Progress at COP26

Reviewing the progress made at COP26

Despite Boris Johnson’s environmental faux-pas when stating that maybe “climate change couldn’t be fixed”, we can safely say that a number of hopeful projects have emerged from COP26. However, in accordance with the saying “only time will tell”, it is the upcoming months and years that will determine whether the UK managed to meet the challenges the below agreements represent.

  1. The Glasgow Climate Pact

Despite last-minute worries that an agreement would not be reached, the Glasgow Climate was signed by all 197 member nation representatives. It is the first climate deal that explicitly targets the reduction of coal, thus forcing great changes for some participatories. 

In the UK, a very useful website monitors live the status of remaining coal plants. There are, at present, two remaining in the UK. One has withdrawn from production this winter season and the other is still contracting coal units.

Other countries like China and India will have much more to tackle. The former currently consumes more than half the world’s coal. Yet, some delegates worry that the wording chosen in the final draft will leave space for underperformance. Indeed the original phrase “phase out” was replaced by “phase down”.

It is our hope that the UK government will not take advantage of this loophole and will instead lead by action. Indeed coal is not only polluting but also highly toxic. Thankfully, the Global Coal to Clean Power transition Statement, not signed by China, India nor the US but agreed upon by the UK, should push towards efforts in the area.

Additionally, the UK seems to also be set on helping others in the process, launching into a a $8.5bn “partnership” with the US and EU to help fund South Africa’s transition from coal to a “clean energy economy” over the next five years. 

  1. Ending overseas fossil fuel projects

Another bit of good news for the UK stems from the government’s commitment to stopping foreign fossil fuel project financing by the end of 2022. This is good news as it finally sets important short term goals, the lack of which worried experts. It will also stop the nation from claiming they are cutting their carbon footprint while still polluting poorer countries.

At the same time the UK decided not to join the  “agreement on climate change, trade and sustainability” (ACCTS), which could have committed it to end billions in subsidies for the fossil-fuel sector”. It reasonned that it was safer for the country to “to keep the subsidies and certain tariffs on environmentally friendly green goods and services the deal would eliminate […] as bargaining chips in future trade negotiations”.

  1. Cutting Methan emissions

“Methane is the primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas, exposure to which causes 1 million premature deaths every year. “ says UNEP. For that reason, US president Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pledged to reduce emissions by 30% move towards using the “best available inventory methodologies” to quantify emissions. That being said, we can underline once again the lack of concrete action. Indeed, the UK, like other signatories, is not actually held accountable for such a pledge.

  1. The Declaration of Forests and Land Use

It included:

  • $12bn in public funding to “support work to protect, restore and sustainably manage forests” from 12 countries, to be delivered over 2021-2025
  • $7.2bn in private funding from corporate and philanthropic funds
  • A commitment from the CEOs of more than 30 financial institutions to divest from activities linked to commodity-driven deforestation

Secondly, for the UK, it was further supported by a new Forest, agriculture and commodity trade (FACT) statement, jointly led with Indonesia. It will aim to support sustainable trade between commodity-producing and -consuming countries. 

  1. Launching the “Breakthrough Agenda”

Announced in week two, it follows the following points:

  • Power: Clean power is the most affordable and reliable option for all countries to meet their power needs efficiently by 2030.
  • Road transport: Zero-emission vehicles are the new normal and accessible, affordable, and sustainable in all regions by 2030.
  • Steel: Near-zero emission steel is the preferred choice in global markets, with efficient use and near-zero emission steel production established and growing in every region by 2030.
  • Hydrogen: Affordable renewable and low carbon hydrogen is globally available by 2030.
  1. Sustainable agriculture

The UK, along with 45 countries and 100 other organisations, also signed the Global Action Agenda on Innovation in Agriculture. It is aiming at raising and using £3.7 billion to turn agriculture into an industry that works for the benefit of people, the environment and the climate.

  1. Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions are actions to “protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

The COP26 final draft text underlined this again with point 39. Time for the government to keep pushing towards more nature based solutions!

All in all, some great starting points have emerged from the conference of parties and there is much to do for the UK. That being said more implementation plans will have to be thought of in the upcoming months if we want to have the chance to meet those goals, instead of facing another Paris 1.5°C degree fiasco.

About the author

Ariane Far

Ariane is a policy advisor at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She was previously the Environment Spokesperson for Centre. As part of Centre, Ariane wrote a paper on lessons from Denmark on the environment. She also published a monthly article for Centre on the environment. She also has experience as a freelance writer for the Oxford Business Review and as a Communications Intern at the UN Environment Programme.