A COP OUT?
So was COP 26 a cop out and just more blah blah blah? This year’s COP was hailed as humanity’s last chance. Among other things, it needed to deliver near-term targets to end the global burning of fossil fuels, and adequately support the worst-hit countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis – but it didn’t.
WHERE WE ARE
Some new historic agreements were made. However, according to Climate Action Tracker, when governments’ actual policies – rather than pledges – are analysed, the world’s projected warming is a catastrophic 2.9 degrees by 2100.
World leaders were expected to submit updated ambitions and plans at COP26 to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and set out clearer pathways to large-scale emissions reductions by 2030 and net-zero by mid-century. In this respect it failed: plenty of pledges and promises were made but we still have no idea if these will translate into actual policies, and perhaps most importantly, whether or not this will happen in time.
On Day 2, 105 countries signed on to the Global Methane Pledge to collectively reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030. On the same day, over one hundred countries backed a declaration to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Day 4 saw a much-needed announcement by 40 countries pledging to phase out coal use although the US, China, India and Australia were notably absent from this pledge.
Rules were put in place to finally resolve Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, a framework for a global carbon market. While some activists have called the rules not restrictive enough, a global carbon market is the first step towards unlocking trillions of dollars worth of investments into clean energy, green technologies and financing resilience and adaptation measures in the developing world. It will also help regulate the growing voluntary carbon offset market, which if left untamed, would become a much bigger problem. There was encouraging evidence that the financial sector is beginning to move away from carbon.
WHERE COP FELL SHORT
On the downside, India and China objected to the term phasing out coal leaving the plan to “phase down coal” which does not incorporate any concrete deadline, and does not include any specific enforcing mechanism to hold countries accountable.
Objections to the final draft also requested scaling back ambitions to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Many of the pledges agreed upon at the summit remain purposefully vague, open to interpretation and lacking deadlines, enforcement mechanisms or both.
According to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), developing nations will need up to $500 billion by 2050 for adaptation, which includes things like building flood defences, planting urban trees and introducing drought-resilient crops. But only a fraction of this is on the table.
Countries will be reconvening again next year in Egypt with revised plans. But this time round, we would say that, on balance, this was a cop out.