Was COP26 a Success?

Published by Aubrey Holt on

With COP26 now ended and all 197 parties agreeing to the Glasgow Climate Pact, the outcome of COP26 is being labelled a success by some of us at Treepoints and a failure by others. The fact that a final agreement came to fruition is a huge success. With significant differences and growing global tensions, especially between the US and China, many doubted any agreement signed by all 197 parties would be possible. But the failure to create an agreement to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C from pre-industrial levels is an undeniable failure of the conference.

But what parts can we consider a success and what parts a failure? Here are the key outcomes of COP26 for you to make up your own mind.

The Successes: 

A commitment to stop deforestation by 2030

“With today’s unprecedented pledges, we will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian.”

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson 

Over 100 leaders at the summit signed an agreement to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, pledging around $19.2 billion of funding. This included a surprise commitment by Brazil, whose current government has allowed the continued logging of the Amazon rainforest within its borders. This is the most ambitious agreement to tackle global deforestation yet. It hopes to overcome the failures of the New York Declaration on Forests, which had similarly high ambitions, but only 40 signatures, seeing it fail to have any meaningful impact on reducing deforestation without support from Brazil, China, and Russia.

With the seven key countries that cover 85% of the world’s forests signing the agreement, these being Brazil, China, Russia, Canada, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the US, increasing the likely success of the agreement. The pledge saw a commitment of £1.1bn to protect the Congo Basin, which is the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest and is currently experiencing significant deforestation.

Agreement to cut methane emissions by 2030

“One of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade to keep 1.5C in reach is to reduce our methane as quickly as possible.”

US President, Joe Biden

A commitment formed by the US and the EU, which has since been signed by over 100 countries, has pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. With 25% of global emissions deriving from human orientated methane pollution, each methane particle has 80 times the warming power compared to CO2. This pledge could help avoid a further 0.3C rise in global temperature by 2030.

Although there is some concern around the pledge’s effectiveness, with the failure of China, India and Russia to sign the pledge. Without these three major methane emitters, it’s possible the effectiveness of this agreement might be limited.

Greater climate cooperation between the US and China

“There is more agreement between China and the US than divergence”

China’s top climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua

The world’s two largest polluters of CO2, being the US and China, agreed to increase cooperation on tackling climate change. They have both reaffirmed their strong commitment to ensuring the rise in global temperature remains below 1.5C, committing to working together in reducing their own climate impact. Whilst also working together in forming stronger global action to limit the impact of climate change.

The first global agreement on coal

“They changed a word, but they can’t change the signal coming out of this COP, that the era of coal is ending,”

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace. 

Although the final text on coal was heavily edited compared to previous drafts (as covered shortly), this was the first major agreement committing to a reduction in global coal use. This has been viewed by some as the start of a global move away from coal, which is responsible for around 46% of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Failures:

Watered-down commitment on coal

“Unfortunately, the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”

UN secretary-general António Guterres

After opposition from China and India, there was a significant change in language in the final text on coal, pledging to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal. With coal being one of the largest contributors to climate change, and it’s drastic phasing out being essential to ensuring global temperature rises remain below 1.5C, the failure to commit to needed levels of reduction has largely been viewed as a failure. As a result, COP26 President Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” for how these final events have unfolded.  

The failure to create an agreement to keep rises in global temperature below 1.5C

“This will not bring us closer to 1.5C but make it more difficult to reach it.”

Swiss Environment Minister, Simonetta Sommaruga

Rather than keeping global temperatures below 1.5C, current pledges will only limit global temperature rise to 2.4C. Although the agreement commits signatures to meet again next year to create stronger pledges, the failure to come together at COP26 has left many people hesitant that one more year would be enough to drum up enough support to curb the worst impacts of climate change.

A failure to adequately consider loss and damage

“The final landing zone, however, is not even close to capturing what we had hoped.”

Lia Nicholson, delegate for Antigua and Barbuda

Many developing countries felt that their position of loss and damage was not adequately considered, with the failure of developed countries to deliver on their $100 billion promise to assist developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Many of these countries, who are the least responsible for climate change, but are the most negatively impacted by it, hoped that COP26 would form the basis of global cooperation to assist them with adequate climate finance. Rather, the world’s richest countries continued to resist any meaningful commitments to loss and damage. Many of these vulnerable countries, including Kenya and Guinea in Africa, alongside the small island states of Tuvalu and the Maldives, suggested this was the final hope for their nation’s survival, with rising temperatures and sea levels being a ‘death sentence’.


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