In September, we explored the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report and what this meant for the future in regards to climate change. The report demonstrated the impacts if future global warming levels increased by 1.5°C, 2°C, and 4°C as we are currently at 1°C. As the levels increased, as did the intensity of extreme weather events. This is important to note as COP26 led a focus around trying to target the global temperature at 1.5°C.
Before diving into the summit, what exactly was COP26?
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26, is the 26th Conference of the Parties. This summit took place in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31st to November 12th of this year. These annual conferences are attended by 197 countries that “agreed to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a landmark environmental treaty adopted in 1992—which most recently produced the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.”1 The main goal of this summit is to implement goals for net zero greenhouse gas emissions with 2030 and 2050 deadlines.
Also discussed by “officials, ministers and heads of government [were] plans for adapting to climate change, and ways for rich countries to help pay for emissions cuts in poor countries.”2 What were the four main takeaways from this two week climate summit?
#1: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement was first implemented in 2015 at COP21 and is an international treaty on climate change. The treaty was signed by 196 parties and the “goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”3 While these climate summits happen annually, the Paris Agreement works on a 5-year cycle and COP26 was the first to discuss results since the Paris Agreement came into fruition.
The Paris Agreement is notable as it is the first agreement introduced where various nations came together to fight climate change.
Every five years, the 196 parties that signed the treaty come together and evaluate their National Determined Contributions or NDCs. These contributions are actions each country proposes as their goal to reach the overall goal of the Paris Agreement.
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement centers around greenhouse gas emissions and reducing emission levels. The theme of COP26 can be seen under Section 4 Article 64:
- (a) To promote the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions while fostering sustainable development;
- (b) To incentivize and facilitate participation in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by public and private entities authorized by a Party;
- (c) To contribute to the reduction of emission levels in the host Party, which will benefit from mitigation activities resulting in emission reductions that can also be used by another Party to fulfil its nationally determined contribution;
- and (d) To deliver an overall mitigation in global emissions.
During COP26, an agreement was reached related to Article 6 and will “give certainty and predictability to both market and non-market approaches in support of mitigation as well as adaptation.”5
#2: Keeping the Goal of 1.5° Alive
Compared to the introduction of the Paris Agreement, the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C was far-fetched and 4°C was considered a more tangible goal. Since 2015 however, with the implementation of renewable energy and reduced coal power, the goal of staying below 2°C seems much more in reach and presents a real option of 1.5°C being realistic.
While this goal will still be hard to reach UK President of COP26, Alok Sharma said:
“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”5
The summit in Glasgow provided a plan and “effective instruments to achieve it, and a heightened commitment to promote climate action”5 but there will still be additional work involved to reach 1.5°C.
#3: The Glasgow Climate Pact and Phasing Down Coal
In addition to the targets related to the Paris Agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact was also implemented. This pact is the first climate deal related to the phasing down of coal to help reach the main goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with significant cuts by 2030.
At COP26, “countries agreed to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ coal”6 as China and India opposed the phase out language due to being a couple of the top polluters in relation to coal. The U.S. is another who will have a difficult transition with this as they are also one of the biggest but all have agreed to begin the process of phasing out coal and transitioning to additional renewable energy sources in addition to “storage, electric vehicles, carbon capture, and hydrogen.“2
#4: Climate Financing and Scotland
In 2009, a pledge was created by developed nations to provide $100 billion a year to underdeveloped countries by 2020 to help those countries “adapt to climate effects and make the transition to clean energy”.6 This pledge introduces an equitable approach to funding climate initiatives, as more developed countries are contributing much larger emissions than underdeveloped countries who are already experiencing the largest impact from the effects of climate change.
As this was the first COP summit since 2020 (as the one for 2020 was postponed due to COVID), this pledge was not completed. While at COP26, Scotland pledged $2.7 million to “help countries facing irreversible harm from climate change”7, the first government contributor to this 2009 pledge.
The new goal for the pledge is for 2025 and the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, Norway, and Spain have all set new targets for this pledge8:
- The U.S. has pledged $11.4 billion per year by 2024, as well as $3 billion specifically for climate adaptation
- The U.K. says it will double its climate finance to $11.6 billion between 2020 and 2025
- Canada has announced a doubling of its climate finance support to $5.3 billion between 2020 and 2025
- Japan has offered $10 billion over the next five years for reducing emissions in Asia
- Norway has committed to tripling its adaptation finance; Australia will double its contribution
- Spain will increase its climate finance pledge by 50% to $1.55 billion a year from 2025
While 2025 will share the results of the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact as well as an update on the climate financing pact, these countries will meet next year “to pledge further major carbon cuts”6 as the current cuts will “only limit global warming to about 2.4°C”6.
While these countries all have their goals, local government leaders in the U.S. have taken climate change into their own hands. Ithaca, New York began a 100% carbon-free climate policy and will work on fully decarbonizing all of their buildings, the first U.S. city to do so. Ithaca has secured private funding and will cover “electrification projects for 1,000 residential buildings and 600 commercial buildings in the first phase of a total 6,000 building inventory.”9
With Ithaca leading this, other cities have started to take suit including Des Moines, Iowa which “is currently in the process of selecting a consultant to work on its decarbonization plan, which will also begin with buildings.”9
The U.S. also signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in November which also will highlight state and local efforts for climate change and energy efficiency. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy created a toolkit that “presents noteworthy energy efficiency programs from various cities and states that might serve as models, alongside guiding principles for effective and equitable program development.”10
This bill presents “a competitive global race in manufacturing and innovation of clean energy technologies, and making electric transportation for all of the U.S. a reality, [and will create] good clean energy jobs [...] and [builds] up the power grid for clean energy sources.”11
While COP27 won’t take place until November 7th in 2022, many countries have taken a step at COP26 that could lead to the overall goal of global warming levels stopping at 1.5°C.