COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment

Coal will not be ‘phased out’ as the result of COP26 in Glasgow – it will merely be ‘phased down’. This last-minute changing in the wording of the 2021 UN climate summit’s final statement was introduced by China and India, weakening the promises made to rapidly reduce emissions from coal power and fossil-fuels.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out

Coal will not be ‘phased out’ as the result of COP26 in Glasgow – it will merely be ‘phased down’. This last-minute changing in the wording of the 2021 UN climate summit’s final statement was introduced by China and India, weakening the promises made to rapidly reduce emissions from coal power and fossil-fuels.

All 197 parties to the conference pledged themselves to a ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, requiring them all to tighten up their 2030 emissions-reduction targets by next year. But delegates for the EU and many poorer countries expressed disappointment at the watering-down of a strong commitment to get rid of coal. Despite this major last-minute setback, the Glasgow deal would be historic as the first-ever UN climate agreement to specifically mention the one fuel most responsible warming the planet. But the difference between eradicating coal and merely limiting its use was seen by many countries and organisations as severely damaging the outcome of COP26.

Alok Sharma, Britain's COP26 president, had appeared close to tears on Saturday as he unveiled the final text, delivered a day late after overnight haggling by negotiators. Despite the setback on a firm commitment on coal, he said having got coal onto the UN climate-change agenda means that governments can push further at future conferences.

The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, warned that a 2C rise in temperature would be a “death sentence” for island nations such as hers, while research group Climate Action Tracker stated during COP26’s second week that that measures so far announced would mean that the planet’s temperature was on course to rise by 2.4C by the end of this century. This is significantly higher than the scientifically acknowledged 1.5C target that governments have pledged to aim for, but lower than the 3.6C rise that we were heading towards at the time of the 2015 Paris agreement.

Despite ending on a downbeat note, COP26 did deliver several significant achievements. Countries committed themselves to speed up their plans for decarbonisation, specifically, by setting out tougher emissions-reduction targets for 2030 by 2022, rather than in 2025 as per the five-year schedule set out under the Paris agreement. Developed countries said they would increase funding for developing countries to adapt to the climatic challenges of rising global temperatures. Rules for a global carbon market were finally approved. The agreement creates a framework within which to pay reparations for countries already suffering economically from climate change (so-called ‘loss-and-damage’), and a monitoring system to check whether countries are fulfilling their climate pledges. These are all issues that COP summits since 2015 have failed to resolve.

The need to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by 45% by 2030 was formally recognised by all parties.
•    A global methane pledge announced by the EU and US aims to cut anthropogenic emissions of this greenhouse gas by 30% by 2030 measured against 2020 levels
•    The US rejoined the High Ambition Coalition (HAC), the group of countries which have the shared aim of achieving the 1.5C goal. Former president Trump pulled the US out of the HAC.
•    The Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda, a plan to coordinate the introduction of clean technologies – including clean electricity and electric vehicles – to drive down their cost faster, was agreed by the parties. The aim is to bring forward the tipping point at which green technologies become cheaper to produce than fossil-fuelled ones, as economies of scale take effect. The LED lightbulb is a good example of this process.
•    Members of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a coalition which includes banks such as HSBC and Santander, pledged to cut the emissions from their lending and investment activities to zero by 2050.
•    Countries with rainforests – including Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have pledged to end deforestation by 2030. The deal, which covers around 85% of the planet’s forests, is matched by a pledge of $19 billion-worth of financing to support the transition.
•    There was no commitment from the big car-producing countries to ban the sale of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2040; a mere 32 countries agreeing to the plan, including the UK, India, Turkey and 12 EU members, including Poland. The US, China, Germany and France did not sign. Of the car-makers, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo agreed to the plan, whilst BMW, Nissan, Renault, Stellantis [Fiat/Chrysler/Citroen/Peugeot/Opel/Vauxhall] and VW opted out. Many fleet operators, including GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, signed.

If the slogan of COP26 was “keeping 1.5 alive”, it seems to have failed. It has built stable foundations, however, for future COPs to maintain momentum and pressure on countries falling behind in their commitments.

The world is currently belching out 52.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. The pledges made at Glasgow will cut this to 41.9 billion tonnes. However, to ensure that global warming does not breach the 1.5C limit, greenhouse gas emissions need to be capped at no more than 26.6 billion tonnes – half of what they are at the moment. [Source: Energy Transitions Commission]

This is the last of the BPCC blog posts reporting on COP26 – there will now be daily posts commenting on how businesses see the green challenges facing them after COP. This will continue into early December, when the next issue of Contact Magazine Online appears, which will be focused entirely on the green transition, post-COP26.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment