A Review of COP26: Is 1.5 Still Alive?
Updated: Dec 7, 2021
After two weeks of negotiations among world leaders, the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties, more commonly referred to as COP26, has resulted in nearly 200 countries signing on to the Glasgow Climate Pact. Since 1995, the general goal of this conference has been to call on countries around the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. From 2011 to 2015, the COP meetings were used to create the Paris Agreement, which set the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2, but preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, by 2100. Participants at this year’s conference sought to keep that effort alive.
The Glasgow Climate Pact itself identifies the importance of mitigating global warming, urging all parties to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century by phasing down the use of coal, reducing methane emissions, and supporting investments in “green” technology. Over the course of the convention, ancillary pledges and commitments were made by a variety of coalitions with more specific goals on how to achieve net-zero emissions. Additional information about COP26 goals and outcomes can be found on its official website.
The Climate Action Tracker reports that even if every country committed to reaching net-zero emissions achieves their targets in the upcoming decades, global temperatures are expected to rise 1.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. Climate activists are generally unsatisfied that COP26 commitments are projected to fall short of the 1.5 degree goal. These concerns are reinforced by the same report showing a deficiency of countries with comprehensive plans to achieve net-zero emissions: notwithstanding the governments of Britain, Costa Rica, Chile, and the European Union.
Still, the summit’s resulting pact calls for countries to set their ambitions higher at next year’s conference. This timeline is shorter compared to the Paris Agreement, which required countries to update their pledges every five years.
What did the world’s leaders agree to?
More than 40 countries pledged to transition away from coal, the largest source of planet-warming gases, by the 2030s. A similar commitment was in the earlier drafts of the Glasgow Climate Pact. However, last-minute pressure from India caused the language to be weakened, due to their heavy reliance on coal. India's Cabinet Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, argued that “developing countries still have to deal with their development agenda and poverty eradication.”
Other developing nations were similarly reluctant to join any such agreements, arguing that they have a right to expand fossil fuel usage as richer countries have for centuries. Changing course may hinder the economic growth of those countries, so industrialized nations are being challenged to assist their efforts to combat climate change. South Africa reached a deal with the US, Britain, France, Germany, and the EU to grant South Africa $8.5 billion over the next five years to transition away from burning coal, which fueled 90% of their electricity last year.
Another significant pledge resulted in over 100 countries agreeing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Many heavily forested countries, such as Russia and Brazil, signed on to this agreement. However, while reforestation is a relatively inexpensive and effective method for removing carbon dioxide from the air, environmental analysts are concerned that some countries may rely on it too heavily to reach net-zero emissions, avoiding the transition to clean energy.
This is possibly reflected by the fact that Russia, China, and India are home to some of the largest forests in the world but did not join over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30% in the next decade, despite being the top three emitters. Furthermore, China has maintained its plan to allow its greenhouse gas emissions to rise until 2030 and strive for net-zero emissions by 2060. Nonetheless, summit attendees expressed cautious optimism when the US and China announced an agreement to cooperate on their efforts to combat climate change, being the two largest CO2 emitters.
To sum up, pledges were made among various parties to reduce methane emissions, end deforestation, and phase-out coal, among other initiatives, with the goal of keeping the 1.5 target within reach. The final pact exposed ongoing tension between advanced and developing countries as they seek to balance their competing demands of economic advancement and environmental protection. Consequently, communities that feel susceptible to climate change should work to strengthen preparedness, mitigation, and resilience measures in case these negotiations to not achieve their desired results.