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COP26 keeps Paris Agreement goals alive
The Glasgow Climate Pact includes a pledge to revisit and strengthen existing 2030 climate targets

The COP26 meeting in Glasgow has closed with nearly 200 countries signing up to the Glasgow Climate Pact. This aims to keep alive the goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to at least 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), if all the pledges made at the conference were successfully implemented, global temperatures would rise by 1.8°C by 2100, still above the Paris target.

Prior to the new commitments, the IEA calculated – again on the basis that all were successfully implemented – that the world was on a 2.1°C trajectory.

Other assessments were less optimistic. Environmental organisation Carbon Action Tracker, for example, said that following COP26, temperatures were still set to rise 2.4°C.

Given the neeed to do more, the Pact included a pledge to revisit current 2030 climate targets as early as next year. Key actors, such as the European Commission, said the conference had succeeded in keeping the goals of the Paris Agreement alive.

Deforestation

One of the first major initiatives from COP26 was a declaration on ending deforestation and land degradation by 2030. 110 nations signed up, for the first time including countries such as Brazil, China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are home to some of the world’s most important forest environments. In total, the signatories cover about 85% of the world’s forests. $19.2 billion was pledged in support.

The commitment is more widely supported and better funded than the 2014 New York Declaration on Deforestation, which did not succeed in its aims. However, past failures and an increase in deforestation over the last decade led many environmental organisations to greet the new, non-binding declaration with scepticism.

Global Methane Pledge

The second big initiative was the US,EU-led Global Methane Pledge, which attracted support from more than 100 countries. The goal is to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels.

Emissions of methane, which is a more potent but shorter-lived greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide, are on the rise, in part as countries switch away from using coal to cleaner-burning natural gas for power generation.

Reflecting long-standing plans by some of the biggest GHG emitters to combine increased renewable generation with coal-to-gas switching, India and China did not sign up to the pledge.

Global Coal Compact                                     

More than 40 countries also signed up a new Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, which aims to accelerate and broaden the phasing out of coal use, one of the most significant sources of GHG emissions.

In particular, clause 3 of the statement pledged the cessation of new permits for unabated coal-fired power generation projects, an end to the construction of new coal-fired power generation projects and an end to direct government support internationally for coal-fired generation projects.

Climate funding

The issue of funding continued to evade definitive agreement. Developed nations did not meet in full earlier promises to provide $100 billion in climate funding for developing nations by 2020.

The Pact “urges” developed countries to increase their funding to around $40 billion a year by 2025 to help poorer nations adapt to climate change.

In addition, issues surrounding ‘loss and damage’ – the cost of adverse impacts from climate change on countries with few historical emissions – have not been resolved and will be the subject of further dialogue.

However, over 450 firms said they would align more than $130 trillion of funds with the goals of the Paris Agreement through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ).

Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, said: “The rapid, and large-scale, increase in capital commitment to net zero, through GFANZ, makes the transition to a 1.5°C world possible. To seize this opportunity, companies must deliver robust transition plans and governments set predictable and credible policies.

Rule Book agreement

COP26 included a finalisation of the Paris Agreement Rule Book. Although very technical, this means the Paris Agreement is now operational. It should, in addition, provide a clearer framework for the further development of carbon markets, and in particular trading carbon emissions credits between countries.

Agriculture

Agriculture, which is a major source of GHG emissions, did not feature heavily at the conference, despite a number of new initiatives. Most debate centred around decarbonising existing food supply chains, rather than, as many environmental groups advocate, a more proactive approach to encouraging higher consumption of plant-based foods and a reduction in meat and dairy farming.

Final statement

Reflecting the fact that the outcomes of COP26 do not align the world with the goals of the Paris Agreement, in her concluding statement, The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said:

“The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”

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