COP26, the most consequential political gathering for climate action since the signing of the Paris climate agreement, is less than a week away. Starting Oct. 31, world leaders will quite literally be negotiating matters that will determine our ability to live on the planet in the future.

But there’s a vanishing window for action — it’s now or never. Leaders have to use the summit to put the goals of the Paris climate agreement within reach, while also setting the stage for a just transition away from fossil fuels toward a more inclusive and environmentally healthy future.

Getting there will take a lot more than the standard fare of vague declarations and far-in-the-future policy horizons. Instead, world leaders have to deliver concrete and immediate policy proposals that outline a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so that “net zero” can be achieved by 2050. 

But with days to go before the summit begins, world leaders are signalling that COP26 could be another flop, with little progress made in the fight to prevent catastrophic climate change. 

In fact, leaders from several countries key to negotiations — including Xi Jinping of China, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Vladimir Putin of Russia — will not be in attendance, and leaders from several other heavy-polluting countries are on the fence about joining. This mass no-show could derail the event’s momentum. 

Without broad and immediate agreement on climate targets — matched by equally ambitious policy proposals — the Paris climate agreement will fail and global temperatures could rise to levels that make the planet hostile to human civilization.

But COP26 hasn’t yet begun and the story of its impact is still to be written. The demands of people around the world for climate solutions, solidarity in the face of this emergency, and a healthy environment could still be met. It’s still possible that we’ll look back on COP26 as the moment when the fate of humanity shifted, when leaders finally reckoned with the looming catastrophe before them and decided to act. But first, they have to rise to the occasion.

Global Citizen is working alongside dozens of partners to call for the strong policies and financial commitments that are needed to make this COP a success. Here are five things that leaders must do and how you can join us in taking action to urge them to do their part. 

1. $100 Billion in Annual Climate Funding for Developing Countries

The majority of greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis have been released by wealthy nations such as the United States and countries in Europe. At the same time, climate change is disproportionately harming developing countries that have relatively small carbon footprints. 

Because of this imbalance, wealthy countries agreed in 2009 to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 for climate finance in developing countries. Fifty percent of this $100B should be going to climate adaptation. Funds can also be shared with UN agencies like the Green Climate Fund.

As of 2019, countries raised an estimated $80 billion, far short of the promised amount. To make matters worse, a significant amount of this funding came in the form of loans, meaning countries that are already saddled with debt will have to pay the money back. This is hardly climate justice. 

Global Citizen is calling on wealthy countries to meet the $100 billion a year target and to ensure that the majority of funds are grants rather than loans. So far, only Norway, Sweden, and Germany have stepped up with their fair shares for climate financing. Now is the time for countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to live up to their promises as well. 

The recent announcement that developed countries will only meet this target in 2023 is too late. They need to meet this sooner and also ensure that any shortfalls are made up for years the target is not met. In total, $500bn must be delivered by 2025.

When 2025 comes around, countries will be expected to increase international climate finance because the impacts of climate change are exponential in nature. Already, climate change has cost hundreds of billions of dollars in damage in the US alone. By 2050, climate impacts could reduce the world economy by $23 trillion

During COP26, Global Citizen will be urging United Nations members to commit to climate financing increases now, while also paying back the funds that were missed in years past. You can take action to support this effort, including by sending a message to world leaders on why you think climate financing for poorer nations matters, here

2. Climate Targets in Line With 1.5 Degrees Celsius 

The Paris climate agreement has no enforcement mechanism for achieving its goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Instead, it’s a voluntary framework that depends on the goodwill and integrity of members. 

That means that countries determine their own emissions goals and the plans meant to achieve them — known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). When countries take this structure seriously, it generates geopolitical momentum, a sense that all member states are working toward a common goal. If they don’t, then the whole framework can suffer a crisis of confidence

That’s why Global Citizen is calling on countries to significantly improve their NDCs to create a culture of scientific realism at COP26. Currently, only one country — The Gambia — has submitted NDCs that are compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). 

A handful of other countries are almost compatible, while the rest of the countries analyzed by CAT have shown varying levels of incompetence and inaction — so much so that the atmosphere will warm by at least 2.7 degrees Celsius this century unless revisions are made. In other words, there’s huge room for improvement. 

We’re calling on countries to submit improved NDCs and then back them up with concrete policies that halve emissions by 2030 and then achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The follow-through is really important here. Many countries, for example, have vowed to reach net zero emissions by a certain date but have only the sketchiest of plans of getting there. Delivering on both NDCs and policies could put the world on track to warm less than 2.1 degrees Celsius — a major improvement that would save millions of lives.

Emissions are currently rising and show little sign of slowing down. Halving emissions will require countries to invest trillions of dollars in renewable energy, infrastructure development, transportation, and environmental conservation and restoration. 

There’s no time to waste — COP26 must be the springboard for transformative change. You can urge world leaders to increase their mitigation efforts here

3. More Companies Joining the ‘Race to Zero’ 

While governments have the power to enact policies that halve emissions by 2030, the private sector also has a significant role to play in transforming the global economy — and many companies are already stepping up.

The UN Global Compact’s Business Ambition for 1.5 Degrees is a coalition of 965 companies representing more than $13 trillion that have pledged to cut emissions and adapt their business models in ways that align with the Paris climate agreement. 

This is part of the broader “Race to Zero”, a worldwide effort to bring net greenhouse emissions down to zero by 2050. The Race to Zero hinges on two pillars — dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in nature-based solutions and other measures to remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

Thousands more companies have the ability to join this science-based pledge to ensure that the global environment remains safe for generations to come. Global Citizen will be calling on the business community to acknowledge the historic threat of the climate crisis and take action to achieve the Paris climate agreement.   

You can call on business leaders to join this effort here

4. Pledge Support for Land and Sea Conservation 

Nature-based solutions are key to both drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and restoring the global environment that has been polluted and degraded by industrial activities. Deforestation, ocean pollution, and overconsumption of natural resources all advance climate change, and also put a strain on the communities that depend on the land and water around them.

We're calling on nations around the world — including G20 countries — to pledge to conserve 30% of global land and 30% of oceans and seas by 2030. This goal, which is also included in the latest draft of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity, was chosen by scientists because it’s a target that gives the planet a chance to recover and could protect millions of species from extinction. World leaders should sign the Leaders Pledge for Nature, which builds on this target and aims to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

You can take action by calling on the world's biggest economies to protect 30% of nature here.

Further, the organization is also on a mission to conserve, plant, and grow 1 trillion trees around the world with the help of thousands of organizations and millions of volunteers. Investing in trees can also reduce air pollution, clean water and soil, provide numerous health benefits, and generate economic activity. You can take action calling for more trees here

5. Listen to the Activists

COP26 will see thousands of world leaders, corporate executives, teams from nonprofits, and environmental organizers descend on Glasgow. So many influential minds coming together has the potential to guide the discourse around climate action and environmental protection for the coming years and even decades. 

It also has the opportunity to uplift the voices of activists from developing countries and Indigenous communities that have historically been excluded from climate discussions.

We’re working to elevate several issues revolving around climate justice during the conference: climate adaptation, nature-based solutions, the intersection of climate change and poverty, and environmental justice and community empowerment.  

For most of recent history, climate action has understandably focused on climate mitigation. But climate impacts are already devastating communities, making it urgent that countries invest similar focus and funds on climate adaptation. 

Similarly, climate solutions have tended to focus on esoteric technological interventions, when simply conserving and restoring the natural world can get us a long way toward preventing the worst effects of the climate crisis

Climate change is connected to every other issue facing humanity, including the fights to end poverty, hunger, water scarcity, health disparities, gender inequality, and racism. 

As a result, it’s important that climate policies take a holistic approach that considers how investments and divestments impact various communities. The call for a “just transition”  means more than merely phasing out fossil fuels; it also means phasing out the injustices and inequalities that have defined the past. 

You can elevate these issues by recording your own video on why climate action matters to you. 


Defend the Planet

5 Things That Must Happen at COP26 So It’s Not a Failure

By Joe McCarthy