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What were the major promises of COP26?

With the conference coming to an end, The Gaudie is taking a look at the most significant pledges made at the climate summit

by: Isti Miskolczy

After two weeks of negotiations and many side events, COP26 has ended with a day-long extension into Saturday, the 13th of November. Originally meant to end the day before, the UN Climate Change Conference so as its final deal remains controversial.

"My delight at this progress is tinged with disappointment" told the press UK Prime Minister and COP26 host Boris Johnson. "While many of us were willing to go there, that was not true of everybody. Sadly that is the nature of diplomacy" added the Prime Minister.

PM Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference on the second day of COP26 (2nd of November)

Photo courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen

Mr Johnson was most probably referring to India and China pushing for a less ambitious goal regarding phasing out coal as an energy resource. Both Beijing and New Delhi are heavily dependent on coal power and therefore were reported to be insisting on continuing using this type of fossil fuel.

At the end in the final document, the term "phase out" was changed to "phase down" when it came to coal usage.

To a question of The Guardian, Mr Alok Sharma, President of COP26 has thus answered: “We are on the way to consigning coal to history. [...] But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did.”

COP26 President Alok Sharma at a press conference

Photo courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen

This has happened even though earlier during the conference at least 23 countries made commitments to phase out coal power, and at least 25 countries and public finance institutions made commitments to end public support for the usage of coal in the energy sector. These include among others Poland and Spain from the EU, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam from Southeast Asia, and Chile from Latin America.

"Consigning coal to history" hence eventually did not really happen at COP26. Yet, what else has?

(1) In the concluding document, parties have also reaffirmed the "Paris Agreement [...] goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels". They have also acknowledged the necessity of reaching net-zero emissions by the middle of the century in order to achieve this aim.

Albeit, the exact deadline for individual countries to achieve net-zero remains to fluctuate between 2030 and 2060.

(2) The "Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use" was also signed by more than 140 countries covering more than 90% of the world's forests in total. They pledged not just to conserve forests and accelerate their restoration but also to conduct trade and development policies that do not aid deforestation and land degradation.

Moreover, they also promised the enhancement of rural livelihoods (including the empowerment of local communities and the recognition of indigenous communities) and the alignment of finances with forest preservation.

Deforestation. Photo courtesy of gryffyn m via Unsplash

(3) US President Joe Biden and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the launch of the "Global Methane Pledge", an international framework for cutting methane emissions by 2030 by 30% of the 2020 levels. "Given methane's particularly powerful short-term warming effect, we really need to ensure an early peak and a rapid reduction in its emission by 2030" - said EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) President Odile Renaud-Basso.

Since September more than 100 countries have signed up for this Global Methane Pledge project, however, its success is yet to unfold.

(4) The "Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance" was also formed - without the UK or the Scottish Governments joining - at COP26 with the aim of delivering a "managed and just transition away from oil and gas production" among others via phasing out the production of oil and gas by 2050. The full coverage of The Gaudie on the BOGA launch can be read here.

(5) The UK and India established a new grids initiative "to deliver clean power to the world". This "Green Grids Initiative - One Sun One World One Grid" launched by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to enhance the development and deployment of electricity grids worldwide.

Electrical power lines with wind turbines in the background

Photo courtesy of the American Public Power Association

(6) Participating states also attempted to incentivize more sustainable agriculture. Among others, Germany pledged to lower emissions from land use by 2030 by 25 million tonnes and the UK promised to engage three-quarters of British farmers in low carbon practices by the same deadline.

"The UK also announced funding of £500 million to support the implementation of the (7) "Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Roadmap that was [also] launched during the World Leaders Summit [of the climate conference]" contains a press release.

"A further £65 million will support [...] countries shift policies and practices to more sustainable agriculture and food production" the press release also says.

(8) Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) pledges have also been made at the conference. Reportedly, around 30 countries agreed to make ZEVs more accessible, affordable, and sustainable by 2030. Moreover, the World Bank is said to be mobilizing 200 million dollars over the next ten years with the aim of decarbonising transport in developing economies.

As for the UK, London has pledged to end the sale of diesel trucks by 2040. Glasgow has also announced plans to establish a fleet of ZEVs. "By 2029 Glasgow will become home to the largest fleet of hydrogen-powered bin lorries in the world" a street sign displayed near the COP26 venue.

Diesel bus in the streets of London

Photo courtesy of Anne Morris via Unsplash

About making transportation more sustainable, The Gaudie also had the chance to listen to a talk on "Transport Systems that Protect Health and Climate". Participants from various backgrounds have agreed on the key to sustainable transport being the improvement of vehicles, fleets, operations, and fuels as well as the preparation for all types of users.

"People do not need transport, they need access"

"The link between increased mobility and increased emissions needs to be broken"

- participants also highlighted.

The relation between mental health and public transport in lower-income countries has been discussed as well. Mentioned potential solutions were cable cars, "fast link" services, temporarily closing roads for the public, and reallocating road investments to subsidize public transport.

Private jet: producing one of the biggest carbon footprints out of all means of transport

Photo courtesy of Chris Leipelt via Unsplash

Despite the high amount of pledges, however, a large chunk of the public remained unhappy and somewhat skeptical among others because of the estimates that assumed the arrival of around 400 private jets to Scotland to the summit. Other reasons for demonstrations included for instance dissatisfaction with the amount of money allocated to tackle the effects of climate change.

"The UK Chancellor is famous for holding back finances from climate change both domestically and internationally"

- a participant named their utmost reason for one of the protests to The Gaudie.

"Show us the money" protest at COP26 during the 'finance day' of the conference

Photo courtesy of Isti Miskolczy

Alongside smaller demonstrations in or near the venue of the conference, the "Global Day of Action for Climate Justice" protest took place on Saturday the 6th of November, attracting 100.000 people, including famous climate activists like Greta Thunberg or Vanessa Nakate. The march started from parks Kelvingrove and Queen's and ended in Glasgow Green.

Hundreds of similar events were held worldwide including another climate march also in Glasgow the day before.

This protest of Friday - organised by Fridays for Future Scotland - was not just attended but also addressed by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who labeled COP26 as a "failure".

Photo courtesy of Will Ball (University of Aberdeen)

Whether or not you think COP26 was indeed a failure make sure you check out our daily coverage of the climate conference here.

Cover photo courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen


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