The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, took place between 31 October and 12 November 2021. The purpose of this highly anticipated, and also highly debated, conference was to facilitate the world’s leaders in creating a shared strategy for protecting our planet’s environment. Below, we will share five key insights from COP26 so that you can understand what was achieved, and what wasn’t.
5 key insights from COP26 are:
- Cutting emissions by 2030
- Phasing out of coal
- Article 6 deal struck
- Deforestation and degradation pledges
- Loss and damage remains an issue
COP26 – 5 Key Insights
1. Cutting Emissions by 2030
151 countries submitted new climate plans at COP26, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In these plans, the countries aimed to make substantial cuts to their total emissions by 2030. For context, before the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world was expected to warm up by 4°C by the end of the century. By cutting emissions in the ways agreed upon at COP26, the UN estimates that these plans put the world on track for just 2.5°C of warming by 2100.
2. Phasing Out of Coal
One of the most striking and important outcomes of COP26 is that attending countries have made firm plans to phase-out coal use and fossil fuel subsidies in order to limit the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. This is the first time in the history of the COP summits that countries have explicitly agreed upon any measure to phase down or phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies.
3. Article 6 Deal Struck
When the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015, Article 6 proved to be a controversial element. Thankfully, the leaders at COP26 appear to have reached an agreement on the subject. Essentially, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement governs international carbon markets and, in particular, it ensures that emission reductions cannot be double counted. The double counting debacle initially allowed two parties to claim the same removal or reduction of emissions, thus providing a loophole for those trying to appear carbon neutral. This new update should be a big boost for advocates of the carbon credits scheme.
4. Deforestation and Degradation Pledges
More than 100 countries, including the likes of the United States, Russia, China and Brazil (each home to some of the largest forested lands in the world), pledged to end deforestation by the year 2030. One highly important aspect of this commitment is that 30+ financial institutions, holding a combined $8.7 trillion in assets under management, have also committed to phase out deforestation from their commodity portfolios by 2025. Deforestation has been steadily declining in the last couple of decades, but having increasing support from the world’s largest nations and financial institutions may be the push that’s needed to bring this issue closer to the finish line.
5. Loss and Damage Remains an Issue
Loss and damage refers to the irreversible effects of climate change that are present today. These include rising sea levels and more intense weather events, for example. As of the COP26 meeting, no additional funds have been created to specifically address loss and damage around the globe. In other words, wealthier nations, which tend to produce the most greenhouse gases, were unable to agree on a proposed fund that would have helped poorer nations deal with loss and damage caused by human-made changes to the environment. However, delegates did agree to begin a dialogue on the topic and we can likely expect to see this discussion return in the future.
In short, while deals like the Paris Agreement and those struck at COP26 can have important implications for the future of our planet, most issues still require close attention to ensure that these aspirational words and pledges don’t fall flat. And furthermore, some issues associated with climate change still need to be addressed in the first place. There is clearly more work to be done, but the advancements made at COP26 should encourage our world to believe that meaningful change is a real possibility, as long as we remain committed.