COP26 Glasgow: 'Breakthroughs,’ 'Disappointments,' and 'Frustrations'

The two-week climate conference in the UK ended with a final declaration which continues and strengthens the Paris Agreement, however, not everyone was happy with the final outcome. Many feel the agreed measures in the climate pact are not enough to stop climate change.

“World Leaders pose for a group photo at an evening reception to mark the opening day of Cop26” Photograph: Alberto Pezzali/AFP/Getty Image

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The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), held in Glasgow, UK, culminated in the Glasgow Climate Pact, moving nearly 200 countries closer to maintaining a global rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Parties promised to increase financial assistance to poor and developing countries to combat the adverse effects of climate change, including adaptation and loss and damage.

Nevertheless, the world leaders left Glasgow without undertaking higher commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The summit was full of hope, energy and touching statements, yet, there was no unity in national and private interests. The Summit ended late Saturday night on November 13th, with mixed feelings and “deep disappointment” with the last minute changes.

There were four main objectives on the official agenda of the summit:

  1. Setting ambitious emission reduction targets for 2030 and becoming net-zero or carbon-neutral by the middle of this century, to maintain the PA target of 1.5 degrees;

  2. Protecting vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change and restoring ecosystems;

  3. Financial mobilization for the implementation of these goals (developed countries had to allocate $100 billion to developing countries by 2020);

  4. Reaching an agreement in the negotiations, including agreeing on a reporting procedure for the implementation of the Paris Agreement (Paris Rulebook).

State Updates European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called on governments to increase the price of carbon because the planet "nature cannot pay." (selling Nature to save it, Ms. von der Leyen?) While the French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the wealthiest countries to be an example to others, as they are the biggest polluters.

Heads of four major nation-states were absent from the summit: Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Russian, Turkish, and Brazilian Presidents, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Jair Bolsonaro.

Xi Jinping published a written statement, where he called on wealthy countries to “provide support to help developing countries do better,” but did not voice any new goals. China is the largest polluter in the world, and therefore one of the key participants in COP26. However, they did not attend the conference.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, India, has pledged to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2070. This will contribute to the global efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5C; albeit, this is a very long-term goal and lacks specifics on how it will be achieved. India has announced their goal of achieving net-zero by 2070, Vietnam and Australia - by 2050, Thailand - by 2065. It is critical to pay close attention to the delay of the needed urgent action, as well as keep in mind the major differences between "net-zero" and carbon-neutrality.

President Putin announced that Russia, the fourth-largest polluter, aims to reach “net-zero” by 2060. During the summit, the delegation mentioned that this target might be reached before 2060. However, this goal is vague: Russia did not make any ambitious goals regarding transitioning to renewable energy, and resisted to drastically lowering their emissions by 2030, despite the political and civil pressure.

Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, announced that the country will increase its emission reduction target to 50% by 2030 (up from 2005 levels) and reach carbon neutrality by 2050 (from the previous date of 2060). Alas, this goal is not specific and not ambitious enough either.

South Africa has signed a $ 8.5 billion deal with the US, UK and the EU in concessional financing and grants to “phase-out” of coal and “transition to a clean energy economy” within five years.

Multilateral Environmental Agreements: Outcomes of the COP26

The final outcome of the summit was the Glasgow Climate Pact. The countries agreed on the document on November 13 - a day later than the scheduled end of the forum, with softer wording than expected, and mixed emotions.

The document maintains the goal of keeping the average temperature rise within 1.5°C (at the moment the temperature has already increased by 1.1°C), but it is noted that it will be achieved "only with concerted and immediate global efforts." It must be noted that this is the first time in history when the term “fossil fuels” were at all mentioned in an international climate agreement. Nevertheless, it says to “phase down” only/specifically of “unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” In other words, countries ended up agreeing to “step up efforts” to “phase-down” energy consumption based on “unabated coal,” that is coal mined without carbon capture technologies, and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies; no definitions were provided. The draft document used the phrase "phase-out", but at the last moment India and China (the world's first and third importers of coal), insisted on its replacement by "gradual reduction." We can and should point fingers and blame these two states, however there is much skepticism about Russia’s and US’ politics. How is Russia “not minding” such an agreement in the case when Russia neither signed the coal agreement nor the methane agreement? Furthermore, Russian coal production is expected to grow 6 percent in 2021. Additional growth is planned over the next years partly because of mining in the Arctic.” Similarly, the USA, one of the biggest burners of coal, did not sign the coal agreement either, but apparently “did not mind” to “phase-out” of them. This is very sketchy and contradictory. Considering International Relations Theory, this could be an example of false positives (a state shows its commitment to the principles of a treaty but nonetheless fails to ratify) and false negatives (a state ratifies the treaty but does not have an ambitious commitment to the contents of the treaty) . US and Russia artfully disagreed with the draft decision but remained silent to avoid public criticism which India and China are facing now.

Coal: The coal agreement was signed by 40 countries (among them those who are significantly dependent on coal: Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine and Vietnam), as well as representatives of business and financial institutions. The agreement was not signed by China (the leader in the use of coal), Russia, the USA, India and Australia. The signatories pledged to permanently abandon coal energy. Richer countries are encouraged to choose an end date in the 2030s, and poorer countries in the 2040s. The UK has pledged to phase out coal by 2024.

US-China Joint Agreement: The world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, accounting for about a third of the world's total, the United States and China unexpectedly issued a joint declaration on scaling up climate action in the 2020s. In a joint agreement, the two biggest GHG emitters pledged to intensify efforts to reduce emissions this decade. China has pledged for the first time to develop a plan to reduce methane emissions. Although China has not entered the methane agreement, it has promised to develop a "comprehensive and ambitious national action plan" to limit its emissions.

China confirmed that it will gradually phase out coal consumption starting in 2026, which Xi Jinping announced in April. The