappointed” that the stronger language had been watered down.
But watered-down or not; this is the first time that fossil fuels have been specifically targeted in a UN climate agreement. And so many still consider it a significant step forward.
Ahead of COP26, Boris Johnson published his ‘10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’. He had already indicated a focus on ‘Greener Buildings’ and a ‘gradual move away’ from gas boilers; to reduce emissions caused by heating.
COP26 outcome on methane
Although we usually focus on carbon dioxide emissions when we’re talking about reducing global warming; methane is responsible for about a third of it.
So, it’s a positive step forward that the US and the EU announced a partnership. They agreed to cut emissions of methane by 2030.
The Global Methane Pledge aims to limit methane emissions by 30% compared with 2020 levels.
COP26 outome on emissions reporting and transparency
Another key achievement of COP26 was the agreement to make emissions reporting more transparent. The Parties agreed to submit climate plans to a common five-year timeframe and follow a standardised reporting practice from 2024. This will make it easier to hold Parties accountable for their progress towards achieving the climate goals.
COP 26 outcome on green transport
Road transport accounts for 10% of global emissions, and its emissions are rising faster than those of any other sector.
This is why the UK Government announced (before COP26); that it will end new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030. And new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sales by 2040.
More than 100 national governments; cities; states; and major car companies; signed the Glasgow Declaration. The declaration wants to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets, and by 2040 worldwide. At least 13 nations also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.
COP26 outcome on climate finance
There was much discussion about the fact that rich countries had failed in their previous pledge on climate finance. They failed to mobilise $100bn a year in climate finance by 2020.
The Glasgow Climate pact notes that this failure is a “deep regret”. It commits nations to deliver on this every year through to 2025.
It remains to be seen whether this promise, and many others, will be kept this time.
COP26 outcome on adaptation funding
Under the Glasgow Climate Pact richer countries promised to double the funding available for adaptation by 2025.
Adaptation funding is financing to help poorer countries to cope with the extreme weather caused by climate change. This includes funding for new sea defences and better early warning systems.
The European Commission announced a new pledge of €100 million in finance for the Adaptation Fund. This is by far the biggest pledge to the fund made by donors at COP26.
COP26 outcome on loss and damage
Unfortunately, not all harm caused by global warming can be adapted or mitigated against. Many poorer nations have suffered significant damage because of the greenhouse gas emissions of richer nations. These vulnerable countries have been calling for compensation for years.
There was discussion of setting up a “Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility”. This would provide financial support for vulnerable countries, but it wasn’t adopted. Instead, there will be a “Glasgow Dialogue” to discuss funding arrangements over the coming years.
Unfortunately, talks of further talks; are the sort of inaction that has provoked criticism from young protesters such as Greta Thunberg. She dismissed COP26 as just more “blah, blah, blah”.
COP26 outcome on carbon trading – Article 6
After six years of debate, COP26 finally laid down rules for a new carbon market – the so-called ‘Article 6’ rules. Carbon trading is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it enables investment in emissions-reductions technologies.
The article 6 rules set out a framework for the trading of carbon credits. They represent a tonne of carbon that has been reduced or removed from the atmosphere.
Countries can use carbon trading to help reach their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). This can help them to meet their 2030 emissions reduction obligations under the Paris Agreement.
But there are concerns that this new system will give countries and companies an excuse to continue polluting.
COP26 outcome on reversing deforestation
A really encouraging announcement was that leaders from over 120 countries; representing about 90 per cent of the world’s forests; pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.
Brazil was among the signatories. This is promising as large parts of the Amazon have already been cut down.
The pledge to end deforestation includes almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds. Hopefully this pledge will be more successful than the previous agreement in 2014 which failed to slow deforestation at all.
COP26 outcome on climate cooperation
Many were very pleasantly surprised by the United States and China’s pledge to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. In a joint declaration, they said they had agreed to take steps on a range of issues; including methane emissions; transition to clean energy; and decarbonization. They also reiterated their commitment to keep the 1.5C goal alive.
So, was COP26 a success?
COP26 has in no way solved the current climate crisis, but it would be unreasonable to think that it could. It’s going to take a lot more than one summit!
But the amount of media attention; and the whole tone of the negotiations; seems to mark a changing of attitudes towards climate change. A recognition that we need to do more, and soon.
Alt attribute: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at COP26.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed these sentiments in saying that COP26 is not enough:
“Science tells us that the absolute priority must be rapid, deep and sustained emissions reductions in this decade; specifically, a 45-per cent cut by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. But the present set of Nationally Determined Contributions; even if fully implemented; will still increase emissions this decade on a pathway that will clearly lead us to well above 2 degrees by the end of the century; compared to pre-industrial levels.”
He went on to say that the planet was “hanging by a thread”. “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode – or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”
Alok Sharma said:
“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But its pulse is weak; and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action. I am grateful to the UNFCCC for working with us to deliver a successful COP26.”
So, COP26 has started the conversation, but there is much to do ahead of COP27.