Takeaways from COP26: World Leaders Promise Progress, But Is It Enough?
While many commended the commitment of delegates remaining in Scotland for an extra day as they tried to thrash out a deal, activists and experts caution that the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) fell short of achieving its most critical goals.
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, acknowledged that the negotiations were an important step, but ultimately admitted he did not believe the deal went far enough in tackling climate change—a global problem being felt with ever-increasing ferocity in countries around the world today.
The Glasgow Climate Pact calls for less reliance on fossil fuels.
This move has been praised by many as significant progress, marking the first time that fossil fuels have been explicitly mentioned in a final declaration following UN climate negotiations.
Specifically, the ten-page Pact calls for the phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, as well as a phase-down of coal. The latter pledge was a contentious issue for some delegates, however, following a change of wording at the eleventh hour.
Representatives from the Global South largely praised the inclusion of fossil fuels in the Pact. However, last minute changes, requested by India and supported by the US and China, drew consternation and criticism from some quarters, who argued that replacing a “phase-out” of coal with a “phase-down” effectively watered down the deal.
With G20 nations responsible for 80% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, the Global South pushed for more ambitious pledges from the Global North. UN Secretary-General Guterres has lobbied for “no new coal by 2021” while COP26 President Alok Sharma has called for coal to be consigned to history. Short of a complete phase-out, the Pact promised a phase-down.
The Global South lobbied for increased funding to tackle the climate change-related issues it is already experiencing, and won acknowledgement of the “loss and damage” that developing nations have suffered. The Global North committed to doubling funding for the Global South from 2025.
The 1.5-degree Celsius limit hangs in the balance.
The ultimate aim of COP26 was to keep alive the dream of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Although COP26 President Alok Sharma said that 1.5 degrees was still within reach, he admitted that “its pulse is weak."
In advance of COP26, the UN Environmental Program published a report indicating that, if emission rates continued unabated, global warming was on track to increase by 2.7 degrees. According to a report published by Climate Action Tracker, the commitments announced at COP26 could check global warming to 2.4 degrees, but experts warn that this will still have catastrophic results.
As part of COP26, world leaders committed to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees,” acknowledging that this would require “rapid, deep, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions." Delegates agreed to a target of cutting global carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030. Several deals brokered on the sidelines also aimed to reduce methane emissions by 30% and slow deforestation.
Critics argue that the summit ended with promises, but not nearly enough progress.
Although COP26 acknowledged several important aspects of climate change for the first time, activists contend that the conference did not do enough to address them.
This year, diplomats and representatives were anxious to be seen taking climate change seriously—many showed up at the start of summit and stayed an extra day, with talks dragging on long into the night.
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, gave a speech on the opening day that was well received by activists. She castigated countries hesitating to finance a transition to clean energy, explaining that in small island nations like hers, the cost of that delay is being measured in lives and livelihoods, a situation that she pointed out is “immoral and unjust."
The World Green Building Council lobbied for a Built Environment Day at COP26.
Signing an open letter with nine other international organizations, the World Green Building Council called for an entire day at COP26 to be dedicated to action pathways accelerating the decarbonization of the built environment, and for greater focus on how governments and businesses can catalyse tangible solutions to the climate crisis.
The organization previously participated in the UN’s Race To Zero Dialogues, debating how policy, industry leadership, and finance could accelerate decarbonization while simultaneously ensuring the resilience of our built environments. World Green Building Council CEO Cristina Gamboa explained that it was essential to dedicate a full day to the building and construction industry at COP26, because the sector accounts for almost 40% of worldwide energy and process-related emissions.
In response to the letter, which was also signed by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, The Climate Group, and World Resources Institute, the final day of COP26 was declared Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day. Highlights of the day included the UK Green Building Council's announcement of its Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, a tool intended to help businesses assess and reduce the carbon emissions related to building materials, operations, and demolitions.