COP26 – What Was Achieved And What Needed To Be Done?

COP26 - What Was Achieved And What Needed To Be Done? - Carbon Herald

COP26 Glasgow ended on Friday, November 12th with almost 200 countries reaching an agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact aiming to prevent the worst and potentially irreversible climate change impacts. 

The deal was deemed a step forward by participants but fell short of doing what is needed to avert the climate crisis and was also considered a failure in terms of setting the world on track to accomplish the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  

Relevant: COP26 – What Is It And What Is Its Purpose?

According to scientists, the pledges at the Glasgow summit agreed upon are actually paving the way for a rise of 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The latest projections show that currently warming of roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is already being achieved. 

Hundreds of thousands of protesters, environmental groups, activists, and delegates expressed their disappointment with the summit, describing it as an “exclusionary” fortnight of talks centered on “business as usual and blah, blah, blah.” 

What Was Agreed At COP26?

The Glasgow Climate Pact that was signed by nations says that greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 for global warming to be maintained at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. According to the document, under existing emissions reduction pledges, emissions will be nearly 14% higher than in 2010 by 2030. It was agreed by countries to report on progress annually.

The package that was signed at the UN meeting in Glasgow includes phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies, signing the Global Methane Pledge calling for a reduction of methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, relative to 2020 levels. 

Relevant: “Game-Changing Commitment” – Global Leaders Pledge 30% Methane Cut

It also includes halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030, an accounting system for carbon markets, intended to prevent double-counting of emissions reductions, and a pledge from the financial sector to move trillions of dollars of investments into companies committed to net-zero emissions.

In a surprise announcement during the summit, China and the US have agreed to boost climate cooperation over the next decade, pledging to work together to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Relevant: 26 Nations At COP26 Pledge To Adopt Low Carbon Farming

Where Did The COP26 Deal Fail?

What delegates struggled to resolve were the major sticking points like phasing out coal, fossil fuel subsidies, and financial support to low-income countries. The 11-page document states a commitment of “accelerating efforts towards the phaseout of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

No official dates for the phasing out of coal were set or more obliging commitments that would guarantee the reduction of fossil fuel use. India raised a last-minute change of the language in the pact, going from a “phase out” of coal to a “phase down.” Countries ultimately accepted this change after initial opposition. 

The last-minute shift in the terminology brought concerns in environmental groups and delegates it is creating a loophole to delay urgently needed climate action and downplaying the pressing obligation to ban fossil fuels.

The Indian climate and environment minister Bhupender Yadav said at the summit that richer nations should not expect poorer countries to stop subsidizing fossil fuels such as gas as they are crucial for their economic growth and for lowest-income households that rely on them to keep energy costs down.

One step towards success from the outcome of the Glasgow Climate Pact is that it is the first international climate document that explicitly mentions fossil fuels. Also, for the first time in a COP text, nations agreed to begin reducing coal-fired power (without carbon capture) and to start eliminating subsidies on other fossil fuels.

Another point that the agreement failed to produce is a legally binding commitment in setting up a fund to compensate countries for climate-linked loss and damage. The earlier commitment for $100 billion a year from rich countries to poor ones also gathered considerable anger. 

The agreement fell short of providing a guarantee for that climate financing. “The message coming out of this COP is every country for themselves,” said Sara Jane Ahmed, a climate-finance researcher.

What was agreed upon was to double the proportion of climate finance going to adaptation and some countries were calling for a 50:50 split between funding for emissions cuts and funding for adaptation.

The outcome from the conference brought the UK COP26 President Alok Sharma to tears when China and India succeeded in changing the terminology from a “phase out” of coal to a “phase down”. He said he was “deeply sorry” for the way the process had unfolded and added: “I understand the deep disappointment. It’s also vital we protect this package.”

What Needed To Be Done

According to analysts, what needed to be accomplished at COP26 Glasgow to be considered a success was a ban of coal and a more concrete plan laying the steps towards phasing out of fossil fuels altogether. The continuous insistence of countries to keep burning them, which is estimated to be the chief driver of the climate crisis, raised serious questions about the credibility of the talks.

To accomplish the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, global greenhouse gases would need to be cut in half in the next 8 years and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the COP26 Glasgow conference did not provide enough concrete measures to accommodate that threshold. 

The COP26 Glasgow conference ended like an out-of-season storm, according to many, leaving the planet on hold for now in terms of concrete measures to solve the climate crisis. As the political hurricane has now passed, the world was left to return to its usual grey self with some governments verbally committing to reduce emissions but again promises are left free from responsibility and firmer obligations to be completed.

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