The 9 Top Decisions Made at COP26

The Eco Experts
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All 197 countries agreed to “phase down” their use of coal

Nations with 91% of the world’s forests vowed to protect and restore them

China, the US, and India made big promises but avoided many deals


COP26 saw 197 countries meet for two weeks in Glasgow to agree on strategies to combat the world’s biggest existential threat: climate change.

The 26th edition of the Conference of the Parties, to give the event its full name, was the site of important progress on eradicating coal, electrifying transport, and convincing countries to join the fight.

It fell short in a number of areas, with China, India, and the US all failing to recognise the devastating impact of a phenomenon which has already increased the global temperature by 1.1°C since pre-industrial times.

We’re still facing a rising number of natural disasters; low-lying nations remain under threat; and the end of life as we know it is still on the not-too-distant horizon – but the world did at least take steps towards reducing the impact of climate change.

1. The Glasgow Climate Pact

On 14 November, after tense last-minute negotiations amid fears of collapse, COP26 President Alok Sharma shed tears as he told delegates an agreement had been reached.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, which was signed by all 197 national representatives, is the first climate deal that explicitly targets the reduction of coal – though pressure from China and India led the wording to be watered down.

Instead of the original aim to “phase out” coal, signatories agreed to “phase down,” with many nations expressing their opposition to the alteration.

Antigua and Barbuda delegate Lia Nicholson, who spoke on behalf of small island states, said: “We recognise the presidency's efforts to try and create a space to find common ground.

“The final landing zone, however, is not even close to capturing what we had hoped.”

The pact didn’t limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C, but the countries agreed to revisit their pledges in 2022 to try to keep the 1.5°C achievable.

The deal also contained a commitment to increase financial support to developing nations to help them cut their emissions, which played a big part in convincing many to sign.

United Nations climate secretary Patricia Espinosa said the need to weaken the pact’s language on coal was disappointing, but added: “No deal was the worst possible result there. Nobody wins.

“It doesn’t fully satisfy everyone, but it brings us forward. It’s a good compromise.”

2. No coal by 2040 or 2050 – for some countries

The Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement was an important step on the road to eliminating coal.

The deal saw 45 countries and the European Union agree to completely transition away from coal, increase green energy production and energy efficiency measures, and stop handing out new permits or government support for coal plants.

The statement outlined how major economies would aim to cease coal production “in the 2030s”, while poorer nations would try to follow suit “in the 2040s.”

Numerous new countries committed to eliminating coal, including Indonesia, Spain, South Korea, Poland, and Egypt – but the big hitters were missing.

The signatories only included five of the top 20 coal-using nations, with the world’s top three polluters – China, the US, and India – conspicuously absent.

And some countries – namely Botswana, Hungary, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, and the Philippines – signed up to only some of the four clauses in the agreement.

3. An end to many overseas fossil fuel projects

25 countries including the US, Canada, Denmark, Italy, and the UK have committed to stop financing unabated foreign fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022.

This is an important agreement, as it should stop wealthy nations from claiming they’re cutting their carbon footprints while, in reality, exporting their emissions by funding fossil fuel production in poorer countries.

The inclusion of the word “unabated” in this and other fossil fuel agreements made at COP26 allows projects to move forward if their greenhouse gas emissions are negated by technologies like carbon capture.

The plan will reduce fossil fuel funds by an estimated $17.8 billion (£13.3 billion) per year worldwide, according to COP26.

4. A pact to protect the world’s forests

The Declaration on Forests and Land Use was signed by 141 countries, including Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and the US.

They all pledged to reverse forest loss, halt land degradation, and restore forests by 2030.

Together, these nations contain 91% of the world’s forests, including the massive Amazon – though upsettingly, Brazil has already started to row back its pledge.

Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco said after the pact was signed that the government’s focus would be to curb illegal deforestation – a vague term that does no-one any good.

Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the Amazon has been ravaged. It now releases more carbon emissions than it absorbs, and academics and activists in the country have warned the rainforest will collapse entirely if Bolsonaro stays in power.

the amazon rainforest

5. Fossil fuel cars sales to be massively cut from 2035

A total of 24 governments agreed that all new cars and vans sold in their countries will release zero emissions by 2040, with a target of 2035 for leading markets.

The lack of support from the US, China, and India – as well as Russia, Germany, and Japan – weakens this deal, but it will still make a big difference if the signatories keep their pledges.

The leading markets who did sign up include Canada, Chile, Denmark, El Salvador, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Uruguay.

The UK was also on this list, but had already banned petrol and diesel sales from 2030.

The Dominican Republic, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Paraguay, Rwanda, Turkey, and the Ukraine will be given until 2040.

Dozens of cities and states signed the declaration, such as Scotland, Lagos, and California, as did car companies like Ford, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz, and corporations which use huge fleets, like AstraZeneca, Sainsbury’s, and Unilever.

6. China and the US will work together

The most surprising announcement during a generally predictable conference was the US and China’s Joint Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s.

The global superpowers agreed to collaborate on a number of new technologies and policies to “accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy.”

They also laid out a series of actions to reduce emissions of CO2 and methane, two of the most dangerous greenhouse gases.

The countries said they were “committed to tackling [climate change] through their respective accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s…to avoid catastrophic impacts.”

Though the agreement lacked specific goals and timings, the fact that the world’s two biggest emitters agreed on such urgent language is encouraging – especially as they both opted out of many other major agreements.

7. Methane faces the axe

The US and EU-led Global Methane Pledge was signed by 105 countries, who agreed to reduce their methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels.

15 of the world’s biggest methane emitters signed up, but not China, India, Russia, or Australia.

China at least said it would create its own national plan to cut methane levels.

Methane has caused 30% of global warming so far, which makes this deal important in fighting climate change – though it’s nowhere near as crucial as cutting CO2 levels.

Oxford University Professor Myles Allen told New Scientist: “Unless we get CO2 under control, action on methane is kind of moot.

“It worries me that it’s being touted as the great success of COP26.”

8. India grudgingly joined the climate fight

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged at COP26 that his country – the third-largest national emitter of greenhouse gases – would reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2070.

This target is 10 years after China, and 20 years after the US and most other developed nations – but it’s an important step.

Modi also promised that by 2030, 50% of India’s energy would come from renewable sources, and that the country would increase its production of green energy to 500 GW per year.

That’s more energy than the country currently produces from any source.

This would be a huge help in limiting the disastrous effects of climate change, though India’s reluctance to participate in COP26 agreements means we’ll believe it when we see it.

9. Sustainable agriculture became a genuine aim

45 countries and more than 100 other organisations signed up to the Global Action Agenda on Innovation in Agriculture.

These entities, which include the UK, Nigeria, and Vietnam, will aim to create sustainable food production systems, while also creating more jobs and increasing food security.

The agreement is an outcome from the ClimateShot campaign that has the support of institutions like the World Bank, World Wide Fund for Nature, and United Nations.

It’s aiming to raise and use $5 billion (£3.7 billion) to turn agriculture into an industry that works for the benefit of people, the environment, and the climate.

Is it enough?

No.

The President of COP26, Alok Sharma, said in his closing statement that “the pulse of 1.5°C is weak.”

United Nations secretary general António Guterres told COP26 attendees that the goal of keeping the rise in global temperatures to below 1.5°C was on “life support”.

He added: “Promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies. The announcements here in Glasgow are encouraging – but they are far from enough.”

That sentiment was shared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who have said emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 – from the level they were in 2010 – to keep temperatures under 1.5°C.

If countries kept all the promises they made at COP26, it would cut 10.5 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We need to save 25.8 gigatonnes, according to the Energy Transitions Commission.

We are currently on track for a rise of 2.1°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, according to the Climate Action Tracker – and that’s if all countries keep their long-term pledges.

Brazil, Indonesia, and Poland have already tried to walk back pledges they’ve made during COP26, while the dispiriting weakening of language in the Glasgow Climate Pact shows China and India also aren’t taking this global crisis seriously enough.

Josh Jackman Senior Writer

Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past three years. His work has featured on the front page of the Financial Times; he’s been interviewed by BBC Radio; and he was the resident expert in BT’s smart home tech initiative.

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