UN Climate Summit COP26: What Has Been Achieved?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – NOVEMBER 11: Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaks during a high-level event on global climate action.

Jeff J. Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The United Nations Global Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland concluded last weekend with the signing of an agreement between nearly 200 countries to accelerate the fight against the climate crisis and make stronger climate commitments.

The two-week conference culminated in some significant breakthroughs, including new commitments to tackle methane gas pollution, deforestation, coal financing, as well as the completion of long-awaited carbon trading rules and a notable deal between the United States and China. The summit also ended with calls for governments to return in 2022 with stronger commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and provide more affordable financing for countries most vulnerable to climate change.

But some climate scientists, lawyers, and policymakers argued that the final Glasgow deal resulted in incremental progress not enough to tackle the severity of the climate crisis. Some climate activists and campaigners also sharply criticized COP26 as an exceptional two-week negotiation that turned into a public relations event.

Young protesters take part in a “Future Friday” rally in Glasgow, Scotland, November 5, 2021, during the COP26 climate summit.

Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images

Some experts point out that the real measure of success after COP26 will be when countries turn their promises into action.

“In a year of uncertainty and mistrust, COP26 reaffirmed the importance of collective global action to tackle the climate crisis,” said Ani Dasgupta, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, in a statement.

“While we are not yet on the right track, the progress made over the past year and at the COP26 summit has shown bright spots,” Dasgupta said. “The real test now is whether countries are stepping up their efforts and turning commitments into action.”

Here are some of the highlights of the 26th UN Climate Summit:

New promises to tackle methane pollution

More than 100 countries have joined a US-EU-led coalition to reduce 30% of methane emissions by 2030 from 2020 levels, a significant step towards limiting one of the root causes of climate change.

The global methane promise extends to countries that account for nearly half of the world’s methane emissions and 70% of global GDP. Methane 84 times more powerful than carbon and doesn’t last that long in the atmosphere until it breaks. This makes it an important target for quickly fighting climate change while minimizing emissions of other greenhouse gases.

Barry Rabe, a professor at the University of Michigan and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that while the summit paid unprecedented attention to reducing methane emissions, the promise is just the beginning.

“The Glasgow meetings serve as a reminder of how difficult it is to make transformative progress in the fight against climate change in a matter of weeks, despite all the melodrama,” Rabe said. “Nevertheless, [there’s] some real progress here on issues such as carbon markets, switching to coal, methane and more. The question is whether these areas of the agreement can be implemented. “

US President Joe Biden speaks onstage during a meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, November 1, 2021.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

The commitment includes six of the world’s 10 largest sources of methane emissions – the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico. But China, Russia and India, which together account for 35% of global methane emissions, have not joined the coalition.

“This will make a huge difference, not only when it comes to tackling climate change – it will improve health, improve food supplies and spur the economy,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Eleventh hour angle agreement

Talks at the summit ended on Saturday with a final agreement between nearly 200 countries that for the first time targets fossil fuels as a key driver of climate change. However, the deal included a last-minute change that some officials called a softening of criticism over coal-fired power.

India and China, some of the world’s largest coal producers, insisted that the pact rewrite fossil fuels at the last minute, replacing “phase-out” with “phase-out” from coal. The opposing countries resisted this request, but ultimately yielded.

A protester holds a placard reading “Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies” during a demonstration in the City of London.

Vuk Valcic | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

Some experts, frustrated by the rewording on coal-fired energy, said the deal is better than nothing and provides gradual progress in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

“It’s meek, weak, and the 1.5C target is just alive, but the signal has been sent that the era of coal is coming to an end. And it matters, ”Greenpeace International CEO Jennifer Morgan tweeted about the deal.

US and China pledge to slow climate change

The United States and China, the world’s two largest sources of carbon emissions, have agreed to work together this decade to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius and to ensure progress is made as a result of the conference. The alliance of rivals surprised the summit delegates.

The agreement between the US and China lacks specific details or timelines, but emphasizes that Chinese and American leaders will work to increase clean energy, reduce deforestation and reduce methane emissions. The joint declaration says countries will work together to accelerate the transition to a global zero-net-zero economy.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry speaks during a joint China-US statement on a declaration that strengthens action to combat climate change at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, UK on November 10, 2021.

Jeff J. Mitchell | Swimming pool | Reuters

“The United States and China have no shortage of disagreements,” said US Special Envoy for Climate John F. Kerry, announcing the agreement during the summit. “But in terms of climate, collaboration is the only way to get the job done.”

Raising targets by 2030 to reach the 1.5 ° C target

Some experts called the conference the last and best opportunity for humankind to support the goal of not exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming – the temperature target set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Countries eventually agreed to present tougher targets for 2030 next year and put forward long-term strategies to help move towards zero emissions by around mid-century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

A delegate walks past a sign during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, November 11, 2021.

Yves Herman | Reuters

Final deal draft COP26 did not offer the rolling annual review of climate commitments called for by some developing countries. States are currently required to review their promises every five years. The agreement also left unresolved answers about how much and how quickly each country should reduce its emissions.

To keep the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world will require nearly half of its greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to reach zero by 2050. in accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Scientists warn that the world has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Despite global promises, by the end of the century, the world is expected to increase global temperatures by 2.4 degrees Celsius.

James Salzman, professor of environmental law at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, said the summit reflected an important shift in the global climate strategy towards a sectoral approach, as it included separate agreements on issues such as methane, coal and deforestation. rather than focusing solely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. …

“Talk is cheap, of course, and it remains to be seen if it will lead to anything more than the rhetoric you want,” Salzman said. “But the turnaround can go a long way in breaking down a huge problem into smaller approaches.”

– CNBC Sam Meredith provided reporting

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