The long-awaited COP26 climate conference came to an end on Saturday 13th November, after being extended by one day. Admittedly, seeing COP26's designated president Alok Sharma becoming emotional and apologising for last-minute changes was not very encouraging. Still there is hope, yet plenty of work to be done, on the road to Cairo where COP27 will be held next year.
Image by Robert Perry/EPA
Now that the dust has settled, we have put together a short summary of the key outcomes agreed in Glasgow and briefly discuss whether COP26 succeeded in meeting its targets and expectations.
Nature and Deforestation
One of the most central topics of the first two days in Glasgow was Nature, with over 130 countries signing a non-binding declaration to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The high rates of deforestation of our rainforests have compromised their capacity to remove carbon and act as carbon sinks. Acknowledging the urgency of halting deforestation and restoring degraded land is a key step if we are to have any chances staying within the 1.5C trajectory.
Even more importantly, the critical role of nature was recognised in the Glasgow Pact in which the Conference "emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and
ecosystems, including forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems, to achieve the
long-term global goal of the Convention by acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases
and protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards".
According to the International Energy Agency, to limit the rise of temperature to 1.5C and avert the worst effects of Climate Change, coal and subsidies for fossil fuels should be eliminated. Notwithstanding that the initial draft text called on parties to "accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” , and after India's and China's envoys put negotiations in jeopardy the final text had to be changed to "accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies (..)".
Clearly, watering-down the commitment to phase-out coal was the biggest disappointment of the summit. One that made COP26 president Alok Sharma's voice break when apologising for the eleventh hour changes in wording, after vulnerable nations expressed their frustration.
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) on cutting emissions by 2030 are incompatible with a 1.5C pathway as experts suggest, and according to analysis published at COP26 would lead to a catastrophic scenario of 2.4C rise in temperature. As nations are only required to revise their NDCs every five years and in 2025 are due to discuss NDCs going beyond 2030, such a schedule would take us far away from the 1.5C target. The host's efforts to set up a roadmap for earlier revisions bore fruit and the revision of NDCs will be on the agenda for COP27 and COP28 alike.
Adaptation and Finance
In 2009, developed countries agreed to help vulnerable countries and island states cut their emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change. To achieve this they would receive at least $100bn a year, while data from 2019 showed that only $80bn has reached them. The anger of developing countries caused by this manifested in Glasgow, to be finally promised that increases will follow in the next five years, bringing the financial support package back to $500bn (i.e. $100bn/year).
Developing countries requested the biggest portion of finance to be spent on adaptation measures rather than emission cuts. This is particularly important as most climate finance is usually meant for funding renewable energy and other emissions-cutting projects, whereas the vulnerable states are left with limited resources to struggle with the severe impacts of climate change. While the UN and some participants were calling for an equal split between funding for adaptation and emissions cuts, finally the text agreed to double the proportion of climate finance going to adaptation.
Loss and Damage
Loss and damage refers to the devastating effects of climate change, such as floods caused by sea level rise or hurricanes that vulnerable countries find it hard to prevent or adapt to. COP26 saw loss and damage emerge as a key dispute with developing countries and island states refusing to back down in their urgent calls for financial support after a decade's deadlock. In Glasgow, negotiations moved on to a level where a database and communications and reporting system, called the Santiago Network was set up.
This was another area of disappointment for developing countries as they were expecting COP26 to make a step towards some kind of funding mechanism as they already spend large part of their tight budget on recovering from damages caused by climate change. On the other hand, developed countries once again resisted the idea of such support, worrying this might put them in a position of having to compensate for their historical responsibility for climate change.
Last but not least, it was important to see how COP26 recognised the role that indigenous people and local communities can play in tackling climate change and urged countries to involve them:"Emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture
and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve
indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action and
to engage with the second three-year workplan for implementing the functions of the Local
Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, for 2022–2024".
Was then COP26 a failure as many critiques and climate activists shout about or a triumph? Obviously, compromises were made and overall pledges do not seem to be ambitious enough to meet the 1.5C target, but at least have kept 1.5C alive. The positive momentum during the first week of the summit turned to anxiety in the second week (along with some last-minute drama), eventually resulting in a watered-down final text. However, progress has been made; a progress that could be signaling the beginning of a systems change.
For the full Glasgow Climate Pact final text please click here