Climate negotiators at the COP26 summit were hoping for a boost from the world’s most powerful leaders before embarking on two weeks of tense negotiations over who should do what to slow global warming.
In the broadest sense, they got what they needed – any agreement was preferable to a squabble. Politicians pledged to cease funding overseas coal projects, address methane leaks, and take more steps to reduce global warming this decade. However, they were unable to agree on a specific date for the phase-out of the dirtiest fossil fuel and the achievement of net-zero emissions.
In Glasgow, the mood was one of disappointment. Unlike the G-20, which was primarily a conversation among the world’s greatest polluters (responsible for 80% of global emissions), the COP discussions brought together over 200 countries, including those who contribute far less to climate change but will bear the brunt of its effects.
The diluted communiqué will make reaching an agreement among the hundreds of diplomats meeting in Scotland more difficult. Countries agree on the general framework that governs the negotiations, which was famously determined in Paris in 2015, in which each country agrees to do all possible to reduce emissions while wealthier nations provide financial assistance to help emerging economies improve their ambition.
The Paris Agreement’s temperature goals were restated by G-20 leaders, however, the timescale for reaching net-zero emissions was shortened. Countries committed in the Paris accord to aim to reach the milestone by the “second half of this century,” but the G-20 agreed over the weekend to achieve carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century.” A previous draft of the statement suggested a 2050 deadline; however, countries such as Russia and China have recently established a 2060 deadline.
The G-20 negotiations have not been easy, and no single meeting – whether it is the G-20 or the COP26 – will be able to handle all of the issues. However, it emphasizes the need to speed up climate action this decade. Making progress on the details and ironing out concrete benchmarks that hold countries accountable will be necessary.