Described as a “decisive summit” and even a “last chance meeting”, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) did not succeed in constituting the turning point for humanity that civil society and scientists had been hoping for, but brought about some noticeable changes in the fight against climate disruption. Review of the main outcomes of COP26 and how far we still have to go to avoid the worst impacts of climate crisis.
“The goal of 1.5C is ‘on life support’. This slightly shocking formula, used UN Secretary General António Guterres, sums up the COP26, which brought together around 30,000 people in Glasgow (Scotland), and ended on Saturday 13 November more than a day late. At a plenary meeting on Saturday, most countries, while expressing “disappointment”, said the “Glasgow climate pact” fulfils the COP’s mandate to “keep alive” the goal of not exceeding 1.5°C of warming above the pre-industrial era, the most ambitious limit set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. These decisions contain “concrete steps forward and very clear steps to put us on track to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement”, said Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, underlining the difficulty of finding a consensus among 196 countries. The pact asks countries to revise their climate commitments upwards from the end of 2022 – well before the 2025 date originally set by the Paris agreement, and “as far as necessary to align” with the international treaty. However, this revision must be done “taking into account different national circumstances”, opening the way for adjustments for some countries.
Positives to build on
- Never before has a climate conference tackled fossil fuels so head-on. For the first time, nations are called on to “phase down” coal and fossil fuel subsidies in a Cop text. Even if the wording of an intention to abandon coal was watered down from a “phase-out” to a “phase-down”, it marked the first time that such a resolution had been made under the UN climate process. Another progress to note is the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) led by Costa Rica and Denmark. Eleven national and subnational governments by becoming members of this first-of-its-kind alliance, will commit to ending new licensing rounds for oil and gas exploration and production. They must also set an end date for oil and gas production and exploration that is aligned with Paris Agreement objectives.
- Two other alliances, each comprising around 100 states, decided to put an end to deforestation by 2030 and to reduce global emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by 30% between 2020 and 2030.
- An agreement was reached on the thorny issue of the functioning of international carbon markets. New rules have been drawn up for trading CO2 emissions between countries and a new international carbon market has been created. However, civil society is concerned about loopholes that could undermine the fight against climate change.
- Although 150 countries submitted new climate commitments to the UN before or during COP26, as required by the Paris Agreement, not all of them are more ambitious than the previous ones, dating from 2015. On the basis of these plans, the planet is heading for a warming of 2.7°C by the end of the century. Longer term promises to go to net zero emissions, notably by India, might possibly restrict heating to 1.8C by the end of the century, but lack the concrete plans to be credible. And 1.8C still means immense suffering to people and the planet.
- The talks also failed to make sufficient progress on the crucial issue of finance, which is the driving force behind climate action. Rich countries have still not kept their promise, made twelve years ago, to mobilise 100 billion dollars (87 billion euros) per year from 2020 to help developing countries invest in green technology and other emissions-cutting efforts, and to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis.The texts do, however, provide for developed countries to double, by 2025 compared to 2019, the aid specifically devoted to adapting to the effects of climate change, a demand from developing countries. Today, only 25% of funds go to adaptation, compared to 65% to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while developing countries contribute little to the latter. The majority of funds are also loans and not grants, exacerbating the debt crisis in these countries.
- Poor countries were also left frustrated at the pact, which they said did not address their concerns about “loss and damage”, the destruction already being caused by heatwaves, storms and floods on lives, livelihoods and infrastructure that are now hitting vulnerable countries far harder and more frequently than had been predicted. Vulnerable and poor countries, which did little to cause the climate crisis, arrived with a determination to win a commitment from rich nations to compensate them for this damage. By 2050, these hits could amount to a fifth of GDP for some poor countries, according to estimates from the charity Christian Aid. But rich nations have been reluctant to agree any mechanism for providing funding for loss and damage, in part because some of the debate has been framed in terms of “compensation”, and they fear exposure to unlimited financial liabilities.
These latest results run counter to the high expectations expressed earlier by the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). In a statement from OACPS Leaders on Climate Action for COP26, the Organisation reminded how OACPS Member States, though making an insignificant contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, were bearing the brunt of the damaging impacts of climate change. And how important it was to significantly scale up climate finance to support mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries. “We reiterate that developed countries must honour their commitment to provide scaled up, new and additional climate finance in the form of grants rather than loans, as well as technology and knowledge transfer and capacity building support to enable OACPS Member States to achieve their climate goals (…).”
Read the full OACPS Leaders statement for COP26