It was, in the end, an agreement of compromise.
Whilst the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) on Saturday firms up the global commitment to accelerate action on climate this decade, it left many wondering if this deal is enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels.
“It is an important step but is not enough,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his wrap up message to the conference. “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net-zero will itself be zero.”
There is also fear, particularly from indigenous communities and civil society, that the agreement – which calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition next year at COP27 in Egypt – is too little and too late. As Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate told leaders, “We are drowning in promises. Only immediate and drastic action will pull us back from the abyss.”
Yet despite these concerns, some progress was undoubtedly made. A roadmap for updating Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) was produced – which the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) analysis shows fall short to meet the 1.5°C targets.
With new pledges from world governments shared in the lead up to and at the conference, UNEP published an addendum to its 2021 Emissions Gap Report, demonstrating that efforts that are still not anywhere strong enough.
The word “coal” was used in a COP text for the first time, although there was disappointment that the phrase “phase out” was changed to “phase down,” but it did commit to the phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
Beyond the political negotiations, the conference also brought together about 50,000 online and in-person participants to share innovative ideas and solutions and build partnerships.
Here are some of the key achievements around COP26:
Delivering climate-friendly cooling
The UNEP-led Cool Coalition announced a series of steps to reduce the climate impact of the cooling industry, including a GBP 12 million boost from the UK Government. UNEP research shows that just 1.5°C of global warming, a temperature limit the world currently looks set to far exceed, could leave 2.3 billion people vulnerable to heat waves. Cooling will be essential to protect human health and productivity.
Reducing methane emissions
With support from the European Union, UNEP launched the International Methane Emissions Observatory to drive action on reducing methane emissions – a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for at least a quarter of the current climate warming. The Observatory will help monitor commitments made by state actors in the Global Methane Pledge – a US and EU-led commitment by over 100 countries to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
Calling for more ambition
UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On released in the lead up to COP26 showed that the NDCs put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. The new and updated commitments introduced by 120 countries as of 30 September 2021 will only take 7.5 per cent off predicted 2030 emissions, while a 55 per cent reduction is needed to meet the 1.5°C targets. Net-zero commitments could help take a further 0.5°C off the 2.7°C.
Similarly, UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2021: The Gathering Storm called for urgent efforts to increase the financing and implementation of actions needed to adapt to the growing impacts of climate change. The report found that while policies and planning are growing for climate change adaptation, financing and implementation is still far behind where they need to be.
“As the world looks to step up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions – efforts that are still not anywhere strong enough – it must also dramatically up its game to adapt to climate change,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.
Boosting nature-based solutions
The Federal Environment Ministry of Germany announced it would provide an additional €10m to the Global EbA Fund, a pioneering funding mechanism implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNEP to support nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation. Despite the cost-effectiveness of ecosystem-based adaptation as a strategy to tackle climate change, only 5 per cent of global climate finance flows are spent on adaptation – although UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ has appealed that 50 per cent of total climate finance should be committed to adaptation.
Universities pledge to net-zero
Over 1,000 universities from 68 countries made a range of new commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and transform their impact on nature, including a new initiative on nature-positive universities. Over the last 12 months, academic institutions from across the globe have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, committing to reduce their carbon emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest. The initiative has been led by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges and Second Nature with support from UNEP.
Ending deforestation, protecting peatlands ecosystems
More than 100 world leaders – from countries covering 85 per cent of the world’s forests – promised to end deforestation by 2030 and pledged $19.2 billion to this end, while more than 30 financial companies promised to end investment in activities linked to deforestation. Another vital carbon store, peatlands, saw promises of increased cooperation between countries with large peatlands areas and the launch of the first-ever baseline map of global peatlands. Several countries, including Germany and England, also committed to publishing comprehensive peatlands strategies.
UNEP is at the front in support of the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2°C, and aiming – to be safe – for 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution. The Six Sector Solution is a roadmap to reducing emissions across sectors in line with the Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are Energy; Industry; Agriculture and Food; Forests and Land Use; Transport, and Buildings and Cities.