Skip navigation

COP26: what it delivered and what’s next

From pathways to global net-zero emissions, meeting climate finance promises and a stronger focus on loss and damage, SEI researchers outlined seven priorities for COP26. Now that the COP26 outcomes have sunk in, it is time to take stock and look ahead.

Andrea Lindblom, Cleo Verkuijl / Published on 13 December 2021

COP26 had been styled as the last chance to “keep 1.5°C alive.” While the UK COP presidency was unequivocal that this goal had been met, the incremental steps achieved in Glasgow seem to have grazed just the bare minimum of progress necessary to keep this goal within reach.

Credible and equitable pathway to global net-zero emissions

More than any other UN climate change conference before it, COP26 saw a flurry of sectoral announcements from countries, regions, finance and business on the sidelines of actual negotiations: pledges to limit deforestation, reduce methane emissions, stop financing coal production abroad and decrease transport emissions down to zero.

Experts quickly analysed the climate impact of these announcements and a surprise net-zero pledge from India by 2070, which could potentially limit global warming to 1.8°C. To turn words into action, policymakers and private sector organisations will need to ensure credible policies and implementation plans and bring their shorter-term 2030 targets in line with Paris targets. This includes countries updating and strengthening their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for 2030 by the end of next year, as the Glasgow outcome asks them to do.

More scrutiny is also needed to ensure these pledges are equitable – that is, whether the actors committing to them are doing their fair share in reducing emissions.

In an equitable approach to global net zero, there are strong arguments why many actors should contribute well beyond what it would take to bring their own emissions to net zero. The focus on "achieving" net zero, however, creates the perception that companies that adopt such targets are already doing their best.

Derik Broekhoff, SEI Senior Scientist

Narrowing the production gap

The Glasgow Climate Pact does call on countries to accelerate “efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” It could have used clearer language and mentioned the need to address oil and gas as well. Nevertheless, this text passage marks a milestone in making it the first COP decision explicitly recognizing that staying within the temperature limits of the Paris Agreement requires moving away from fossil fuels.

After more than 30 years of negotiating, governments are finally willing to acknowledge and address the root cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuel production and burning. Not yet with the conviction, urgency, and fairness needed to match the magnitude, scale and nature of the crisis, but we scientists and civil society will carry this momentum forward to make sure they do.

Ploy Achakulwisut, SEI Scientist

Aside from the official outcome, it is notable that 20 countries, including Canada, the UK and US, committed to ending funding for fossil fuel projects overseas by the end of 2022.

COP26 also saw the launch of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance: the first-ever diplomatic initiative to phase out oil and gas production. The alliance led by Denmark and Costa Rica brings together 12 countries and regions committed to taking meaningful steps towards a wind-down of oil and gas production.

Along with this potential stepping stone for bolder action to tackle the production of fossil fuels, policymakers have an opportunity to signal commitments to wind down coal, oil, and gas production in their enhanced climate pledges next year, as some have already started doing.

Meeting financial promises

The Glasgow Climate Pact notes “with deep concern” that developed countries did not deliver on their pledge to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to support developing nations in choosing low carbon pathways and adapting to the impacts of climate change. The Climate Finance Delivery Plan that the COP Presidency presented just days before COP26 kicked off instead outlined how that promise would be met from 2023 onwards, but offered little detail on trajectories and numbers.

Countries in Glasgow also noted “with concern” that finance for adaptation in particular is lacking. UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report estimated that adaptation costs in developing countries are five to ten times greater than current public adaptation finance flows.

COP26 did see a number of Parties announcing that they would increase finance to both or either the Adaptation and Least Developed Countries Funds, with the EU pledging €100 million to the Adaptation Fund.

However, in light of the Glasgow Climate Pact’s provisions on adaptation finance and first statements from Egypt indicating that adaptation and resilience will be centre stage at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh from 7–18 November 2022, developed countries have their work cut out for them to commit to adaptation finance in a much more meaningful way than they have done so far and at least double collective funding by 2025.

COP26 President Alok Sharma at the Exploring Loss and Damage event at COP26

COP26 President Alok Sharma at the Exploring Loss and Damage event at COP26. Photo: Justin Goff / UK Government / COP26 / Flickr.

Putting a stronger focus on loss and damage

When countries lack resources to take measures to adapt to floods, droughts and storms that are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change, lives and livelihoods are lost. The topic of such “loss and damage” due to climate change was central to COP26.

For a brief period of time ahead of the finishing line, it looked as if countries would be able to agree to a proposal from the G77 and China negotiating group to establish a finance facility for loss and damage. In the end, they instead agreed to start a dialogue – beginning at the intersessional meeting in June 2021 – on how finance could be provided to address loss and damage. Scotland made the only offer to fund loss and damage, committing a somewhat symbolic £2 million.

The fact that countries could not agree on establishing a financial facility for loss and damage already in Glasgow leaves a major gap in providing such loss and damage finance to support vulnerable countries. But the option of setting up a formal finance mechanism in the longer term – which our research led us to recommend – is still there and hopefully the dialogue will allow going down that road.

Zoha Shawoo, SEI Associate Scientist

Parties did agree on the functions and process of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage to “connect vulnerable developing countries with providers of technical assistance, knowledge, resources they need to address climate risks comprehensively.” The Glasgow pact urges developed countries to provide these funds, meaning other countries should soon follow Germany’s pledge of €10 million for the network.

Clarifying the global adaptation goal

The Glasgow Climate Pact launched a two-year work programme for operationalizing the global goal on adaptation established in the Paris Agreement. That means that countries will engage in workshops on this topic and the UNFCCC secretariat will prepare reports to serve as input for negotiations at COP27.

The aim is to gain a better understanding of what it actually means for adaptation to be a global goal rather than one that is just local, regional or national. What are the methodologies, indicators, data and metrics to assess such a global goal and progress towards it?

It is good news that Glasgow has outlined further steps in assessing collective progress towards achieving the global goal on adaptation. Slowly but surely, decision makers are realizing that adaptation is a global challenge – in real life, not only in the text of the Paris Agreement. They will see that this global challenge can be met only if countries cooperate across borders, across the globe. How we address transboundary climate risk together has to factor into any assessment of progress towards the global goal.

Richard Klein, SEI Senior Research Fellow

Agreeing on environmentally sound rules for carbon markets

Six years after the Paris Agreement was signed, countries finally agreed on the last provisions of the Paris rulebook. The good news is that the rule book has strong provisions to avoid double counting. The bad news is that carbon credits representing 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents dating to the era of the Kyoto Protocol are allowed to be carried over into Paris carbon markets.

Progress on reducing emissions will be slow if these already-committed tons are counted towards future mitigation targets set out in countries' NDCs. It is now up to individual countries to decide whether to do what is allowed or forgo this option knowing what we need are actual reductions, not any that occur on paper only.

Derik Broekhoff, SEI Senior Scientist

Countries settled on another uneasy compromise with regard to how and how much money generated in the carbon offset market should be used for funding adaptation to climate change. Under the rules agreed on in Glasgow, the so-called share of proceeds is mandatory only for UN-issued credits under Article 6.4. For bilaterally traded credits under Article 6.2, it remains up to countries to “do the right thing” and match the share level of 5% agreed for international carbon markets. Further work will also be needed to clarify how voluntary carbon markets can credibly contribute to global mitigation goals.

Making climate negotiations equitable and inclusive

The UK’s Alok Sharma, President for COP26, had repeatedly stressed his commitment to making the event “the most inclusive COP ever.” This promise was not met: travel during the ongoing pandemic proved much harder for delegates from poorer nations far away from the host country, with travel hubs closed, visa processes going from cumbersome to impossible to manage and Covid vaccinations rolled out inequitably across the globe.

On the ground, measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 meant that the number of people allowed into the venue were limited, leading to long queues. Access to negotiating rooms was also restricted, making it difficult for observer organizations to fulfil their watchdog functions.

Under current estimates, more than 50 countries are likely to miss the WHO vaccination target of 70% of the population by mid-2022, putting many people at risk and increasing the likelihood that new variants of the disease will emerge, such as the recently identified Omicron strain. Vaccine inequity also threatens equity of the climate process and the ability of developing countries to engage with climate action at home when facing a health emergency and related economic repercussions. Ahead of COP27, rich countries will need to concentrate efforts on increasing the roll-out of vaccines to poor countries with the understanding that action on global health and climate action go hand in hand.

Design and development by Soapbox.