17 Nov COP26: Key Commitments and Ongoing Points of Conflict
As the first major climate summit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, COP26 – hosted by the UK on behalf of the United Nations – was an important and timely opportunity for the world to come together and provide collective solutions to the climate emergency. Set against a complex geopolitical situation and the economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there was some inevitable disappointment in the Summit’s outcomes but the UK also walked away with some important progress on areas such as deforestation, methane and clean technology. Below we take stock of the key achievements and where global action still has some way to go.
Key Commitments and Achievements
Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use
One of the biggest successes of COP26 was the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use which commits to halving and reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Signed by 133 nations covering over 90% of the world’s forests, the Declaration is remarkable for the breadth of its signatories – with Brazil, Russia and China all signing the pledge. While the commitment of signatories such as Indonesia to the pledge, given its public commentary on the need to prioritise domestic growth over deforestation commitments, the growing consensus of the need to be seen to tackle deforestation represents an important shift in public discourse.
Global Methane Pledge
Spearheaded by the United States and China, the Global Methane Pledge, which commits nations to collectively limit methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels, gained over 100 signatures. While some of the world’s largest methane emitters, including China, India and Russia, did not sign the pledge, nearly half of all methane emissions will be covered by signatories, keeping the target in reach and potentially eliminating up to 0.2°C of near-term warming.
Over 40 nations signed up to the Glasgow Breakthroughs, committing to a series of goals designed to accelerate the adoption of affordable clean technologies. These include ensuring the affordability and reliability of clean power, low carbon hydrogen and steel by 2030. It is hoped that the plan will help accelerate innovation and scale up green industries, including by reassuring investors that global markets will be created for green technology. Crucially, the United States, India, and China all signed up to the agreement, creating significant opportunities for the expansion of clean technologies.
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ), first launched in April, grew significantly at COP26, with 450 financial organisations now onboard. Members have committed to aligning their own businesses and their portfolios with the Paris Climate Agreement and towards net-zero by 2050. While the Alliance needs to work to define what ‘net-zero’ means in the context of the finance sector, to ensure organisations are held accountable to their commitments, the growing recognition of the role the private sector has to play in climate action is a meaningful step towards achieving broader climate ambitions.
Zero Emission Vehicles
The COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans commits signatories to work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets. It was signed by 24 governments, while nine developing nations committed to working towards accelerated proliferation and adoption of zero emission vehicles. It was also signed by a number of fleet owners, financial institutions and automotive manufacturers, including Ford Motor Company, Jaguar Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. The omission of major players in the car industry including the United States, China and Germany, as well as industry leaders such as Volkswagen, Toyota and BMW, is undoubtedly disappointing, but the declaration represents a first step in the transition towards zero emission vehicles.
Cooperation between the United States and China
The United States and China released the U.S.- China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s committing to enhanced action to curb global warming in the next decade. The pledge reaffirmed their joint commitment to cooperation on climate change, as well as agreeing to take specific measures to cut methane emissions over the next ten years. It also crucially references the importance of efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C and commits to reviving a working group to address the climate crisis. The announcement was somewhat unexpected and was followed by a bilateral between President Xi and President Biden on broader issues, indicating the role that climate cooperation could play in scaling down the tensions between the two global superpowers.
Areas of Challenge and Ongoing Points of Conflict
The Glasgow Climate Pact “notes with deep regret” the failure to meet the target of US$100 billion in climate finance by 2020, which many had hoped would come to fruition at COP26. Some significant financial commitments were made, with Japan leading the way, followed by the UK and Italy – the latter of which announced plans to triple its climate finance contributions at the G20 summit, immediately before COP26. New commitments to the Least Developed Countries Fund and the announcement of the International Just Transition Partnership will also provide important climate finance resources.
The Glasgow Climate Pact also urges developed nations to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025. Developing nations have been staunch advocates of a focus on adaptation, and this reorientation will help ensure climate finance is directed at the poorest nations and help to safeguard them against the impacts of climate change.
Nonetheless, the failure to reach the US$100 billion climate finance target, despite the urgent calls of developing nations, has threatened to undermine trust in the world’s capacity and willingness to deliver on its climate finance promises. Meanwhile, the climate finance needs of developing nations continue to rise, with India asking for US$1 trillion at COP26 for it alone to achieve its climate action objectives. As such, even while COP26 drew out key pledges on climate finance, it also illustrated the clear gulf in the climate finance needs and demands of developing nations, and the commitments developed nations are willing to make.
The first draft of the Glasgow Climate Pact included a call on parties “to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. However, a last-minute intervention led by China and India saw this watered down to a commitment to a phase-down rather than a phase-out of coal. While still a landmark commitment, especially as this is the first time fossil fuels have been referenced in a final COP deal, the linguistic change moves the goalposts on reducing reliance on coal and reduces the pressure on nations to make this transition.
These tensions in willingness to move away from coal power are also evident in the coalition of 190 nations and organisations which committed to phasing-out coal power. Within this, 46 nations and 31 organisations committed to the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, pledging to “transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter) for major economies and in the 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter) globally”. This includes a number of nations committing for the first time to phase-out and not build or invest in new coal power, including Indonesia. However, major coal users and miners Australia, India, the United States and China all declined to sign the agreement, such that they are tied only to the weaker Glasgow Climate Pact pledge to phase-down coal usage over an unspecified timeline.
Loss and Damage
The G77 and China led a push by developing nations to secure commitments to developing a loss and damage facility, a formal delivery body for funding to address damages caused by climate change. However, the Glasgow Climate Pact does not commit to such a facility and instead calls for a Glasgow Dialogue between Parties, relevant organisations and stakeholders to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage. While recognition of loss and damage in the Pact, and Scotland’s financial commitment to loss and damage, represent significant progress in the eyes of developing nations, the Least Developed Countries group were “extremely disappointed” by the decision not to include a facility. As the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt, particularly in the Global South, this is likely to be an ongoing source of tension between developed and developing nations.
Where to Next?
While COP26 did not achieve the step-change in commitments that many had hoped for, progress on areas such as deforestation, methane and clean technology should not be negated. COP26 is just the start and the real test will be in what happens next. The final Glasgow Climate Pact text requests that nations revisit and strengthen their 2030 targets, providing a further opportunity to raise their ambitions. It will also depend on whether nations come good on their commitments, and the completion of technical negotiations on the Paris Agreement Rulebook at COP26 will certainly help to ensure this . There is still a long way to go, but with the UK holding the COP26 Presidency for a year, there will still be plenty of opportunities for it to reaffirm its commitment to climate action and to lead from the front to secure even more ambitious commitments for tackling climate change.