What Was Achieved at COP26?
By Kishan Bradley-Gammanpila
Climate change is rarely out of the news - everyday we hear a new story about droughts, floods and wildfires. These are not freak events. The science is very clear, climate change is real and it is here. A key milestone in the global effort to address the problem was the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), hosted in Glasgow, Scotland. But what was it all about, what happened and why was it important?
The big focus of this year's COP was to ‘Keep 1.5 Alive’, recognising that this was ‘the last best chance’ to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius. This is a critical goal because the impact of 2 degrees warming is much more severe and something we wish to avoid at any cost. For example, at 2 degrees warming, all coral reefs die and natural disasters become significantly worse and more frequent. To pursue this goal of reduction, leaders from across the globe came together to agree a plan of action and upgrade their national commitments. But after two weeks of talks and negotiations, how did they do?
Opinions on this are divided. Those close to the action believe a lot of progress was made including on issues that previous climate talks have failed to resolve. On the other hand, climate activists felt that the talks fell short of the radical change needed to put us on a new green, non-polluting path and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
In many ways both positions are correct, and here’s why.
What was achieved:
- 140 number of countries submitted new and upgraded targets to reduce emissions by 2030
- Additionally over 130 of countries set a long term pledge to achieve net zero emissions. This is a big deal as the science says that globally we need to achieve net zero by 2050 to keep 1.5 alive.
- 100 countries agreed to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This is a big deal because methane has 80 times more warming power than Co2.
- 141 countries pledged to completely stop deforestation and 40 agreed to the first initiatives on the reduction of usage and consumption of coal- both unprecedented and massively important to reducing emissions.
- 23 countries agreed to make all new cars sold zero emissions by 2040
- Although a less eye-catching achievement, unless you're a real climate change geek, countries finalised the vital Paris Rulebook, which sets out the detailed mechanics of how countries must carry out their climate commitments.
How did it fall short?
- A quick analysis of all the 2030 pledges that were made suggest that we are still on track for around 2.4 degrees of warming. Highly vulnerable countries such as small islands voiced their frustration that a more ambitious outcome was not achieved.
- Although historic progress was made in securing net zero commitments, these are still to far off overall to get us on track for 1.5
- The three largest emitters of methane have not signed up to the pledge above and many hoped for more definitive action on making fossil fuels history.
- Other similar initiatives for deforestation have taken place and failed
Spotlight on India
- India made headlines as Modi showed up and showed out unlike other important countries such as China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa who failed to show.
- Modi ramped up India’s 2030 targets pledging to install 500 GW of non-fossil energy, for India to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources and to also reduce all emissions by 1 billion tonnes by 2030
- Modi also surprised everyone by committing India to achieve net zero (by 2070) - something he had previously said that India was not yet ready for
- But these pledges came with a price tag - to achieve them Modi challenged rich countries to put up $1 trillion in climate finance
India is the third biggest emitter in the world. So naturally many people would like to see India go even further and faster in going green. But it isn't that simple. India also needs space to grow and develop to lift large numbers of people out of poverty and assure decent jobs and quality of life for its 1.3 billion citizens. What right does the developed world have to deny India things that they already enjoy?
So by the end of it all, did we keep 1.5 alive? The COP president Alok Sharma said that we had, but it was on life support. There is still much more to be done. But we should hang on to hope no matter how fragile. After all, in 2015 the world was on course for a catastrophic four degree warming by the end of this century. After COP21 in Paris, we reduced this to three degrees. Now after Glasgow, leaders have turned that dial down to around a two degree increase. Two years ago a mere 30% of the global economy was covered by net zero targets, now after COP over 90% of the global economy is covered by a net-zero target. This is huge progress. We just need to keep going. Negotiations tend to be a marathon not a sprint.
In this race to secure our future, unless we all win, nobody wins. That means it is important to find ways to play our part. Whatever your skill or your passion there are infinite ways you can apply these to contribute to climate solutions. Small things matter. We can turn the lights off, turn the AC down, use our cars less and switch from petrol to electric. We can educate ourselves - that's what this article is about. We can use our voice as so many young activists have around the world. But as 15 year old Earthshot prize finalist Vinisha Umashankar said at COP26, “Many of my generation are angry and frustrated at leaders who have made empty promises and failed to deliver, and we have every reason to be angry. But I have no time for anger. I want to act.” That is an idea worth spreading.