26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26)
After a whirlwind two weeks of COP26, where does the world stand in its fight against climate change? Some regard it as a missed opportunity to save the planet, but the event can be seen as a success on several key fronts. For Nigel Brook, Partner at Clyde & Co, it has been “a mixed bag.”
Taken together, new and existing commitments by countries to decarbonise their economies, if fulfilled, in addition to corporate commitment, would mean the world is on track for global warming of around 1.8˚C1 – higher than the goal of 1.5˚C. Brook says, “We’ve made real gains in terms of promises but those promises need to be fulfilled, and there needs to be even more ambition in the next few years. Some countries really need to pivot hard.”
It is encouraging that, whereas previously there was an expectation that targets would be ramped up every five years, now the onus is on a much more frequent re-assessment of pledges and progress. Pressure is already mounting ahead of COP27 in Egypt next year.
The fact that fossil fuels were a focus for discussion should be seen as a major breakthrough, as they were not mentioned at all in the Paris Agreement. The COP26 text may have stopped short of phasing out coal, but the commitment to phase it down is significant nonetheless. Some countries are increasing their consumption of coal, amid energy supply shortages, which Brook hopes is a blip. However, our conversations with delegates at the event suggest that some other nations see new coal-fired power stations as stranded assets in the making, and at least one is already shelving plans for new capacity.
Fear of being left on the wrong side of the history is also being played out in the corporate arena. It was telling that business and finance leaders were in Glasgow in force, confirming that a sea change is underway, shifting capital flows away from fossil fuel-reliant markets towards new technologies and assets that are vital to a net zero world.
COP26 was notable for its emphasis on specifics. Paris provided an important framework for change; Glasgow delivered on detail – and achieved many ‘firsts’ in the process.
Slashing methane was not even a topic on the table in Paris. Now it’s a solid pledge. Never before has a day during COP been dedicated to nature, demonstrating that thoughts are increasingly turning to wider issues around environmental damage and biodiversity loss. This was also the first COP to discuss deforestation – so to achieve a declaration to end it by 2030, backed by 100 countries including Brazil and Indonesia, was momentous.
Setting the rules of the carbon market has been an elusive goal at previous COPs, but the Glasgow summit got a deal done, unlocking funding for climate change mitigation initiatives such as forest protection projects. In this way, solutions are being linked together.
Global co-operation was boosted by the announcement that the US and China would work more closely together, while there was some progress on developing a finance plan for loss and damage caused in developing economies.
There were other positive outcomes around support for poorer nations. Demands were met for a more equal share of the promised $100bn of annual funding from developed countries to be devoted to adaptation and resilience, rather than their own decarbonisation efforts. “Ensuring a just transition was a priority of these talks, but developing nations will be looking for more concrete commitments in the run up to COP27,” says Brook.
All in all, progress has been made, but a lot more needs to happen if the world is to get on track for keeping warming below 1.5˚. To adopt a mountaineering metaphor, we are at Everest base camp.