Cooperation at COP26

For almost three decades, the United Nations has been bringing together nations for climate summits called COPs, an acronym for Conference of the Parties. Since the first COP meeting in March 1995, climate change has gone from being a fringe worry to a high-stakes global issue.

The 21st COP in 2015 produced the Paris Agreement, the first real international commitment to reduce emissions. Since then, the increasing frequency of calamitous climate events has made the need to address rising temperatures more urgent than ever. This was spirit that surrounded the COP26 meeting that took place in Glasgow in October.

Some new and unexpected pledges were made by nations that took part in the proceedings. Most notably, all nations reaffirmed the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and aim for 1.5°C by 2100. The Glasgow Pact reaffirmed the “ratchet” mechanism, which requires nations to update emission targets every five years.

Other highlights of COP26 included:

  • An emphasis on developed economies increasing aid to developing nations to help them take steps to combat climate change. Past commitments on this front have not been met.
  • After six years of negotiations, agreement on the Paris Rulebook was completed. This could pave the way for an exchange of carbon credits which force enterprises and countries to take closer account of their carbon footprints.
  • Net zero pledges, a commitment to reduce methane emissions, and moves to cut fossil-fuel funding and end deforestation.
  • An explicit commitment to “phase down” coal; while singling out a specific commodity is unprecedented, this language was watered down from a goal to “phase out” its use.
  • Nations were asked to return next year with more ambitious emissions reduction targets for 2030.

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According to the Climate Action Tracker, commitment to all pledges and targets will likely limit the warming to 2.1°C by the end of the century as compared to a 4°C rise from unchecked climate change. That said, as seen in the past, making a pledge is one thing, and fulfilling it is another. There remains a substantial gap between what various governments have planned to do and what they have actually done to achieve climate targets.