For the past two weeks, all eyes have been on Glasgow, Scotland, where the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) took place between 1-12 November. The two weeks of negotiations were supposed to lead to the adoption of an ambitious plan on how to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in alignment with the 2015 Paris Agreement. Dr2 Consultants analyses the success of the conference, which brought together 190 countries and over 30,000 delegates.
A COP snubbed by key players
The conference did not kick off with the best odds as China and Russia – two of the biggest emitters worldwide – were absent from the conference. Moreover, both countries had adopted their own climate strategies in parallel to the COP26 summit, but only committing to cutting net carbon emissions by 2060, and not 2050, as deemed necessary by the EU to limit climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Nevertheless, an unexpected agreement was announced by the US and Chinese delegations on 10 November, which showed a will from China to take the climate crisis more seriously, however, specific actions will still need to be determined.
An array of pledges and commitments at COP26
The two weeks of the conference led to a number of voluntary climate commitments and pledges to reach the targets laid down in the Paris Agreement.
On 2 November, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use was adopted, pledging over $19 billion of public and private spending to stop and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of 2030. Forests highly contribute to mitigating climate warming, as they absorb about 30% of CO2 emissions. The statement was backed by major countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which together account for 85% of the globe’s forests.
The US and the EU led the adoption of a pledge to drastically reduce emissions from methane, the second-largest contributor to global warming after CO2. Through the Global Methane Pledge, leaders at COP26 committed to reducing methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. If the 100 signatory countries comply with their commitment, it could prevent 0.2 degrees Celsius of global warming. Although significant methane emitters such as Nigeria or Pakistan have joined the pledge, the largest emitters of methane such as China, Russia and India did not.
End of public funding for fossil fuels
The British government promoted another pledge to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of 2022. Over 30 countries, including Canada and the US, as well some development banks, such as the European Development Bank and the East African Development Bank, have joined this pledge, which commits signatories to stop using a number of financial instruments, such as loans, grants or share purchases to finance new international fossil fuel developments.
While China, Japan and South Korea – three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel funders after Canada – did not join the pledge, France and Germany signed it last minute, under pressure from civil society and environmental activists.
Phase out of coal power
On 11 November, 23 countries committed to phase out coal power through the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement. The agreement plans for major economies to transition away from coal for energy generation in the 2030s, and the rest of the world in the 2040s. However, countries remain free to decide themselves in which category they fall, and the deal does include major coal-reliant economies such as China, India and the US.
Sustainable food systems
Countries participating in COP26 recognized the need for a transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems to achieve climate objectives. However, only 45 governments joined the pledge for urgent actions and investments to shift towards more sustainable farming. This led many environmental activists to denounce the fact that farming and agriculture were not thoroughly addressed in the discussions, despite being responsible for about 20% of global emissions.
The EU adopted some specific commitments of its own, notably a Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa. The agreement, which also includes France, Germany and the UK, aims to accelerate the decarbonization of South Africa’s economy, and especially its electricity system. Participating governments will provide financial and technological support to South Africa.
European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, also signed a Memorandum of Understanding launching the EU-Catalyst Partnership, together with Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and the European Investment Bank. This partnership will mobilize up to €820 million to accelerate the deployment and commercialization of innovative climate technologies. Investments will be directed towards a portfolio of EU-based projects with high potential in four sectors: clean hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture and long-duration energy storage.
Finally, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced that the EU would contribute €100 million to the Climate Adaptation Fund, to support the environmental transition of developing countries.
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A watered-down COP26 final agreement
The COP26 led to the adoption of an agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, engaging all 190 participating countries, unlike the previously mentioned pledges, which were voluntary.
However, to the disappointment of many, first and foremost COP26 President Alok Sharma and UN Secretary Antonio Guterres, the final agreement was considerably watered-downed compared to previous negotiating versions drafted by the COP26 Presidency. Indeed, under the pressure of India and China, a commitment on coal was made less stringent, with the final text only mentioning “phasing down” of coal instead of “phasing out”. Language on cutting out fossil fuel subsidies was also significantly watered-down.
Analysts find that commitments under the current agreement are not sufficient to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, but rather put the world on track for above 2 degrees Celsius in temperature rises.
An agreement with mixed reviews
MEP Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe, France), leader of the European Parliament’s delegation to the COP26, remained cautiously positive, stating that although a lot remains to be done, the COP26 showed that the climate crisis is taken seriously worldwide. In a swing towards the US, China and India, he nonetheless called for big emitters to adopt concrete and credible roadmaps towards net zero emissions.
Ursula von der Leyen and Frans Timmermans issued similar statements, saying that the final agreement keeps within reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, although much work remains ahead.
Other MEPs were more transparent regarding their disappointment. MEP Jyvtte Guteland (S&D, SE), Coordinator for the Socialists & Democrats in the Environment Committee, would have liked to see more cooperation among the US and China, for example in methane and the phasing out of fossil-fueled vehicles, and more ambitious commitments from other countries, especially from China to commit to stop using coal for power generation or for India to move its net zero emissions target sooner than 2070.
All political groups in the European Parliament share the opinion that big polluters must increase their efforts to combat climate change and the EU should motivate and encourage countries to follow its ambition to achieve climate neutrality. In the light of lacking ambitions from international partners, Renew Europe highlighted the need for the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, proposed in July by the European Commission.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfccc/51677360193/