The first few days of COP26 have seen a flurry of climate promises, deals, and inspiring speeches from global leaders to end deforestation, phase out coals, and reduce methane emissions. Thousands of delegates from around the world descend to Glasgow for the most important climate summit this year.
Behind the inspiring speeches, the negotiators are ironing out the Paris Agreement ‘rule book’, the landmark accord to limit global warming to under 2°C or preferably 1.5°C.
Now, the summit is in its second and final week, and since it began, there has been a swirl of conferences and events happening both in person at Glasgow and virtually around the world.
We have listed some events that have transpired since the COP26 began on 31st October and provided brief highlights of each.
India’s surprise climate pledge
On day 2, November 1, India’s President, Narendra Modi, announced a new pledge – that India, the world’s 3rd highest emitter, would reach a net-zero by 2070 and that by 2030 half of the county’s energy will be sourced from renewable energy.
India will also raise its low-emission capacity from 450GW to 500GM. The commitment to becoming net-zero by 2070 is a decade behind China which pledged to become net-zero by 2060. Even as Modi announce this new pledge, Indian officials believe that it is unfair to expect this from them, a country that is highly dependent on coal and is still developing its economy. But Mr Modi’s promise is contingent on developed countries providing $1 trillion of climate funding to developing countries as soon as possible (What is happening, 2021).
India’s surprise new pledge is significant because it will put the world on track for under 2C of global warming.
The UN Environment Programme report published ahead of COP26 shows that the parties updated and new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) fall short of what is needed to reach net-zero by 2050 and will cause a temperature rise of at least 2.7°C.
Talking to the Independent, Professor Malte Meinshausen, a climate researcher at the University of Melbourne and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientist, says if all 96 countries fulfil their climate pledges, it will cause the world to peak warming at 1.9°C this century.
Methane emission is a hot topic during the summit. On Day 3, led by America and the European Union, 100 countries pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, measured against the 2020 level.
Methane is 80% more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and study shows that curbing methane emissions using existing technology will reduce up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100.
Former US President Barrack Obama’s speech
Former US President Barrack Obama spoke in the 2nd week of COP26. He told young people to “stay angry” and “harness that frustration to push for more”. According to an analysis by a North American reporter, his speech is a delicate balance of hope and doubt.
Obama took a swipe at Russia and China for not physically attending the summit, saying it shows a “dangerous lack of urgency”. He criticised President Trump for his “active hostility towards climate science”, but then activists are also quick to point out that his administration failed to deliver the $100 billion a year climate finance to poorer countries. He closed by telling the crowd that the fight against climate change will be hard and messy and ‘every victory will be incomplete’ (COP26: Obama, 2021).
There is a growing enthusiasm for climate finance. Financial institutions representing nearly $9 trillion in assets pledged to remove deforestation from their portfolios. But the most striking announcement came from a coalition of financial firms, from more than 450 organisations in the financial sectors, including banks, insurers, asset managers in 45 countries, to cut emissions from their lending and investing to net-zero by 2050. But green groups say this is too weak. Some observers worry that the targets will encourage financial firms to sell polluting assets to reduce emissions in the companies they back (The uses and abuses, 2021).
Adaptation and “loss and damage”.
The second week of the climate summit focused on adaptation and “loss and damage”. These topics focus on the relationship between rich and developing countries. While rich countries have the means to adapt, vulnerable countries that have contributed the least to the crises are suffering the most from the harms of climate change (What is happening, 2021).
This concept that vulnerable countries can be compensated for the damage caused by climate change has been brought before in previous COP summits. Still, rich countries have historically been hesitant to commit due to the likelihood of a costly bill. Experts project that by 2030, the economic cost of climate damages in developing countries will be between $290-580bn. Organisers have set up the ‘Santiago Network’ as a means for countries to make damages claims. Still, so far, only the Scottish government has offered a symbolic $1.3m into the program (What is happening, 2021).
As of writing, carbon-markets talks are ongoing. Norway and Singapore are now leading the efforts for a deal on carbon markets. Talks to finally hash out the rule for how international carbon markets will work is essential but challenging, according to the Norwegian minister.
Since Paris 2015 the Article six of the Paris Agreement has never been resolved. A primary hurdle is that real reductions are hard to prove. Some countries are raising their issues regarding carbon markets (COP26: Article Six, 2021).
For instance, New Zealand is pushing hard against double counting. Former IEA Climate Change Unit head and Article Six expert Dr Christina Hood said that double counting is cheating. New Zealand is buying two-thirds of its reductions offshore to meet its updated NDCs to halve its net emissions by 2030 (COP26: Article Six, 2021).
Reuter’s article “COP26 carbon-market talks ‘difficult’ – but hopes for breakthrough, says Norway minister” mentions that Bolivia opposes any carbon trading because it will harm “Mother Earth” and create “business climate millionaires”.
It mentions further:
“But many developed nations favour carbon markets, claiming that efficient international markets could cut $250 billion a year by 2030 from the cost of limiting climate change.”
“Among innovations, Article 6 would set up a Sustainable Development Mechanism that could allow, for instance, a rich nation to offset its industrial emissions by paying a developing country to protect tropical forests or to set up a wind farm or solar power plant. But there are no agreed rules for accounting for emissions savings generated by such initiatives.”
Developing countries want a levy of 5% on all international carbon trading transactions, but rich nations oppose this idea, saying that this extra cost would shackle trading. If negotiations fail for carbon markets this year, it will be brought up again next year in Egypt.
COP26 a PR spin?
As COP26 enters its final week and closing week of negotiations on Monday, has it accomplished what it set to do – capping global heating at 1.5C or is it all just a PR spin? When global leaders and delegates descend to Glasgow for the COP26, President Alok Sharma describes it as the moment “where the rubber hits the road” (Pledges, progress, and PR spin, 2021).
The second week and closing week of negotiations have seen national delegations working behind closed doors to cap global warming to 1.5°C to avert the worst impacts that climate change has in store.
Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, says, “We’ve seen some big announcements, but too many pledges have been voluntary, and too often the small print includes big loopholes. The goal hasn’t changed, it’s 1.5°C, and while we’re closer than we were, there’s still a long way to go” (Pledges, progress, and PR spin, 2021).
For sure, fossil fuel companies took a hard hit, but not enough to cause a knockout. There have been big announcements and too many voluntary pledges. Overall, the first week of COP26 has been described as a big step forward but needs far more action. But as the second week and the end of the summit draws to a close, the gap between rhetoric and climate action is becoming more evident. Climate activists and campaigners like Greta Thunberg said that it is clear that the COP26 summit is turning into public relations exercise. She adds that while leaders have given beautiful speeches behind closed doors, they refuse to take drastic climate action to cut GHG emissions fast (Pledges, progress, and PR spin, 2021).
The COP26 isn’t over yet, and it will be interesting to see further developments and commitments that will arise from the summit.
Most importantly, post-COP26, we will know whether or not the parties will make good on their pledges and promises for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Only time will tell.
Dunne, D. (2021, November 4). COP26 pledges could limit global heating to below 2°C for the first time, snap analysis finds. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/cop26-climate-pledges-2c-warming-b1950636.html
COP26: Obama tells young people to stay angry on climate fight. (2021, November 10). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59210395
The uses and abuses of green finance. (2021, November 6). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/leaders/the-uses-and-abuses-of-green-finance/21806111
What is happening at COP26? (2021, November 8). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/international/2021/11/08/what-is-happening-at-cop26?
Cardwell, H. (2021, November 9). COP26: Article Six talks might finally get over the line. RNZ. Retrieved from https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/455270/cop26-article-six-talks-might-finally-get-over-the-line
Doyle, A. (2021, November 8). COP26 carbon-market talks ‘difficult’ – but hopes for breakthrough, says Norway minister. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/cop26-carbon-market-talks-difficult-hopes-breakthrough-says-norway-minister-2021-11-07/
Meredith, S. (2021, November 8). Pledges, progress and PR spin? What you need to know as the COP26 climate enters the final week. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/08/cop26-what-you-need-to-know-as-climate-talks-enter-closing-week.html
Kaplan, S. (2021, November 7). The U.N. climate summit will take on ‘adaptation, loss and damage’ Monday. Here’s what you need to know. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/11/07/cop26-glasgow-climate-loss-damage/
Jessop, S. & Shalal, A. (2021 November 4). COP26 coalition worth $130 trillion vows to put climate at the heart of finance. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/wrapup-politicians-exit-cop26-130tn-worth-financiers-take-stage-2021-11-03/