COP26, What did it all mean?

There is more than meets the eye here. As well as the official agreement of 71 paragraphs put out by the United Nations, there have been individual agreements made, such as the agreement of China and the USA, which is significant because these are the world’s two largest polluting countries. But these are not the worst polluting countries per head of population, several oil-producing countries are in the top ten of worst polluting and could be seen protecting their economies.

A man in a backwards baseball cap holding a tripod stands in front of an array of solar panels.
Photo by Ali Madad Sakhirani on Pexels.com

So here are the main areas in the order they appear in the report:

Science

Human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of warming to date, says the report and goes on to say that this is the critical decade to address the gaps in the implementation of the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. In other words, the 1.5 °C maximum mean temperature target increase agreed in Paris is still stands.

Adaption

Adaptation, as detailed in COP26, will involve building in resilience to climate change, as opposed to just mitigating its effects by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It is significant that adaptation comes so high up. This is a key concern of developing countries. Extreme weather has affected every continent in the past year. Developing countries cannot prepare for this without finance from the rich world. A new alliance of over 90 organisations is being led by the UK and Canada. The two countries also announced a related partnership, called Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE).

Adaptation finance

Developed countries were urgently asked to scale up their provision of climate finance for adaptation so as to respond to the needs of developing countries as part of a global effort.

Mitigation

If you want to see something written in jargon, try this section. Mitigation is UN speak for cutting emissions. We need drastic cuts in emissions of greenhouse gasses to keep global warming to stay within 1.5 °C, at the present rate of increase it will reach 2.4 C. This is a win for those who want to keep emissions to 1.5 C rather than the upper limit of 2 C in the Paris agreement.

The phrase “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” in the draft proposals was watered down to “accelerate the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” The inclusion of “unabated” and “inefficient” had been demanded by countries with big interests here like Saudi Arabia. Of the 10 worst countries with the highest greenhouse gasses emissions per head of population, five of them, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are oil-rich Arab states. However the terms coal and fossil fuels remain in the document, the first time in any COP, so it is a good move, although a subdues one.

Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation

This section could have had a better title, not very memorable,is it?

Finance is also a key sticking point for developing countries. The rich world failed to meet a target of providing $100bn a year to the poor world to help them cut emissions and cope with the impacts of extreme weather – a promise made in 2009, that was supposed to be fulfilled by 2020. The target was missed by $20bn per year.

Loss and damage

Loss and damage refer to the impacts of extreme weather that are so catastrophic that they cannot be prepared for or adapted to. Some developing countries interpret loss and damage as implying they should receive compensation for the impacts of extreme weather upon them. The developed countries would not agree to pay for damage that has already occurred.

Implementation

The agreement strongly urges all Parties that have not yet done so to meet any outstanding pledges under the Convention as soon as possible. This includes the host country the UK who are a long way from implementing the regulations of the Paris accord.

Collaboration

The longest section is mostly made up of recognising and commending work that is already in progress.


My thoughts:

The targets of this COP will not be reached, any realist can see that. The mitigation target for mitigation finance was missed by 20% but this shows that 80% was delivered, which is good but also led to a call for the developed world to do more.

That coal and fossil fuels are mentioned in a COP report is also good, even though the wording was watered down.

Implementing the Glasgow Work Programme on Action for Climate Empowerment may not sound like much, but it means that climate change and how it is going will have to be discussed at every COP, which is every year. The last time was Paris in 2015.

I do not agree with those who say COP26 is just about talk. I believe a good proportion of what the COP26 will be implemented. Could we do better? Yes, we could: We can always get better, but improvements will be made as a result of the talks of the last few weeks. I am cautiously optimistic.

The full text of the COP26 agreement can be found here.

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