Good COP or Bad COP? A Roundup of COP26

The recent climate conference in Glasgow has certainly exceeded some expectations. Hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5C remain alive, despite late capitulation from China and India.

There was a clear sense of disappointment in Glasgow when India and China agreed to dilute the pledge of “phasing out” coal, opting instead to “phase down” coal-powered generation.

Visibly shaken by the events, COP26 President Alok Sharma, apologised for the “way the process [has] unfolded”. 

However, it’s important to put COP26 into perspective. This was the very first time that any climate deal has explicitly identified fossil fuel consumption as a major cause of climate change. It’s also the first time that discussions over coal-powered generation have taken place. 

During COP26, 23 coal-heavy countries committed to “phasing out” coal-fired power generation despite China, Russia and the US’s rejection to sign the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement.

New Multilateral Deals to Limit Emissions

COP26 initiated new commitments to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases. Over 90 percent of the global economy is now mandated by net zero targets, compared to just 30 percent in 2020. 

If these net zero targets are met, the IEA estimates that global warming will be limited to 1.8C above pre-industrial levels. It’s still higher than the Paris agreement of 1.5C, but it demonstrates that the target is still within reach.

“Ratchet” Up Responsibility

We also saw the introduction of a new “ratchet”. This asks countries to return to next year’s conference in Egypt with more ambitious climate commitments, as opposed to waiting until 2025. It will allow countries to prepare for more aspiring targets once the current crisis in energy supply is stabilised.

Global Attention

There is no doubt that the coverage of this conference and its global attention has been unlike any other. From analysis of the carbon footprints of delegates’ motorcades, to in-depth, live coverage of events, the reception to COP26 has been exceptional. Public engagement on pledges and promises have also been unprecedented. 

It leaves little doubt that all participating governments will now face increased political pressure to action their plans to limit global warming.

The accountability of governments from the public and the media almost confirms the global reduction of emissions, though its full impact remains to be seen, particularly for developing countries.

However, important steps have been taken to support developing countries in their transition to clear energy. One of the best pieces of news out of COP26 was the multinational package worth £8.3bn to support the winding down of coal burning by Eskom, South Africa’s struggling power utility.

What Now?

Following COP26, it’s clear that there is much work to be done. The conference did show us that limiting greenhouse gas emissions is a real possibility. It’s the delivery of the possibility which must be handled pragmatically. 

The consequences of ignoring these targets are clear, and could affect us sooner than we’d like to accept. The next steps call for bold action, independent of illusory global consensus. 

For nations and governments, doing what they can may not be enough. It’s time to do all they can.

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