COP26 Takeaways: Mixed Reactions from Participants

At the beginning of the month, we covered the history of U.N. Climate Change Conferences and the goals and expectations for COP26. Over the past two weeks, the world tuned in to see if international leaders and ambassadors could strike a deal. So what happened during one of the world's most important deliberations?

Going into the conference, parties aimed to:

  • Finish the "rulebook" for the Paris Agreement.
  • Establish climate finance mechanisms and hold developed countries and financial institutions accountable.
  • Outline better structures for global transparency.
  • Develop ambitious targets and action items (e.g., phasing out coal) that cut carbon and limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Establish more equitable climate action.

COP26 concluded with mixed reviews. Scientists agree that the climate situation is dire and emissions must be cut to prevent catastrophic warming. Plus, they agree that moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is an impactful way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, these conferences show that consensus on how to act is difficult to reach across so many stakeholders.

Positive Outcomes From COP26

COP26 spawned the Glasgow Climate Pact, the first-ever international climate deal to explicitly mention fossil fuels. The agreement included a consensus that immediate climate mitigation is imperative. In its early phases, the pact looked like it would meet many of the major COP26 goals. Not only did it include a commitment to phase out coal, but also pushed for more stringent emissions cuts and adaptation funding for developing countries. It outlined steps for meeting global emissions targets, including a commitment to cut methane (an intensely harmful greenhouse gas) by 30 percent by 2030.

Negotiators also completed the Paris "rulebook," a critical step that failed at COP24 and COP25. The completed rules set foundations for carbon markets and strengthened the transparency framework for emissions targets and accounting. Also under Paris, all countries must revisit (and "ratchet up") their 2030 emissions reduction pledges by the end of next year.

Other positive progress saw organizations around the world pledging billions to protect marginalized populations and climate-threatened countries. More than 100 countries committed to stop deforestation by 2030. On the surface, a lot of COP's initial goals were met.

Shortcomings of Conference Results

But some did not find the conference a universal success. With current climate commitments (if every country achieves its goal), the world is still on track for 2.4 degrees. Countries' pledges are voluntary, meaning they lack enforcement mechanisms, and as they stand, still aren't enough.

For example, a last-minute change shifted the phrase "phase out" coal to a commitment for phasing "down." China and India made this final tweak - they're the world's first- and third-largest polluters, respectively.

COP26 also highlighted the discrepancy between rich and poor nations. Many of those most impacted by climate change live in the "Global South" (countries including Africa, Latin America, Oceania, developing countries in Asia), but due to cost, COVID-19 vaccine requirements, and other issues, a lot of Global South representatives could not reach Glasgow.

During 2009's COP in Copenhagen, developed nations pledged $100 billion each year to developing economies. This funding was set for delivery by 2020 and would assist with climate adaptation and clean energy transitions. In the past decade, however, very little financing was delivered. COP26 urged richer nations to back-pay the billions as soon as possible, but countries' situations are now more urgent. Vulnerable communities have less time to prepare, and funding regulations and enforcement mechanisms (if they even exist) may not get us where we want to go.

Overall, it is important and notable that leaders could gather to address the realities of climate change. While the outcome wasn't necessarily what we might hope, strides were made. And overall, climate action isn't just up to global delegates. It will come down to us, everyday people - holding leaders and polluters accountable, making change within our own states and communities, reforming markets, and establishing a green transition.

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