COP 26 Recap: The Beginners Guide
Written by: Lauren Rosenthal, Edited by: Vanessa Lu Langley
What is COP 26?
The UN Climate Change Conference is an annual meeting between the various parties that are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is often shortened to the Conference of the Parties or COP. The purpose of the Conference is to set targets and coordinate efforts aiming to reduce global emissions as much as possible in order to curb the effects of climate change (E.A.C.C. Canada, 2021). The first conference was held in Berlin in 1995, and has since been held annually in different cities with varying levels of success in negotiations (Eliades, 2021). This year’s conference, COP26, took place in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31st to November 13th.
COP 26 is attended by UNFCCC signatories. However, they do not typically act alone, and are categorized into various negotiation blocs representing different interests. Countries can be part of more than one bloc at a time. The following blocs are the biggest players this year:
The imbalance of delegates and the fossil fuel lobby
The Conference is not exclusively attended by country representatives. 503 fossil fuel lobbyists were also present, more delegates than any singular country sent. During COP26 over 100 fossil fuel companies were represented and could therefore strongly influence negotiations. This was a major point of criticism from the international community (Global Witness, 2021).
Given the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels to curb climate change, COP26 was hailed by many as a final chance to keep temperatures under control (Ryan, 2021).
Main Issues: An Overview
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)
Although many major emitters, such as China, Australia, Brazil, and Russia, have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, many of their nationally determined contributions (i.e. their promised emissions targets), are too weak to truly achieve a net-zero outcome in a timely manner. COP26 saw 151 countries revise their emissions targets in a more ambitious attempt to meet the goals set by the 2016 Paris Agreement (Mountford et al., 2021). They also committed to revising their commitments more often going forward, both that the next COP and the one after that (Harvey, 2021).
The issue of coal, as an extremely dirty energy source, and how to go about shifting away from it, was a major issue at COP26, so much so that it caused the Conference to last a day longer than originally planned. Drafts of the agreement originally contained the commitment to phase out coal in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, China and India resisted this wording, claiming that their position as developing nations still aiming to reduce poverty and grow their economies, they cannot be expected to promise to phase out coal. This prompted negotiations that ultimately saw the wording change from “phase out” to “phase down”. Developing countries such as Sweden expressed disappointment with this change, as well as several small island states, being that this has kept 1.5ºC out of reach and threatens their survival going forward (Khadka, 2021).
Financing climate action initiatives was a central point of discussion. Despite the fact that they have contributed relatively little to climate change thus far, developing countries are the most at risk of climate instability. Yet, they are tasked with having to execute their own energy transitions, which are extremely expensive projects. In 2009, developed countries pledged to contribute $100 billion USD per year towards climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. However, this pledge has yet to be fulfilled, with contributions reaching only $80 billion USD in 2019. Pressure was placed on developed countries during COP26 by the least developed countries and China (Mitchell, 2021).
COP26 made strides towards improving this; developed countries pledged to double their funding to developing countries by 2025, and over $413 million USD was pledged to the Least Developed Countries Fund, a climate resilience fund for developing countries. While these are positive initiatives, they remain non-legally binding pledges that do not necessarily translate into direct action (United Nations Environment Programme, 2021).
Overall, COP26’s public reception has been mixed. Even though significant progress was made, especially in comparison to previous COPs, it was not as much progress as many had hoped. The Conference was successful in consolidating emissions goals and discussing developed countries’ initiatives to help more vulnerable developing nations. Commitments were also made to reduce methane emissions, curb deforestation, and end international financing for fossil fuels, all of which also represent major advancements. However, the commitments made still fall short of putting the world on track to limit warming to 1.5ºC. Compromises such as the coal “phase-down” have left many frustrated and disappointed (Mountford et al., 2021), viewing the change as a “watering-down” of the promise to transition away from fossil fuels and insufficient given the urgent need to act boldly in the face of climate change (Kadka, 2021). The Glasgow Climate Pact that emerged from COP26 contains many steps in the right direction, but overall, it seems that there is still a long way to go.
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Eliades, N. (2021, September 17). A short history of COP. The Ecologist. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://theecologist.org/2021/sep/16/short-history-cop
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Mountford, H., Waskow, D., Gonzalez, L., Gajjar, C., Cogswell, N., Holt, M., Fransen, T., Bergen, M., & Gerholdt, R. (2021, November 17). COP26: Key Outcomes From the UN Climate Talks in Glasgow. World Resources Institute. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.wri.org/insights/cop26-key-outcomes-un-climate-talks-glasgow
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Ryan, J. (2021, October 31). COP26 kicks off: What is it and why is it the “world’s best last chance” for climate action? CNET. Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.cnet.com/news/cop26-kicks-off-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-the-worlds-best-last-chance-for-climate-action-glasgow-climate-change/
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