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Our guide to COP26

Find SEI research and perspectives related to COP26, as well as contacts and events.

Photo: Photo: urbazon / E+ / Getty Images.

Date published
29 October 2021

What does COP26 need to deliver?

The science is as clear as can be: Climate change is already affecting every region of the world in multiple ways, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, all national climate pledges and other measures to mitigate emissions combined fail to deliver the cuts needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, instead putting the world on a path to “catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate ,” to quote the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The finance that industrialized nations promised to mobilize to support developing countries choosing low-emissions pathways and adapt to the impacts of climate change also falls short of pledges.

As the COP26 UN climate change conference gets under way in Glasgow, barriers to a successful outcome seem as high as the stakes.

Key issues

The UK COP26 Presidency has said UN climate talks needed to deliver on “coal, cash, cars and trees.” Putting it differently, COP26 is about taking steps to ensure countries reduce emissions in any number of ways and outlining how developed countries mobilize the climate finance that developing countries need, in particular to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Reducing emissions

The world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years, but is nowhere near doing that, the latest UN’s Emissions Gap Report found. Compared to previous plans, countries’ latest national climate plans or NDCs, plus other commitments, only take an additional 7.5% off predicted annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, where 55% would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Country pledges to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 could make a big difference, but many remain vague and delay action until after 2030.

Here are some of our insights on net zero and NDCs.

A closer look at NDCs

Special: The Production Gap Report 2021

Governments still plan to produce  more than  double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than what would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the Production Gap Report from SEI, UNEP and other partners showed.


Developed countries committed to mobilizing $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020 back at UN climate talks in Copenhagen, in 2009. While the data for 2020 is not yet in, reports from the OECD and the COP26 Presidency are unequivocal that this goal has not been reached. What countries say on climate finance will be key to restoring trust enough to achieve success at COP26.

Special: Loss and damage finance

Heavy storms, extreme droughts and other weather extremes are already a reality. In particular, the most vulnerable countries and communities have not been able to adapt to these extremes that are also occurring more frequently as a result of climate change. The climate talk shorthand for climate impacts that have not been avoided through mitigation or adaptation is “loss and damage”. An SEI report looks at how finance for loss and damage can be taken forward at COP26 and beyond.

Adapting to a changing climate

The Paris Agreement has established adaptation as a global goal. Too often, current adaptation plans fail to recognize that we live in a globalized world – a world in which both the impacts of climate change and the responses to them cross borders in the same way people, goods and services do. Our work looks at this “border-crossing” or transboundary nature of climate risk and at how that changes the scope and nature of the adaptation challenge.


Special: Building climate diplomacy back better

SEI research commissioned by the Swedish ministry of environment looked at how moving (parts of) climate talks under the UNFCCC could increase the effectiveness, inclusiveness and transparency of this process, and address issues of mistrust and power imbalances.