When Prime Minister Boris Johnson told world leaders at the COP26 opening ceremony that the climate crisis was at “one minute to midnight”, he unintentionally foreshadowed how the conference would end. But after a two-day extension and three published drafts, the United Nation’s Climate Conference ended on Sunday with almost 200 countries agreeing to “keep 1.5C alive” and finalise the outstanding elements of the Paris Rulebook.
A week on from the Conference’s official end, we reflect on the most significant accomplishments of #COP26 in our fight against climate change:
On the second day of the summit, more than 100 world leaders pledged to put an end to illegal deforestation by the year 2030. The countries party to the agreement – including Brazil, Russia, China, Canada and Indonesia – represent around 85% of the world’s forests. The pledge included almost £14 billion of public and private funds, with £1.1 billion being earmarked to protect the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest tropical rainforest.
In addition to this, a further 28 countries committed themselves to removing deforestation from the global trade of food and other agricultural products – such as palm oil, soya and cocoa – and more than 30 of the world’s biggest financial companies – including Aviva, Schroders and Axa – promised to end investment in activities linked to deforestation. The level of private and public sector collaboration demonstrated here is encouraging, and we hope all the deforestation pledges made come to fruition.
On the same day, the US and EU announced they were forming a “global partnership” to slash methane emissions by 30% of 2020 levels by 2030. Methane is one of the strongest greenhouses gases and is responsible for almost 1/3 of all the human causes of global warming.
More than 100 countries adopted the Global Methane Pledge, which they EU and US first proposed back in September. If stuck to, this pledge could help the world keep beneath the 1.5-degree limit. This is why EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called reducing methane emissions the “lowest hanging fruit” for world leaders.
The phasing-out of coal was a hot and contentious topic for the entire fortnight. Many developing nations are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and some richer nations aren’t always willing to lead by example. However, on the first Thursday of COP, more than 40 nations signed a commitment to end all future investment in coal power generation. Led by the UK, the pledge committed major economies to phasing out coal by 2030, and poorer nations by 2040. As the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng declared, “the end of coal is in sight”.
20 further countries, including the US, committed to end public financing for “unabated” fossil fuel projects abroad. “Unabated” projects refer to those that do not have processes in place to offset their CO2 emissions – such as carbon capture and storage, a process Low Carbon have recently invested in at Redcar Energy Centre.
Moreover, in the first draft of the COP agreement, the UN called “upon Parties to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. Though this was adjusted to “phasing-down” in the final draft, the Glasgow Climate Pact (as the COP26 agreement will be known) was still the first international climate agreement to explicitly mention fossil fuels. We are pleased to see the United Nations endorsing the transition to greener forms of energy, such as wind energy and solar, as they are essential to climate change prevention.
- CLIMATE FINANCE
Without significant financial backing, none of the aforementioned proposals can ever be more than just that. This is especially true for developing nations, who are often the most exposed to harsh climate conditions, yet also the most ill-equipped to recover from them.
Though wealthy nations failed to hit the $100 billion target for climate finance last year, a goal set 12 years ago at the Copenhagen summit, at COP26 they renewed their commitment to it, and set a new deadline of 2023.
There were many other significant financial pledges made over the fortnight: 12 donor governments pledged $413 million for the Least Developed Country Fund, the European Commission pledged a €100 million to the Adaptation Fund, and the UK pledged £290 million to help poorer countries cope with the effects of climate change.
There were also some substantial pledges from the private sector. 450 financial organisations, who control a combined total of $130 trillion in assets, signed an agreement to back “clean” technology. As investors in large-scale renewable energy projects ourselves, we welcome this commitment, and look forward to seeing more and more financial institutions make the green transition.
- US & CHINA
If not the most significant, the most surprising announcement to come out of COP26 occurred late on the final Wednesday, when the US and China issued a joint statement pledging to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. The pair reaffirmed their commitment to the 1.5-degree goal, and agreed steps on tackling methane emissions, the transition to clean energy, de-carbonisation and more. As the world’s two major economies, this announcement injected some much-needed energy into the tense negotiations taking place behind closed doors. It was, after all, a bilateral deal between the US and China that paved way for the historic Paris Agreement at COP21.
In addition to the above, it was also encouraging to see that the signatures to the Glasgow Climate Pact also agreed to submit tougher 2030 targets by next year, and to put forward long-term strategies to ease the global transition to net-zero emissions. We hope that all 200 countries maintain their collective commitment to tackling climate change, because as COP26 president Alok Sharma remarked, “our work here cannot be wasted”.