Given the tense geopolitical relations and the devastation wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 took place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021, a year late because of the pandemic. After two weeks of tense negotiations, the outcome of the summit can probably be best summed up by its President, Mr Alok Sharma;
‘Today, we can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees within reach. But, its pulse is weak.’
They are almost certainly too little too late. Within the conference itself, vulnerable countries were furious at wealthier countries for the unwillingness to pay for loss and damage caused by climate change or carbon colonialism, and some countries since then have been condemned for weakening the language around coal and fossil subsidies.
COP26 concluded with 197 countries agreeing to a new climate deal, the Glasgow Climate Pact. Whilst many wish that the conference had achieved more, COP26 still resulted in some important global commitments.
There were 30,000 negotiators, scientists, businesspeople, activists and policymakers at the conference. Prominent people attending the COP26: Boris Johnson, Sir David Attenborough, Her Majesty The Queen, Pope Francis, Greta Thunberg and US President Joe Biden.
The below overview sets out some of the important key targets and the outcomes:
Strengthening of 1.5C target set at Paris Agreement in 2015
It was concluded that the 197 countries agreed to keep 1.5C alive and finalise the outstanding elements of the Agreement, they recognised and addressed the loss and damage from the existing impacts of climate change. However, emissions need to fall with the political reality. Unfortunately, many wealthy and regretfully also polluting nations have indicated inadequate targets. Some countries (Australia, Canada, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE and the United States) have announced net-zero targets but controversially they also plan to expand their fossil fuel production. The pressure at this year’s meeting will be necessary to raise ambition.
The end of coal in sight
Why is this important? Burning coal to generate electricity produces toxic gases and therefore the biggest contributor to the evolving climate change. Phasing out coal as soon as possible is crucial to achieving targets.
‘The power sector accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and coal is the single biggest contributor to human created climate change. Keeping 1.5C alive requires immediately stopping the building of new coal power plants, scaling up clean power and retiring existing coal fleets: in advanced economies by 2030 and globally by 2040.’ UN COP26 the Glasgow Climate Pact
Ending the sale of internal combustion engines by 2040
Major car manufacturers and twenty-four countries have agreed at the Pact to end the sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040. Car firms who signed the agreement were Ford, Mercedes, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz were among those who signed the agreement. We also must note that a further group of countries including India and Kenya have agreed to work towards zero-emissions vehicles. The agreement was also notable for its absences. Countries like China, USA and Germany with global car industries all declined to sign the agreement.
Pledges to curb deforestation
‘If forests are cut down, their ability to pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is lost along with habitats for animals and birds which can lead to extinction.’ UN COP26 the Glasgow Climate Pact
Managing land sustainability and restoring ecosystems have great potential to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. It was declared that the reduction could reach almost 7giga tonnes by 2030! In order to achieve this target, we will need to reverse deforestation and land degradation, including conserving wetlands and peatlands.
Leaders from more than 100 countries promised to stop deforestation by 2030. The act is seen as vital as trees absorb the majority of CO2. However, it remains unclear how the pledge will be policed.
Countries to revisit and strengthen their nationally determined contribution (NDCs)
Under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, emission reductions that have been authorized for transfer by the selling country's government may be sold to another country. However, only one country may count the emission reduction toward its NDC. It is critical to avoid double counting as this way the reductions are not overestimated. All countries have now been asked to review and to improve (further) upon their NDCs by COP27, instead of by 2025 as originally expected under the Paris Agreement.) This design could lead to a greater climate change ambition, or it could enable and start greenwashing.
What else was agreed in Glasgow?
The world's biggest carbon-dioxide emitters, the US and China, both agreed to increase their climate cooperation over the next decade.
Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide because it is able to trap heat in the atmosphere. The impact is particularly strong in the first 20 years after it reached the atmosphere. A scheme was agreed upon at COP 26 to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030. The scheme was agreed upon by more than 100 countries, however, the big emitters, China and India have not yet joined. There are hopes that they will do later.
COP27 is to be taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 6-18 November 2022.
Boglarka is a Doctoral Student at London South Bank University in Corporate Governance and Business Ethics and an associate member of The Chartered Governance Institute of UK & Ireland.
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