The COP26 climate conference came to an end on 14 November, after negotiations that went past the deadline saw the creation of a deal that has been described as ‘imperfect’. The struggle to tackle the climate crisis is by no means over, so let’s take a look at what COP26 achieved, what it missed and what could have been better.
Acceptance of 1.5 degrees as the limit for global heating
COP26 was intended to be when countries would present their national plans for cutting emissions (called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) to ‘well below 2 degrees’, as set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015. In the intervening 6 years, there have been questions about what ‘well below’ actually means. In the light of more recent scientific studies released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, COP26 saw 1.5 degrees become the accepted limit.
0.5 degrees may not sound like a big enough difference to quibble over, but watch our video to find out how significant the impact on our planet would be.
“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.”
Agreement to end and reverse deforestation by 2030
Forests are the world’s lungs, and one of our most important stores of carbon. Unfortunately, accelerating deforestation rates and worsening forest fires mean that carbon sinks such as the Amazon are flipping to become carbon sources.
In recognition of this, COP26 saw a landmark commitment to end deforestation by 2030, signed by over 100 countries that together account for 85% of the world’s forests. Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, was among the signatories.
Historically Africa is only responsible for only 3% of global emissions, and yet Africans are feeling some of the most brutal impacts fuelled by the climate crisis
On the streets of Glasgow and towns and cities around the world, people made it clear that the world was watching. Greta Thunberg led a Fridays for Future march through the centre of Glasgow, and activists such as Vanessa Nakate addressed world leaders, arguing that Global South voices are still underrepresented in climate change decision making.
Good Energy’s own Good Future Board also went to Glasgow for the Conference of Youth (COY16) - a precursor to COP26 to input youth voices into negotatiations.
Coal lingers on
The climate agreement between all 200 of the countries attending COP was close to being agreed on 12 November, before a challenge came in about the wording around the phasing out of fossil fuels; in particular, coal.
If we’re to stay within the 1.5-degree limit, the International Energy Agency says that 40% of the world’s 8,500 coal-fired power plants must close by 2030 – and we can’t build any new ones. Countries including China and India, who rely heavily on coal, argued to change the wording to ‘phase down’ rather than phase out, which suggests that coal investment could continue past 2030. Shockingly, this is the first time any commitment to move beyond fossil fuels has been included in a COP agreement.
Not enough funding for climate adaptation
The richest 1% of the world’s population generate the same amount of emissions as the poorest 50%. The majority of the latter group live in Global South countries that are on the front lines of climate breakdown, already experiencing heatwaves, droughts and increased flooding from sea level rises.
Wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to support poorer nations to adapt and mitigate climate breakdown – but haven’t yet kept their promises. At COP26, calls were made to increase the amount of finance available. But if previous pledges aren’t kept, this will provide little additional benefit.
Indigenous peoples resist the extraction of natural resources with our bodies, with our lives. Our contribution to tackling climate change must be recognized. Our solutions must be heard.
The women of the Kichwa Indigenous People of Sarayaku, located in Ecuador
Unequal representation among delegates
Throughout the run-up to COP26, there have been challenges about how accessible it would be to delegates and activists from poorer nations, due to Covid vaccine inequality.
At the event itself, there was a notable lack of women among the delegates, who made up just 7% of the people representing participating nations. As a UN report found that climate change amplifies existing inequalities that already impact women, climate negotiations must do more to represent all voices equally.
Finally, COP26 was criticised for not including more indigenous peoples, who protect 80% of earth’s biodiversity and often face violence for defending land and water. In the six years since the Paris Agreement, which officially recognised the importance of indigenous knowledge and climate solutions for the first time, over 1,000 indigenous land defenders have been murdered.
Current climate action plans aren’t sufficient
Only a handful of countries submitted NDCs before COP26. As it stands policies laid out by governments still mean that the world is on track for between 2.4 and 2.7 degrees of heating. The Paris Agreement called for countries to review these NDCs at every fifth COP, which means they wouldn’t have been reviewed again until 2025.
Thankfully, at Glasgow it was agreed that NDCs would be reviewed every year until they are sufficient. This is positive, but still not the urgent, immediate action that is required, and that millions of people around the world are calling for.
So, while COP26 didn’t achieve everything that was hoped for, there are reasons to be hopeful. Find out more about what you can do to keep up the momentum and make a difference.