On 13 November COP26 came to a close in Glasgow with nearly 200 countries agreeing the Glasgow Climate Pact to keep 1.5C alive and finalise the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement.
Climate negotiators ended two weeks of intense talks with consensus on urgently accelerating climate action. The Glasgow Climate Pact, combined with increased ambition and action from its nearly 200 signatories, means that the ambition to limit global warming to 1.5 degC remains in sight, but it will only be delivered with concerted and immediate global efforts. And although for the first time there is an agreed position on phasing down unabated coal power, it is not the agreement that was hoped for by the majority of those states signing up to it. India and China asked for, and got, a crucial last minute-change to the agreement, calling for the ‘phase down’ not the ‘phase out’ of coal power.
The Glasgow Climate Pact will however speed up the pace of climate action this decade. After two years of diplomacy and ambition raising, nearly 200 countries have agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in 2022. This will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leaders summit in 2023.
The Paris Rulebook, the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is delivered, was also completed after six years of discussions. This will allow for the full delivery of the accord, after agreement on a transparency process that will hold countries
to account as they deliver on their targets. This includes Article 6, which establishes a robust framework for countries to exchange carbon credits.
To limit damage to developing nations there were also commitments to significantly increase financial support through the Adaptation Fund as developed countries were urged to double their support to developing countries by 2025.
Phasing down emissions
The COP agreed action on phasing down fossil fuels. COP26 focused on driving the short term reduction of emissions to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degC, mobilising both public and private finance, and supporting communities to adapt to climate impacts.
Nearly two years ago, when the diplomatic efforts towards COP26 started in earnest, only 30% of the world was covered by net zero targets. This figure is now at around 90%. Over the same period, 154 Parties have submitted new national targets, representing 80% of global emissions.
The UK presidency of COP26 has also been focused on driving action to deliver emissions reductions. There has been a major shift on coal, with many countries committing to phase out unabated coal power and ending international coal financing.
And there has a marked commitment to protect precious natural habitats, with 90% of the world’s forests covered by a pledge from 130 countries to end deforestation by 2030.
However, current pledges, if fulfilled, will only limit global warming to about 2.4 degC, with devastating results. As part of the agreement struck in Glasgow, countries will meet next year to pledge further major carbon cuts with the aim of reaching the 1.5 C goal. Work done by independent experts Climate Action Tracker show that full implementation of the new collective commitments could hold temperature rise to 1.8 degC.
COP26 president Alok Sharma commented: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
Most vulnerable countries
To help protect the interests of those countries most in danger of being damaged by climate change, and by the measures being implemented to counter it, thirty five countries have joined the Adaptation Action Coalition, and over 2000 businesses, investors, regions, cities and other non-state actors joined the Race to Resilience. Over 40 countries and organisations joined the Risk-Informed Early Action Partnership, committing to make 1 billion people safer from disaster by 2025.
Activists and politicians have cautiously welcomed an unexpected US-China declaration that promised to boost climate co-operation. The US and China are the world's two biggest CO2 emitters, but said they said they would work together to achieve the 1.5 degC goal for global temperature rise. The announcement was made during COP26. US president Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are now expected to hold a virtual meeting within days.
According to China's climate envoy, the announcement was agreed following some 30 meetings over the past 10 months.
The reaction to the surprise agreement has been largely positive, but experts and activists have warned that concrete action must now be taken to support the promises. Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan warned that China and the US needed to show greater commitment to reaching climate goals. And former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who is president of the Asia Society which works on global climate change agreements, told the BBC in an interview that the agreement was ‘not a gamechanger’ but was a big step forward, pointing out that the “current state of geopolitics between China and the United States is awful, so the fact that you can extract this... agreement between Washington and Beijing right now is [important]," he said.
Following the failure to achieve a hard agreement on phasing out coal, COP26 president Alok Sharma commented that China and India “will have to explain themselves to climate-vulnerable nations”, describing the deal struck in Glasgow as a "fragile win". But he insisted the ‘historic’ deal keeps 1.5 degC within reach. It is the first ever climate deal that plans explicitly to reduce coal.
Moreover the language being used by China is encouraging. The Communist party's media mouthpiece in Beijing, Xinhua wire service, is already stressing in its commentaries that coal is the dominant source of carbon dioxide emissions in the process of electricity generation’, suggesting that the Chinese government acknowledges that ultimately unabated coal must be phased out – but that the speed of the phase out is what matters.