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What has happened at COP26 so far…

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

COP26 has been going on for over a week now, and while there have been lots of moving and powerful speeches and statements of intent it is hard to know what has been achieved. I have been actively trying to follow COP26, and still feel like I have missed so much. Therefore, in this blog post I am going to attempt to summarise some of the main outcomes from COP26 so far, as well as highlight what is lacking and what still needs to be achieved.

India’s pledge - Monday 1st November:

India has set their first ever net zero target, to be carbon neutral by 2070. This is 20 years later than the 2050 goal set by many other countries, including the UK and US and 10 years after China and Russia which have pledged to be net zero by 2060.

It is an important achievement that India has set a goal to be net-zero, as they are the fourth biggest emitter of CO2 after China, the U.S., and the European Union. It is worth noting that India’s large population means that per person its emissions are relatively low, especially compared to the US and Russia.

However, this goal will not be suitable for the fulfilling the Paris agreement, which aims to keep global warming to 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said countries must become carbon neutral by 2050 to achieve this.

Halt Deforestation – Tuesday 2nd November:

More than 100 world leaders have promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, including Brazil, where vast stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down. The countries which signed account for more than 85% of the world's forests. This pledge is coming with funding (£14bn) from both public and private funds, which sets it apart from previous agreements on deforestation.

Deforestation is a huge source of carbon emissions, both through land disturbance, carbon released from the destruction of the trees and future carbon not stored in those trees and is accompanied by biodiversity loss. It is therefore particularly important for halting climate change that deforestation is stopped around the world.

See more on this topic in a previous Walker Institute Blog: https://bit.ly/3o6OofI

Global Methane Pledge – Tuesday 2nd November:

Over 100 countries, representing 70% of the global economy have signed the Global Methane Pledge. This pledge commits countries to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. The U.S and EU have announced their intention to provide financial and technical support. Global philanthropies have also committed $328 million to support a scale up of methane mitigation strategies worldwide.

Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. Each methane molecule warms the atmosphere about 80 times more than carbon dioxide, but it lasts for only about 12 years in our atmosphere, compared to hundreds for carbon dioxide. Therefore, cutting our methane emissions will affect our near-term warming. Cuts in CO­2 emissions will affect the long-term warming throughout the century.

Notably absences from this pledge are: China, India, and Russia.

Finance – Wednesday 3rd November:

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) is a global coalition of financial institutions committed to accelerating the decarbonization of the economy. Through it nearly 500 global financial firms agreed to align over $130 trillion of private capital with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This amount accounts for about 40% of the world's financial assets.

This means companies that have plans in place to reduce their emissions will find capital, while those that don’t, won’t. The companies involved will have to use science-based guidelines to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and have goals of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030.

Separate to private finance there is the $100 billion climate funding promised by developed nations to support resilience, adaptation, and energy transitions in developing countries. This was promised in 2015 and was meant to be delivered by 2020. However, this has been delayed. It is estimated that it should be fulfilled by 2023. This poses a problem for developing countries as they are being asked to make transitions to net zero but are not receiving the funding they need to do this.

Phasing out Coal – Thursday 4th November

A 190-strong coalition of countries, sub-nationals and businesses have agreed to phase out coal power and end financial support for new coal power plants. Five of the world's top 20 coal power using countries, South Korea (5th), Indonesia (7th), Vietnam (9th), Poland (13th) and Ukraine (19th), joined this alliance. Absent from this pledge are Australia, India, the U.S. and China who are all major users of coal.

Coal is the fossil fuel with the highest climate impact. Coal mining and coal burning result in the highest amount of CO2 released than any other fuel. Therefore, it is crucial to move away from coal power plants as fast as possible. Ideally all fossil fuels will be phased out, but coal is the priority.

A group of 25 countries, including Italy, UK, Denmark, and the U.S. have signed a statement ending public support for the fossil fuel energy sector, and instead prioritising support for the clean energy transition. This could shift about $17.8 billion away from fossil fuels and into the clean energy transition. One example of this is South Africa will receive $8.5 billion from the U.S and European countries to stop using coal.

Conclusion:

A fair amount has happened in this first week. But in several of these pledges and agreements some notable countries are missing, such as China and Australia. This lack of worldwide consensus may prove to be a hinderance on the momentum of the climate action required. Also, most of these pledges and agreements are not legally binding, therefore, it is important that actions follow from these promises, and countries are held to the agreements they have made.

Written by Jessica Underwood, COPCAS PhD Student