What did COP26 Achieve?

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What did COP26 Achieve?

We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and although advancements are being made in mitigating the impacts of climate change for both planetary and human health, action is not occurring fast enough, as highlighted in the recent 26th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, hosted in Glasgow. The Conference of the Parties is held on an annual basis to develop a global climate change response and adopt a set of decisions relating to climate action. Close to 200 Parties partook in this year’s meeting, and on Saturday 13th an outcome document, titled the Glasgow Climate Pact, was adopted, conveying the interests, contradictions, and the current global political state of will.

So, what exactly did COP26 achieve?   

To start off simple, here are the three main achievements of the conference:

  • Revisiting emission reduction strategies next year to try to maintain the 1.5°C target
  • The first ever addition of an explicit commitment to reduce coal use
  • Increased financial aid for developing countries

Okay, now let’s dive deeper…

  • Revisiting emission reduction strategies next year to try to maintain the 1.5C target 

Three years ago, at COP24, the US, under President Trump, disagreed with efforts to “welcome” the IPCC special report on the 1.5°C target. This year, the Glasgow Climate Pact placed the IPCC’s findings at the forefront of the agreement. The Glasgow Climate Pact states that it “recognises” that the implications of climate change will be considerably lower at 1.5°C warmer, in comparison with 2°C warmer, and thus, “resolves to pursue efforts” to remain below the lower limit. The pact goes on to state that maintaining warming to 1.5°C demands “rapid, deep, and sustained” emission reductions to ensure carbon emission levels decline by 45% below the level of emissions in 2010 by 2030, and to net-zero emissions by 2050. From these discussions, Parties have agreed to revisit their commitments by the end of next year to continue limiting warming to 1.5°C under the Paris Agreement, and if necessary, pledge additional major carbon cuts. The recent IPCC report has found that already 1.1°C of global warming has occurred due to anthropogenic activity, in comparison with the average temperature between 1850 to 1900. A level this high has not been recorded since before the most recent ice age, 125,000 years ago. As it stands, the current pledges, if attained, will still not come close to the target of 1.5°C, and only limit warming to 2.4°C. Over 1.5°C of warming will result in extreme meteorological changes, displacing and impacting millions, so it is imperative that urgent action to reduce carbon emissions is taken now. If you’re interested in learning more about the IPCC 6th annual report and the implications of global warming greater than 1.5°C, you can check out our blog post.

  • The first ever addition of an explicit commitment to reduce coal use

The Glasgow Climate Pact encourages a shift toward more ambitious climate action, requesting countries revisit and strength their current climate pledges by the end of 2022 in order to achieve the 1.5°C target laid out in the Paris Agreement. The pact established a work program to rapidly increase climate action. An annual meeting of ministers to increase climate action by 2030 was decided and an annual report on countries’ progress was called for. A further meeting of world leaders in 2023 to improve and heighten climate action was also requested. The pact’s call for a “phase-out” of coal was met with discontent from some Parties, resulting in a change of wording to “phase-down”. The original and more direct language called on Parties to advance the phase-out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. The revised subsequent text was more simplified, specifying Parties “phase-down unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing target support to the poorest and the most vulnerable, in line with national circumstances…”. This dilution of language was received with mixed feelings, with some Parties expressing their disappointment for the change in the previously agreed language. The Swiss environmental minister, Simonette Sommaruga stated the change in language will make achieving the 1.5°C target more difficult. Despite the simplification of language, the decision to reduce coal power is a significant step forward and is the first climate agreement with the intention to explicitly reduce coal and inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.

  • Increased financial aid for developing countries

Finance played an important role in the conversation at the conference. It is estimated that trillions of dollars are needed annually to fund climate action. Due to their historical contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, developed nations are obligated to provide financial and technological support to developing countries to help them reach their climate targets. In 2009, developed countries made a commitment to mobilise at least $100 billion a year to emerging economies by 2020, however this deadline has since passed and the commitment has not been met. Developed nations are now working to make the $100 billion available by 2023, and in an attempt to pacify delegates, COP26 President, Aloka Sharma, stated that roughly $500 billion would be generated by 2025.

Most Parties, in particular the smaller and poor Parties and island nations, consider adaptation to be of critical importance towards climate action, and thus, developed countries have been asked to double the finances available for adaptation by 2025, in relation to the 2019 baseline. In 2019, 20% of the total climate finance flows were allocated for adaptation efforts. Developing countries have since demanded that this figure be increases to at least 50%. Additionally, a two-year work program aimed to describe a global goal for adaptation has been created. Nevertheless, defining a global goal on adaption faces some difficulty as there is an absence of a global criteria against which the global goal for adaption can be measured, unlike other goals set for mitigation efforts.

COP26 and the subsequent Glasgow Climate Pact have been criticised over their use of language, with many feeling the language used is loose and unbinding, and arguments have been made as to whether the use of UN-speak and exhortations such as “requests” and “invites” denote the urgency of the current climate crisis. Nevertheless, the wording puts in place the explicit expectation that climate action will be taken, and the introduction of coal and fossil fuel specific commitments is a step forward in the race against climate change.

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed and learned something new. If you would like to learn more you can access the various reports published by the UN during COP26 here: 

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