Updated: Dec 12, 2022
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as Cop26), a global climate summit drawing political representatives from almost every country between the 31st of October and the 12th of November, has now ended. Hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy for the 26th year of the annual summit, Cop26 saw over 120 world leaders congregate in Glasgow at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) to discuss the global plan for combating climate change.
So, what was all the fuss about? Were any key decisions made (or not made)? How will these decisions affect you?
To save you an investigative deep-dive into political journalism (because who has the time?), we’ve compiled a quick recap of COP26. Here are the top 14 Highlights YOU need to know.
What key decisions have been made?
1. Global pledge was made to end deforestation
One of the biggest outcomes of Cop26 was the renewed global commitment to the protection, restoration, and sustainable management of forests. Notably, Cop26 saw a pledge made by 141 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, China, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, which promised to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. As a result, a further USD12 billion in forest-related climate financing has been pledged between 2021-2025 to help achieve this goal.
The 141 pledges are significant as they account for:
90.94% of the world’s forests
Over 14 million square miles (over 36 million square kilometres) of forest
(Source: UN Climate Change Conference UK, 2021)
2. 45 countries pledged to quit Coal...but China, Australia, India, the United States, and Indonesia (the world’s major coal exporter) were not part of this list
With coal power widely recognised as one of the biggest contributors to global warming, making an effort to transition away from coal towards clean power was a key item on the Cop26 agenda. Drawing signatures from over 45 countries, the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement saw world leaders affirm a global commitment to:
scale-up clean power generation and energy efficiency measures
achieve a transition away from unabated coal (coal not offset by carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies) power generation in the 2030s for the world's major economies
achieve a global transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2040s for the rest of the world
to cease issuing permits for new unabated coal-fired power generation projects and end new direct government support for unabated international coal-fired power generation
(Source: UN Climate Change Conference UK, 2021)
3. All sales of new cars and vans to be zero-emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets
It is no secret that the automotive industries of the world have been a key contributor to global emissions, but at Cop26, support for accelerating the adoption of zero-emission cars and vans showed that they won’t always be.
Representatives from key stakeholders across the automotive industries, such as Siemens, Uber, Ford & Volvo signed the Cop26 Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero-Emission Cars and Vans. While key leaders such as Australia, the United States & France are notably omitted from this declaration, the list of signees spanned across all levels of government, automotive manufacturers, fleet owners and financial institutions. These signees included:
National Governments (developed and emerging) - United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ghana & Turkey
City, State and Regional Governments - Barcelona, New York City, New South Wales & California
Automotive Manufactures - Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, Volvo Cars & General Motors
Fleet Owners & Shared Mobility- Highland Electric Fleets HP Inc, Uber Technologies
Financial Institutions - Aviva & NatWest
Is that good enough? What are the key deceptions?
4. India’s commitment to Net-Zero by 2070 was called into question following its contrary 1 billion tonne commitment to coal
The pledge to quit coal spurred mixed reactions as the UK COP Presidency, and some analysts hailed it as a milestone that brings us closer to getting rid of the resource. Others complained about the timescales involved and the absence of major coal economies such as China, Australia, India and Indonesia, the world’s major coal exporter (and the US).
India’s commitment to Net-Zero by 2070 has been called into question, given its growing reliance on coal. Occurring almost simultaneously with Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s commitment to reduce one billion tonnes of its projected carbon emissions by 2030, Indian Union Minister Pralhad Joshi asked Coal India Ltd, an Indian government-owned mining company that accounts for 80% of the nation’s coal output, to produce an additional 1 billion tonnes by the end of 2024. Given the nation’s current reliance on coal, it is natural to question the validity of this 2070 commitment.
5. Cop26 failed to address the Ocean amidst a 30% increase in ocean acidity
While the Cop26 agenda sought to address pending perils associated with deforestation and coal power, little was done to address the increasing issue of ocean acidification. While the world recognised the effects of emissions on climate change, no direct attention was given to the fact that since industrialisation, oceans have absorbed almost half of the world’s man-made emissions. Furthermore, while the acidity levels had previously remained consistent in the 800,000 years prior, the last 200 years have seen an increase of 30%. Research led by Christopher Cornwall has determined that if acidification and ocean warming continues, 94% of the world’s reefs will suffer erosion by 2050. However, if we can turn it around, we could see 63% of world reefs grow by 2100. As such, a plan to halt the damage must be developed soon and should be on the agenda for Cop27.
Source: (Cornwall et al., 2021)
6. Fossil Fuel Lobbyists outnumbered each country delegation in a show of force
Cop26 saw around 25,000 delegates from across the world in attendance, but one group was present with a rather significant turnout. It wasn’t representatives from any specific country but the fossil fuel industry that showed out in force. With at least 503 total lobbyists in attendance, analysis of the attendance records show that they outnumbered even the largest national delegation by two dozen.
There has been a public outcry from campaigners calling for the ban of oil and gas lobbyists. The large presence of fossil fuel lobbyists calls into question the influence this industry has on our global leaders. This gives rise to the following question: If we know that fossil fuel emissions are at the root of the problem, and yet the very culprits of the ongoing fossil fuel production are given a seat at the table, how can we say that Cop26 is serious about phasing out fossil fuels?
(Source: McGrath, 2021)
7. Developed Nations were reluctant to take financial accountability for Loss & Damage
In a BBC interview in the lead-up to Cop26, Sir David Attenborough challenged the wealthier, more developed countries, stating that they had a "moral responsibility" to the world to do more. A big point of contention against the ‘richer’ nations has been their lack of financial accountability for the climate damage they have caused. Still, a fundamental injustice is continuing as rich nations steadfastly refuse to provide the level of financial support the developing world needs and deserves. All over the world, not nearly enough is being done to enhance climate resilience, leaving communities and economies exposed.
(Source: David Attenborough via BBC, 2021)
Put simply, loss and damage describe the destruction of quality of life and infrastructure caused by the current climate change crisis. In their address at the opening of the plenary of Cop26, the Kenyan Delegation cited water stress, drought, food insecurity and population displacement as some of the key climate change impacts to Kenya. The prevailing argument for loss and damage compensation at Cop26 is that poorer, developing countries, which have contributed minimally to the onset of climate change, have endured the destructive consequences of the environmentally harmful actions of developed nations and as such, should be compensated for this suffering. This argument has been met with contention from developed nations such as the United States and much of the European Union, who are wary of ongoing financial liabilities to these developing nations. This also comes off the heels of the broken, 2009-2019, $100 billion a year commitment, made by developed countries towards supporting their developing counterparts. With no clear resolution at Cop26, loss and damage funding will likely continue to be a point of contention in the lead up to Cop27 in Egypt next year.
(Source: Carrington, 2021)
8. Progress on Climate Change Policy impeded by lack of gender equality
A tenet of the Paris Agreement was that the efforts to build climate resilience capacity, and adaptation actions to respond to climate change should be both country-driven, and gender-responsive. While progress has been made to increase the gender responsiveness of global climate change efforts, this progress has been slow. This is concerning as women have been recognised as disproportionately affected by the risks and burdens of climate change, particularly in cases of poverty. Furthermore, climate change has been considered a threat to further exacerbate social inequality. Given research that highlights failures to address gender inequality and its role in climate change in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s), it is clear more needs to be done to accelerate the inclusion of gender equality in climate policy (Huyer et al., 2020).
What did Australia do? Disappoint, again.
In the previously mentioned BBC interview before Cop26, Sir David Attenborough called out Australia, among other developed nations, for taking a stance that minimised the effects of climate change.
"There are still people in North America, there are still people in Australia who say 'no, no, no, no, of course, it's very unfortunate that there was that forest fire that absolutely demolished, incinerated that village, but it's a one-off'.”
He went on to say:
“I think it would be really catastrophic if the developed nations of the world, the more powerful nations of the world, simply ignored these problems… [because] our industrialisation is one of the major factors in producing this change in climate.”
So, did Australia do anything to perhaps change Sir David Attenborough’s opinion about our climate efforts? Probably not. Here’s why:
9. Australia committed to “net-zero, not zero” by 2050
With the Glasgow Climate Pact highlighting the “urgent need to increase efforts to collectively reduce emissions, and to [accelerate] efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, you would think that a country like Australia would act as a role model for the world in reducing coal emissions right?
Unfortunately, this was not the case. In his address at the launch of the Low Emissions Technology Statement 2021, Angus Taylor, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions reduction, emphasised that Australia’s approach would be to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Note that’s “net-zero, not zero” (his words not mine).
Despite highlighting the fact that Australia was the world’s 4th largest energy exporter, and admitting that Australia is specialised in “the production of energy and emissions-intensive commodities,”, Taylor’s speech offered no atonement for these emissions. Instead, he suggested that Australia couldn’t reduce its emissions, first due to the unreliability of renewable energy technologies, and later due to the tax implications. But maybe the real reason was that those exports were “worth around a quarter of Gross National Income,” and still growing? In any case, Taylor’s speech showed that we shouldn’t expect an end to coal power in Australia any time soon.
10. Australia ranked among the worst-performing countries in climate protection according to the Climate Change Performance Index
The 2022 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which evaluated the climate protection performance of countries in 2021, presented a grim reality for Australia. With a score of 30.41, Australia ranked very low among the 64 included countries in the overall CCPI rating. Furthermore, the CCPI’s findings showed that Australia ranked very low across key indicators such as Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Renewable Energy, Energy Use and Climate Policy. This led to the assessment that Australia in its “lack of domestic ambition and action” has “fallen behind its allies.”
Table 1: Australia's CCPI 2022 - Country Scorecard
(Source: Climate Change Performance Index, 2021)
What happened from a climate finance perspective?
Long story short - a lot of money is moving towards climate impact, but this is still not enough, and the current support to developing nations (who are already suffering harsh climate change impacts) is far far from being sufficient.
A lot happened in climate finance at Cop26 so to give you the low-down, here are some top key takeaways in bullet points.
11. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) committed over $130 trillion in private capital towards achieving net-zero
$125 trillion of this capital commitment was made from the time the UK and Italy were given the Cop26 presidency until now
GFANZ plans include the development of platforms for emerging nations through which private capital can be invested towards net-zero-progressing country projects
The initiative seeks to redesign “the architecture of global finance” in favour of achieving net-zero
Capital to facilitate an accelerated transition towards net-zero – presents an opportunity for green innovators across all sectors to receive the funding they need
(Source: Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, 2021)
12. Record $356 million in new support pledged to the Adaptation Fund at Cop26
16 new donors made pledges to the fund – new record
First-time pledges included the United States, Canada and Qatar
Newfound funding far exceeded the 2021 Adaptation Fund resource mobilisation goal of US$ 120 million
At $356 million, money raised by the Adaptation Fund is over 3 × the previous $116 million raised last year
New pledges will provide funding for pipeline projects in service of the Paris Agreement which are estimated to cost over $300 million
(Source: United Nations Climate Change, 2021)
13. $413 million pledged to the Least Developed Countries Fund
Funding came from 12 donor governments
Belgium led the way with a pledge to contribute 60 million EUR (approximately $69.6 million USD) by 2024
LDCF currently supports the climate resilience of the 46 least developed countries
These countries typically produce the least emissions, yet face higher degrees of climate change-related risk than their more developed counterparts
14. An exciting global grid initiative was proposed: the “One Sun, One World, One Grid”
Born out of Cop26, a green grid initiative that could have significant climate finance implications was the One Sun Declaration. Coined One Sun One World One Grid, this UK-India led initiative sought to create an inter-connected global grid capable of trading renewable energy internationally. While only five countries represented the current committee for steering One Sun One World One Grid (Australia, India, the United Kingdom, the United States and France), this initiative was endorsed by a wider list of 80 developed and developing countries.
Through One Sun One World One Grid, key goals for this initiative that were supported by endorsing nations included:
Greater investment in solar, wind, storage and other renewable energy generation in locations endowed with renewable resources for supporting a global grid
Building of long-distance cross-border transmission lines to connect renewable energy generators and demand centres across continents
Greater investment in the developing and deploying of technologies to modernise power systems and support green grids
Attracting investment into solar mini-grids and off-grid systems to help vulnerable communities
With the grid set to be rolled out over the next few years, One Sun One World One Grid represents an opportunity for the renewable energy sector (TimesofIndia.com, 2021).
(Source: UN Climate Change Conference UK, 2021)
Do we still have a chance to limit warming to 1.5°C? Sadly, we are nowhere near yet.
To better understand this goal, we have to go back in time to the 12th of December 2015 at Cop21, where 196 countries agreed to a legally-binding treaty on Climate Change known as “The Paris Agreement.” One of the key features of this agreement was the goal to limit Global Warming to well below a 2℃ increase from pre-industrial levels (you know, before we came and messed things up). Wanting to make a significant impact and reduction on climate change, we also set a global goal of attempting to limit this temperature increase from pre-industrial levels to 1.5℃.
Jumping back to today, with Cop26 now in the rearview, you’re probably still wondering if we have a chance to limit global warming to 1.5℃? I think Alok Sharma, president of Cop26, put it best when he warned: that “the window to keep 1.5 degrees within reach [was] closing.” In fact, he went as far as stating that "this COP, COP26, [was] our last best hope to keep 1.5 in reach.”
Source: (Alok Sharma, 2021)
The best prediction for if we can achieve this 1.5 degrees goal is the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C. According to this report, there is no simple answer to this question, but here are a few things that would need to happen:
Achieve net-zero emissions by 2030
Limit CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) to 25-30 gigatonnes per year by 2030
45-60% reduction from 2010 emissions levels by 2030
Reach net-zero by 2050
830 billion USD investment in energy-related investments between 2016 and 2050 or an increase of about 12%
Source: IPCC, 2018 - Global Warming of 1.5°C.An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change,
Source: Climate Action Tracker, 2021
The Climate Action Tracker or "CAT" (an independent scientific analysis produced by two research organisations that have been tracking climate action since 2009) indicates that current policies could put the world on track for warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100. With all policy pledges taken into account, the research suggested, warming could be limited to a still-disastrous 2.4-degree temperature rise.
More than 140 governments have announced net-zero goals, which in effect, would cover 90% of global emissions. However, the CAT’s 40-country analysis shows only a small number of these goals, accounting for only 6% of global emissions, are rated “acceptable” and have actual plans in place to get there.
Professor Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute (one of CAT's partner organisations) has accurately surmised that:
“While the wave of net-zero targets appears like remarkable news, we can’t sit back and relax. In the situation where, even with the new pledges, global emissions in 2030 will still be twice as high as required for 1.5°C, all countries must urgently look at what more they can do.”
Source: (Bloomberg, 2021)
While the data suggests that we have a lot further to go to actualise our sub-2°C goals, the progress we have already made should inspire confidence that we are more than capable to do more in the future. Before the Paris accord was signed, the Emissions Gap report from the United Nations projected possible warming to be between 3°C and 7°C by the end of the century. Thanks to better climate modelling, cheaper green technologies and more willingness from governments to reduce emissions, the world is no longer on a path of utter destruction. And yet the worse-case outcome of apocalyptic 4°C warmings still remains possible. That means we cannot rest on the laurels of our current Cop26 gains but must continue to remain proactive in the fight against global warming.
Tired of Political inaction? You can start making a difference today.
Summits like Cop26 can be disappointing and overwhelming, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we can also contribute at the individual level.
Here are two simple steps you can take as a “personal Cop26 commitment”
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