COP26 Comes to a Close with a Climate ‘Compromise’ Deal, but Is It Enough?

Nearly 200 countries gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate summit on Saturday, adopting an outcome statement that, according to the UN Secretary-General, reflects the interests, the contradictions, and the level of political will in the world today. 

Ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities, and achieving the $100 billion climate financing promise are all priorities for the UN head. 

Mr. Guterres also sent a message to young people, indigenous peoples, female leaders, and all those who are leading the charge on climate change. 

The Glasgow Climate Pact, the conclusion agreement, calls for 197 countries to report on their progress toward greater climate ambition next year at COP27, which will be held in Egypt. 

The outcome also cements the global accord to speed up climate action this decade. 

COP26 President Alok Sharma, on the other hand, fought to hold back tears after China and India announced a last-minute revision to the accord, softening language circulated in an initial draft about the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. That phrasing was changed on Saturday to “phase down” coal usage. 

Governments were required, among other things, to establish tighter timelines for updating their emission-reduction targets under the provisions of the wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions, and statements that make up the outcome of COP26. 

On the thorny issue of developed-country financing for climate action in developing countries, the text emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance from all sources to reach the level required to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing support for developing-country Parties beyond $100 billion per year. 

Meanwhile, COP26 President Alok Sharma remarked that delegates could claim “with credibility” that they had preserved 1.5 degrees below the pre-industrial level. He then paraphrased Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who had declared earlier in the conference that two degrees is a death sentence for Barbados and other small island republics. With that in mind, Mr. Sharma urged delegates to keep working to get money flowing and increase adaption. He finished by stating that Glasgow has made history. 

COP26 brought together around 50,000 people online and in-person to discuss new ideas, solutions, attend cultural events, and form partnerships and coalitions, in addition to the political negotiations and the Leaders’ Summit. 

Much hopeful news was made at the meeting. One of the most significant was the vow by leaders from over 120 countries, representing over 90% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to reduce poverty and safeguard the planet’s future. 

A methane promise was also made, sponsored by the United States and the European Union, in which more than 100 countries agreed to reduce methane emissions by 2030. 

Meanwhile, more than 40 nations, including significant coal users such as Poland, Vietnam, and Chile, have decided to phase out coal, which is one of the leading sources of CO2. 

Nearly 500 global financial services organizations agreed to align $130 trillion in financial assets – roughly 40% of the world’s financial assets – with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

In addition, many people were surprised to learn that the US and China have agreed to increase climate cooperation over the next decade. They stated they had committed to taking steps on a number of topics, including methane emissions, the transition to sustainable energy, and decarbonization, in a joint declaration. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the 1.5°C target. 

More than 100 national governments, cities, states, and major carmakers signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans, committing to phase out internal combustion engines in key markets by 2035 and globally by 2040. At least 13 countries have also promised to phase out the sale of heavy-duty vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 2040. 

Over the last two weeks, many smaller but equally remarkable promises have been made, including one by 11 countries that formed the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA). This first-of-its-kind coalition was created by Ireland, France, Denmark, and Costa Rica, as well as several subnational governments, to set an end date for national oil and gas exploration and exploitation.