World leaders have been meeting for the last two weeks in Glasgow as part of COP26, the 26th annual conference on climate, and the world has been looking on with high expectations. This year’s conference has largely been seen as a tipping point for climate action, and activists, organizations, and citizens everywhere looked to world leaders to deliver on meaningful climate action.
So, as COP26 wraps up on Friday (although negotiations are set to continue into the weekend) have the announcements of the past two weeks lived up to expectations?
On Friday, a second draft of the COP26 decision statement, where the commitments and announcements of leaders are outlined, was released — giving a strong indication of how the conference would conclude.
The headline is that leaders from the countries that created and worsen climate change have failed — squandering the opportunity for taking the truly transformational actions that this crisis demands.
On the need to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, current estimates say COP26 pledges put us on track for between 1.8C and 2.4C of warming. So the fact remains that we are still far off the 1.5C target, and we still need on-time and effective policies and legislation to make the existing but insufficient pledges a reality.
Meanwhile, on climate finance — another core need that COP26 should have delivered — wealthy countries have still failed to meet their commitment to deliver an annual $100 billion in climate financing to support those on the front lines of climate change, a target that should have been met in 2020 and isn’t expected to be met until 2023.
There have, however, been some important pledges to come out of COP26, which you can read more about here. These include:
- India vowing to reach net zero by 2070, the first time it’s set a target and including a significant commitment to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030.
- The Global Methane Pledge — more than 100 countries agreed to cut methane emissions by a third by 2030
- A call to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels
- The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, led by Costa Rica and Denmark, which aims to phase out fossil fuels
- Deforestation pledge — more than 100 countries agreed to stop deforestation and land degradation by 2030
Nevertheless, we are still far away from where we need to be and the urgent calls of those on the front lines of the climate crisis — low-income nations, island nations, Indigenous populations — have not yet been listened to and acted on.
As Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said as the conference began: “How many more voices and how many more pictures of people must we see on these screens without being able to move, or are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?”
“Do some leaders in this world believe that they can survive and thrive on their own?” she continued. “Have they not learned from the pandemic? Can there be peace and prosperity if one-third of the world literally prospers and the other two-things of the world live under siege and face calamitous threats to our well-being?”
Prior to COP26, Global Citizen wrote an advocacy article surveying five of the things that we wanted to see happen at the conference for it to be a success.
Here’s a brief checklist of how leaders did in those five areas and, very importantly, what comes next.
1. The Ask: $100 Billion in Annual Climate Funding for Developing Countries
The Outcome: Failure
Back in 2009, wealthy countries pledged that they would mobilize $100 billion in annual climate funding for developing countries by 2020. While some countries including those in the EU increased climate financing toward this goal, the $100 billion is expected to be met in 2023, three years overdue. On top of this delay, the costs of climate impacts are increasing as wildfires, floods, extreme storms, and droughts get worse.
Currently, only Norway, Sweden, and Germany are providing adequate levels of climate finance in proportion to the size of their economies. The United States, on the other hand, is currently contributing four times less than its fair share. The imperatives of climate justice mean that all wealthy countries responsible for the environmental crisis have to step up with their fair share of funding on an annual basis, deliver on missed back payments, and also increase climate financing in response to climate impacts.
In fact, $100B is considered a downpayment and much more is needed to help developing countries support the Paris climate agreement, and separate and additional funding will be needed for existing damages and losses. Some climate finance increases were announced at COP26, including from Australia and Italy, but still not according to these countries’ fair share. It’s also important that half of future climate financing goes toward adaptation measures that help countries better withstand the growing impacts of climate change, rather than focusing financial support on mitigation alone.
“There are no excuses for the $100 billion climate finance to not be met already in 2022, given the missing of this goal so far,” Abul Kalam Azad, special envoy from Bangladesh, said in a statement.
“Delivery over the whole period 2020-24 must be assured, which means $500 billion in balanced climate finance mobilized over this period,” he added. “This is even a ‘low bar’ given how big are the actual financing needs for climate action of developing countries.”
2. The Ask: Climate Targets in Line With 1.5 Degrees Celsius
The Outcome: Failure
The Paris climate agreement is structured around voluntary commitments by countries for reducing their emissions known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Every five years, countries are expected to “ratchet up” their NDCs and COP26 happened to be the first round of improvements.
Both India and Nigeria announced concrete targets for going net zero, but countries largely failed to bring their NDCs into alignment with the goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — although COP26 did see pledges on cutting methane emissions, stopping funding fossil fuel projects overseas, and phasing out coal power.
Right now, according to analysis from the Climate Action Tracker, the UN Environment Programme, and the International Energy Agency, pledges from COP26 put us on track for global warming of between 1.8C and 2.4C.
From a historical perspective, the countries most responsible for the climate crisis are failing the most significantly when it comes to emissions reductions. While the US pledged to halve its emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, the country’s current policies are not sufficient for achieving this goal. The Build Back Better bill, currently being negotiated in Congress, could provide a boost, but far more has to be done.
These projections are why environmental groups are pushing for the ratchet mechanism to be accelerated. Instead of every five years, advocates say countries should meet and report on targets every three years, or even every year, to ensure that countries are being pushed to do more, according to advocates.
3. The Ask: More Companies Joining the ‘Race to Zero’
The Outcome: Mixed
The private sector has a huge role to play in decarbonizing the global economy and paving the way for a just transition. While corporate executives flew in from around the world to participate in the talks, the announcements they made at COP26 can be broadly lumped into three buckets: the defiant, the greenwashing, and the genuinely positive.
On the defiant side of things, carmakers once again failed to back measures to phase out gas-powered vehicles within timelines that would allow climate goals to be achieved, according to Reuters.
When it comes to greenwashing, the banking sector stands out for its supposedly new standards for green lending that are really just a rehashing of old efforts that have provided cover to some of the worst fossil fuel lenders in the world, according to the Conversation.
As for the positive, many more companies signed the “Race to Zero” pledge, which indicates that serious momentum to decarbonize supply chains and business models is developing within various industries.
4. The Ask: Pledge Support for Land and Sea Conservation
The Outcome: Mixed
Scientists are urging countries to conserve at least 30% of essential land and marine spaces by 2030 to protect the global environment. Setting aside a third of the planet for conservation would ensure that vital ecosystem services — the flow of clean water, the health of soil — remain viable into the future.
Right now, an estimated 16.44% of land worldwide is currently protected, along with 7.74% of the ocean, according to the United Nations. Significant investments have to be made by both governments and the private sector to reach these targets by the end of the decade.
There were some major conservation announcements at COP26. More than 100 countries pledged to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030, 10 new countries signed up to protect 30% of the ocean, $1.7 billion was set aside for Indigenous communities, and around 100 major companies committed to becoming “nature positive,” meaning their business models will now seek to promote the health of the natural world.
5. The Ask: Listen to the Activists
The Outcome: Failure
Activists and organizers have criticized COP26 for its lack of transparency and inclusiveness. Many key meetings were held in secrecy, activists had trouble getting to the negotiating table, and the event overall sidelined voices from the Global South, according to the Guardian. Greta Thunberg, in particular, had searing words for COP26, calling it “a two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.”
But as well as failing to listen to the activists, leaders of the wealthiest countries and biggest emitters at COP26 also failed to listen to their counterparts from countries on the front lines of climate change, already living with the devastating consequences of rising sea levels, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, and more.
So What’s Next?
COP26 is a formal gathering that has the institutional heft to wrangle governments and companies into consensus around climate action.
But efforts to accelerate climate action must continue from the moment the summit ends and continue every day after. The climate crisis and its lethal effects will not wait until next year’s COP27 — every hour of every day more greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the natural world accumulate in the atmosphere and further heat and destabilize the planet.
The UK will remain the president of COP until the next session in 2022, which will be hosted by Egypt. Between now and then, the UK must pressure governments and companies around the world to enact policies that make halving global emissions by 2030 possible.
They must also take leadership on the issue of climate financing for people in vulnerable countries, who cannot wait until 2023 to receive the funds promised. Not only do these funds need to be mobilized over the course of the next year, back payments need to be squared away, and orders of magnitude more funding need to be delivered. In fact, developing countries are calling for $1.3 trillion from wealthy countries in climate finance annually to address the scope and scale of the challenge.
Progress can be made on all of these issues — from funding a just transition away from fossil fuels to decarbonizing industrial sectors — and everyone has a role to play in making sufficient climate action a reality.
So while COP26 may be over, Global Citizens will be making it clear to world leaders and the private sector that the world is still watching. Join us in taking action here to defend the planet.