After two hectic weeks of presentations, protests, debate, and a few resulting goals & pledges, COP 26 has ended. The conference has been hailed a success in some areas but accused of falling short in others. In this post we examine some of the key agreements and announcements made at the conference.
The World Leaders Summit
Taking place across two days shortly after COP 26 officially began, the ‘World Leaders Summit’ saw over 100 global leaders come together to make important announcements and pledges relating towards tackling climate change.
Key announcements included:
- Prior to the conference, India had declined to set targets for reaching Net Zero. However, it was announced early into COP26 that the nation would target Net Zero by 2070[i]. Significantly, India also announced a target to source 50% of its energy from renewable resources by 2030, as well as reducing the carbon intensity of the nation’s economy (the amount of goods produced per unit of energy) by 45% by 2030.
- More than 100 countries signed up to cutting emissions of methane by 3% from 2020 levels, with this targeted to happen by 2030. Termed “The Global Methane Pledge” signatories represented countries which account for nearly half of global methane emissions and 70 per cent of global GDP[ii]. Importantly, one of the 5 biggest contributors to Methane emissions, Brazil, did sign the agreement, whilst Australia declined to back the pledge, and China, Russia and India did not sign up.
- Over 100 national leaders subscribed to a pledge to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade. Such measures are vital, given that (as reported by the World Resources Institute) forests absorb almost 30% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Yet the world lost 258,000 square km of forest in 2020 alone (20 million hectares). Further, the pledge aims to restore at least 200 million hectares of forest and other ecosystems by 2030; to put this into context this equates to an area slightly larger than Mexico (196 million hectares).
Finance Industry Under Scrutiny
The conference also saw scrutiny of the finance industry’s environmental practices take centre stage:
- It was announced that 450 institutions have now signed up to the so-called Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net zero (Gfanz). Gfanz was founded in April 2021 and is led by former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. According to Yahoo News “Financial firms that want to join the club must sign up to science-based guidelines to reach net zero emissions by 2050, have interim targets for the end of this decade for their fair share of a 50% decarbonisation target, and report on their progress. They must also publish a net-zero transition strategy and adhere to strict rules on what emissions they can offset.”[iii] Further, members of the alliance will be required to clarify to customers any strings attached to the loans they give, the investments they make, and the insurance they provide.
- Whilst the financial sector has been under criticism for its operations around the fossil fuel sector, Gfanz is placing an early focus on three key sectors – aviation, steel, and oil and gas – working with companies in these areas to create Net zero strategies.
- Additionally, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced that all listed companies in Britain will have to produce a strategy to reduce their carbon emissions or face fines. According to the Times “In moves to make the UK the first carbon neutral financial centre, firms, investors and banks will be required to detail how they will move towards becoming net zero.”[iv]
Conclusion of the Climate Talks: Pact Agreed but With Watered-Down Pledges
The conference ended with a drive to agree to a new climate deal, and this was achieved- The 'Glasgow Climate Pact' signed by over 200 nations. The agreement calls on all countries to set new climate targets by the end of 2022, as well as for the phasing-down of unabated coal use.
However, the pact suffered from a dramatic last-minute push by India and China, two of the world’s biggest polluters, to water down language on coal from “phase-out” of unabated coal use, to “phase-down,”. As Bloomberg reports: “Several countries, including Switzerland and the Marshall Islands, immediately complained that other delegations had been blocked from re-opening the text, while India had its way in a late adjustment. ‘I apologize for the way this process has unfolded, and I am deeply sorry,’ Alok Sharma, COP 26 President said. ‘I also understand the deep disappointment. But as you have already noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.’”[v]
There are positives; for one the language used in the pact is significant, in that for the first time it mentions the role of fossil fuels in the climate change, something which even the 2016 Paris Agreement was unable to achieve. Additionally, it was the first time that the big three polluters- China, the US, and India, all agreed to Net Zero targets.
Greenpeace International Executive Director, Jennifer Morgan, stated:
"It's meek, it's weak and the 1.5C goal [the limiting of global temperature increase] is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters,"[vi]
There is further hope- very early into COP 26, countries had already floated the idea of returning to the table in 2022 with better pledges, and the final text says countries should ‘revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets’ as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022. As such, environmentalists, leaders, and those nations most at risk from climate change, will be lobbying to get the right people around the table next year, for the discussions at COP 27.