COP26: A Review

Over the past two weeks, scientists, politicians, corporate representatives, investors, artists and businesspeople gathered at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow to tackle the most pressing issues related to climate change today. The purpose of the conference is to bring together all parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss and assess progress made towards achieving climate action goals. After being postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis last year, COP26 this year was a highly awaited affair.

To say, however, that it was an overwhelming success is an overstatement. While many countries were present, and a myriad of issues, ranging from climate finance to deforestation, were discussed, negotiations still fell short of reaching consensus on some of the major dilemmas confronting climate change today. This article provides a roundup of the positive developments that were made during the conference as well as significant areas where we unfortunately still lag behind.

What went well?

One of the most important advancements occurred on Day 4 of the COP when South Africa signed a “Just Energy Transition Partnership” with America, Britain and the European Union under which it will receive $8.5bn in concessional funding and grants to phase out coal. South Africa currently generates more than 90% of its electricity from coal, and is the 12th-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. With coal being the dirtiest fossil fuel, this was an important initiative. Following up on this, other countries similarly reaffirmed their commitments to phase out coal power. Indonesia, for instance, spoke of preparations to close its coal-fired power plants by 2040. Indeed, along with the Philippines and Vietnam, the country engaged in a new pilot scheme launched by the Asian Development Bank that aims to encourage international investors to finance the retirement of these three countries’ coal-fired power plants in the next 10 to 15 years.

Another important initiative taken was on Day 3 of the conference when the US and European Union announced the “global methane pledge.” The aim of the pledge is to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030, measured against 2020 levels. More than 100 countries signed up to the pledge, with the US and Canada stating they would introduce new regulations to reduce methane emissions in their oil and gas industries. The move is crucial as methane, although living only briefly in the atmosphere, is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Indeed, one tonne of methane causes 86 times more warming than the equivalent amount of CO2 in the 20 years after emission. The pledge, if taken seriously by the signing parties, could have a significant and immediate effect on limiting temperature increases.

Also on Day 3, more than 100 leaders pledged to end deforestation by 2030. Countries that signed up to the agreement included Brazil, Russia and Canada, which in total, represents 85% of the world’s forests. In order to carry out the pledge, countries will receive $19bn-worth of funding. The importance of this pledge lies in the fact that forests play a crucial role in absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Indeed, over the 2000s decade, tropical forests were estimated to have absorbed carbon equivalent to around a quarter of the CO2 emissions generated by human activity. Protecting these natural carbon sinks is therefore vital.

What went not so well

Unfortunately, with all the pledges and agreements being made, the COP failed to make progress on some of the most crucial issues hampering climate action efforts today. One such issue was climate finance for developing countries. Developed countries struggled to answer why a 2009-promised fund of $100bn per year for poor countries was still not delivered. Furthermore, negotiations did not agree on how much more money developed countries need to mobilise per year from 2025. African nations claimed they would need at least $700bn, while India, speaking on behalf of developing countries, demanded $1trn from the developed world “as soon as possible.” An actual figure remained elusive throughout the conference.

More painfully, however, no development was made on establishing a loss-and-damage financing mechanism. Loss and damage refers to the compensation of the most vulnerable countries (who are typically responsible for very few emissions) for the harm climate change is already causing them, and for future damage to which they will not be able to adapt. Regrettably, no developed country offered any money at all, possibly out of fear that any payment required would be extremely expensive. When Scotland finally offered £2m, no other country (besides a few philanthropic organisations) followed suit.

Another disappointing holdup fell on negotiations about a framework for an international carbon market. While such a market is critical to cutting emissions, by allowing countries that have exceeded their climate targets to sell units representing emissions reductions to other countries to use to meet their own commitments, no accord was reached regarding what the rules of this market would look like. Major points that were still debated concerned how to count the units, which credits should be allowed, and whether some money from the sale of the units should go to developing countries.

What now?

Despite progress of the talks in some areas, and stagnation in others, COP26 nevertheless represented a noble effort on the part of many different stakeholders to address some of the most urgent issues regarding climate change today. How much countries commit and adhere to their pledges and promises, only time will tell. Furthermore, reluctance and abstention of key players and countries in engaging in crucial efforts (often those that are most relevant for them) will continue to mire climate action efforts, while inequity issues will continue to drive a wedge between developed and developing countries. If, by any chance, the prominence of these issues was highlighted during this year’s COP, perhaps we can hope for a change at next year’s.

Khadija Zaidi


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The Economist. (11 November, 2021). What is happening at COP26? Retrieved from The Economist: