COP-26 Did it deliver?

Was COP26 ‘real action on coal, cars, cash and trees’ as Boris Johnson says or was it all ‘blah blah blah’ as Greta Thunberg says?  After months of anticipation and two weeks of heart-wrenching speeches, intensive negotiation, victorious announcements and angry scepticism, we look at whether COP26 delivered… 

The Prime Minister of Barbados, one of many island nations facing an existential crisis due to climate change, set the tone for the two-day World Leaders’ Summit which kicked off this year’s Conference of the Parties, COP26.  Mia Mottley asked: “When will leaders lead?  Our people are watching and our people are taking note.  Are we really going to leave Scotland without the resolve and ambition that is sorely needed to save lives and to save our planet?”

This year’s international climate change summit was billed as a ‘delivery COP’ where the 197 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change needed to agree how they were going to reach the targets set by the Paris Agreement.  Whether COP26 delivered on this or not depends on who you talk to but progress was made against each of the four goals:

  1. Keep 1.5 degrees within reach

The most important aim for COP26 was to keep alive the target of limiting temperature rises to within 1.5°C - scientists believe that beyond this, the effects of climate change become too devastating and irreversible.  The official text that followed COP26 reflected this target as opposed to the original ‘well below 2 degrees’ target outlined in the Paris Agreement.  The text also included a commitment from all parties to ‘phase down’ coal and ‘phase out’ fossil fuel subsidies (although this commitment was weaker than originally hoped for).

During COP26, we also saw a Global Methane Pledge made by over 100 member states (accounting for 40% of all methane emissions) to reduce emissions from methane by 30% by 2030. India set a net-zero target for 2070, helping to ensure that only 11% of global emissions remain untouched by net-zero targets.  We still have a massive challenge ahead though - we are already at 1.1 degrees and for 1.5 to remain realistic, we need to reduce global carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and to net-zero by mid-century.  The nationally determined contributions (NDCs – national plans made by individual governments) that were brought to COP26 are not ambitious enough to achieve the 1.5°C limit in temperature rises so the Parties have been ‘invited’ to review and update their NDCs in 2022.

  1. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

Nature was an important theme at COP for the first time this year, recognising its increased role in addressing the climate emergency, and the need for nature loss and climate change to be tackled together.  One of the first announcements of the Summit was the Global Forest Finance Pledge (GFFP) which saw 100 countries (hosting 85% of forests globally) agree to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.  30 finance groups committed to eliminating deforestation in their portfolios and 10 of the largest agricultural commodity companies committed to get rid of deforestation in their supply chains.

When it came to protecting communities, COP26 fell far short.  Developing countries and particularly low-lying islands are already facing the impacts of climate change (demonstrated by Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe filming his speech to COP26 knee-deep in the ocean to highlight the effects of sea level rises on his nation).  These countries need financial support to adapt to the impacts, and although this was acknowledged, the required support was not forthcoming at COP26.

  1. Mobilise finance

Developed countries failed to deliver their promised annual $100billion in climate finance which was due to be delivered by 2020 but is now hoped to be delivered in 2022.  Where financial success did come was with the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ) – where 450 firms representing more than $130tn in managed assets (40% of the world’s total financial assets) committed to transitioning to net-zero portfolios by 2050.

  1. Work together to deliver

The Paris Rulebook was completed during COP26, confirming how the Paris Agreement is delivered, namely around transparency and reporting, and international carbon markets (Article 6).  The concern was that carbon emissions are not just moved from one country to another.  The agreement aims to prevent double-counting of carbon offsets and to ensure offsetting isn’t at the cost of carbon reduction, which is where the real climate action is needed.

Cities and regions, businesses, investors and other non-governmental players all have a role in tackling climate change.  Many were represented at COP26 and made their own commitments and pledges.  All these entities need to work together to contribute towards net-zero targets and be encouraged to play their part in achieving ambitious NDCs submitted by individual countries.

So did COP26 deliver?

Whether COP26 truly delivered or not depends on who you talk to, the diverse range of stakeholders represented both within the summit and around Glasgow all have different views - including indigenous people, low-lying island nations, activists, politicians, negotiators, cities and regions, global populations and businesses.  Progress was definitely achieved but what’s most important is that the promises and commitments made at this momentous event are honoured, genuinely and transparently, that the Parties raise their ambitions continually, and that we all play a part in addressing this climate emergency.

We will leave the last word to David Attenborough who spoke at the start of COP26: “In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a terrible decline, in yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery”.

Not sure what COP-26 was about?  Read our quick guide to COP26 for a summary of everything you need to know.