During the half-time of the two-week push to move the world towards the 1.5C ambition of the Paris Agreement, here is a snapshot of all the key developments from the first week of COP26. The UN climate change negotiations have been so frantic. It starts with world leaders making new climate commitments every morning that are splashed across the front pages of the papers and by the time any real scrutiny can be applied to these announcements, world leaders have moved onto the next theme and the next onslaught of newsworthy commitments.
From nature to finance, and touching on innovation and clean energy in between, the first week of COP26 has set the stage to truly transform the global economy in a bid to combat the climate crisis. While the many announcements by world leaders are welcome, it may well have been difficult for most to keep up with the pace of emerging frameworks and new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). So here are the top 10 biggest announcements that took place at COP26 during the first week.
India has announced a 2070 net-zero target and said it will update its NDC with a commitment to hosting 500GW of renewable generation by 2030. This should account for 50% of the country’s energy supply. The announcement was made by the nation’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and includes key pledges to decarbonise over the next 50 years. India is the third-largest emitting despite being classed as a developing country and is home to more than 1.3 billion people. A lot of scrutiny has already been placed on how and when India could reach its net-zero target, for example.
Under the net-zero target set for 2070, the nation’s renewables capacity looks set to jump to 500GW by 2030, compared to around 130GW today. A holistic range of measures will also be introduced to deliver a projected reduction in emissions of one billion tonnes by 2030. Carbon intensity – emissions for each unit of GDP – will also be slashed by 45%. While some have lamented the 2070 date – it’s 20 years behind most net-zero targets and 10 years later than China – research has previously claimed that between 2060 and 2070 would be a “realistic” and “feasible” deadline for the nation. It is also worth considering that despite being the world’s third-largest emitter. India records one of the lowest emissions per capita readings, coming in at under two tonnes per person. In comparison, the UK’s sits well over five tonnes per person.
World leaders representing more than 100 nations, which between them play host to more than 85% of forests globally, have committed to end deforestation and reverse land degradation at COP26 in Glasgow. The commitment is being described as a “landmark moment” for nature and, on the day of its launch, has already garnered financial support pledges of £8.75bn from national governments and £5.3bn from the private sector. The UK Government is providing £1.5bn to the initiative. Under the commitment, nations commit to halt deforestation and land degradation by 2030, and to enter into a period of restoration by this point if possible. Funding will be provided to developing nations as a priority, supporting projects that restore land degraded by land-use change for agri-food, other commercial activities, flooding, drought and wildfires. There will also be funding provided for initiatives that seek to ensure that the rights of Indigenous communities are respected. Some 80% of the world’s biodiversity is estimated to be concentrated within regions where Indigenous communities are based.
Additionally, a total of 12 countries pledged to mobilise more than $12bn in donor support to halt and reverse deforestation across the globe, while also protecting human rights, while asset managers representing $87.trn in assets have also vowed to stop financing deforestation. The private sector has also gotten involved. The chief executives of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and the Co-op have signed a new joint commitment to halve the nature and climate impacts of food systems by 2030.
On 6 November, which marked Nature Day at COP26, 150 organizations agreed to accelerate the deployment of green innovations for the agriculture sector, while 45 nations have agreed to reform policies to support a sustainable food system. The UNFCCC announced a string of high-level commitments intended to create more sustainable land-use systems. The body estimates that land use generates at least one-quarter of global annual emissions and that three-quarters of deforestation to date has been driven by the agri-food system.
A total of 45 nations have signed on to a new Policy Action Agenda, designed to help policymakers make the necessary changes to deliver a food system that is not only low-carbon and deforestation-free, but that supports farmers and others across the food chain; consumes less water and chemicals and produces less waste. Around one-third of all food produced globally is wasted. To help support these changes, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is launching a new global initiative to help 100 million farmers access the education, funding, and innovations they need to decarbonize and restore nature. Farmers will be supported by businesses and civil society groups.
When Finance Day came around on 3 November Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a vision to “rewire the global financial system for net-zero”, outlining plans on sovereign green bonds and corporate climate disclosures. Arguably one of the most prominent announcements at COP36 for corporates was the confirmation that a mandate for all large businesses and public enterprises to develop net-zero transition plans by the end of 2024 will be introduced. Sunak claimed this should be supported and adopted by all major economies with a net-zero target in law.
The UK government has reiterated the recent publication of the Roadmap to Sustainable Investing, which confirms that transition plans will be mandated for large firms in high-emitting sectors. From 2023, large businesses in high-emitting sectors will need to meet this requirement. Sunak also confirmed that the UK Government has developed a science-based ‘gold-standard’ verification scheme for the plans, to safeguard against greenwashing. This scheme has been drawn up in collaboration with industry representatives, academics, regulators, and civil society groups. Indeed, the launch of the new International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) at COP26 is likely to help on this matter. Prior to COP26, the Treasury confirmed that large businesses will be required to report climate-risk-related information in line with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) from April 2022.
Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney appeared at COP26 on Finance Day to confirm that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ), which launched in April in a drive to unite the global financial sector in transitioning to net-zero portfolios by 2050, now represented more than $130trn in assets under management. GFANZ members are required to transition their portfolios in line with the Paris Agreement and are being pushed to work towards 1.5C rather than 2C temperature pathways. The Alliance now accounts for 40% of the world’s total financial assets, up from $90trn at the start of October. These assets are managed by 450 firms across 45 nations, from all parts of the financial industry.
Carney claimed that the money was there globally to reach net-zero emissions, but that the financial sector “needed” net-zero projects and businesses to invest in.
“Right here, right now is where private finance draws the line. The £130trn [announced by Sunak through GFANZ] is more than what is needed for the net-zero transition globally and a pool of that capital is being carved out for the transition to a low-carbon economy in emerging and developing countries.
“The money is here today, but that money needs net-zero-aligned projects. There’s a way to turn this into a very powerful virtuous circle. This is what we need to crack over the course of this year.”
GFANZ remains a contentious framework for some, however. Reclaim Finance is highlighting the fact that only one-third of the Alliance’s collective assets are being aligned with a net-zero by 2050 roadmap, and that this roadmap came from the Alliance itself. In short, there is a risk that they are marking their own homework.
At the start of the week (Energy Day) more than 190 parties, including China and Poland, as well as institutional financial organisations, have agreed to a range of different measures that will signal the end of coal as a global power source. The commitments have been issued through a “Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement” at COP26 in Glasgow – a Statement that captures coal phase-outs from governments and the private sector in developing countries, vulnerable nations and some of the world’s largest polluters. The coalition has agreed to phase-out coal power from major economies my 2030 and 2040 for the rest of the world. This, according to the Statement, will be delivered as part of a “just transition” that benefits workers and communities that currently rely on the coal industry. It is believed the new commitments could signal the end of more than 40GW of coal across 20 countries. Since the ratification of the Paris Agreement, there has been a 76% decline in the number of new and planned coal plants globally, equating to the cancellation of more than 1000GW of fossil fuels.
A total of 27 new members have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), bringing total membership to 164 nations, cities and regions. They build on the 50 new members that were unveiled at various times during 2021 and 65% of the OECD and EU countries are now members of the Alliance. Notable new members include Europe’s third-largest coal fleet in Ukraine, which is targeting a phase-out by 2035 and Chile, which is aiming to bring forward an existing 2040 deadline. Mauritius has pledged to phase out the use of coal by 2030 and Singapore becomes the first Asian nation to join the Alliance. Elsewhere, Slovenia and Estonia (the latter of which is already coal free) will strengthen coal phase-outs in the EU and Croatia, which joined the Alliance in June, announced a 2033 phase-out at COP26.
The UN’s Race to Zero initiative was launched last year to mobilise corporate action towards reaching net-zero emissions. In joining Race to Zero, corporates commit to setting more ambitious targets in line with climate science and to using their reach to encourage climate action across their networks. This includes suppliers, customers and their respective sectors.
At COP26, it was revealed that almost two-thirds of FTSE100 companies have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign. Now, large UK firms participating in Race to Zero collectively represent a total market capital of £1trn and a combined annual turnover of £700bn. This is before smaller businesses, non-listed firms and businesses covered by industry collaborations, like Water UK’s net-zero by 2030 roadmap, are accounted for. To this latter point, Race to Zero has also confirmed that the number of UK small businesses committed to its initiative, through the Together For Our Planet Business Climate Leaders Campaign, has surpassed 2,000. The Race to Zero campaign has also announced that more than 20% of the world’s water companies by revenue are now signed up.
At the start of the week, more than 40 world leaders, including those representing the UK, the US, India, China and the EU, signed up to a new declaration aiming to deliver clean and affordable technology and solutions across the globe by 2030.
The Breakthrough Agenda will assist in global efforts to halving emissions by 2030 and keeping 1.5C alive. It has been backed by nations representing more than 70% of the world’s economy, including developing nations. The Agenda aims to make clean technologies to clean up polluting sectors affordable and attractive for all nations by 2030. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the first five “Glasgow Breakthroughs” that cover more than 50% of global emissions.
Building on these breakthroughs, a host of businesses, including BP, Siemens Energy and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, have co-launched a new collaboration on long-duration energy storage technologies, which could play a key role in ensuring reliable energy as the transition to clean grids continues. The Long Duration Energy Storage (LEDS) Council is bringing together technology and equipment manufacturers, renewable energy developers, utilities, grid operators, investors and end customers, in the hopes of mobilising $3trn of investment within the sector by 2040.
Back in September, the EU and US spearheaded a new Global Methane Pledge, jointly stating their intention to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030, against a 2020 baseline. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas and sources include natural gas production. The Global Methane Pledge went global at COP26. It now has backing from more than 100 of the UN’s 193 member states. This was welcome after the G20 communique released in Rome this weekend was the first to reference methane, but failed to set firm targets for reduction.
The global pledge is already backed by more than $200m in government funding, but research suggests the Pledge doesn’t address these emissions at the required scale. The Global Methane Pledge, which is supported by countries accounting for around 45% of global methane emissions, is on course to reduce emissions by more than 50 million tonnes, according to the Energy Transition Commission. However, this is still well short of the 130 million tonnes that Commission is calling to be reduced in order to align with a 1.5C pathway envisioned by the Paris Agreement.
Speaking of 1.5C, the mantra at COP26 has been “keeping 1.5C alive”. The above pledges (and the many more made so far at COP26) all look set to combine in an unprecedented manner. This is because, if these pledges can all be delivered within their stated timeframes, the world will be on course, for the first time, to reach the lower threshold of the Paris Agreement. Going into COP26, pledges from nations look set to limit global temperature rises to between 2.1C to 2.7C, depending on what research you looked at.
However, new research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) claims that if new national pledged and coalition targets announced at COP26 were met on time, the world would be on course for a 1.8C global temperature rise by the end of the century. Others put the trajectory at a slightly different number, most notably Climate Resource claiming the pledges would lead to 1.9C of warming. It marks the first time that governments have collectively increased their ambition to hold global warming to below the 2C threshold envisioned by the Paris Agreement. Of course, pledges are the easy part, the planning and action to actually deliver on them is what counts. Nonetheless, the first week at COP26 has created a strong foundation for nations to deliver agreements and frameworks that finally put the world on course for 1.5C.
The COP26 climate change negotiations was officially scheduled to end at 6pm on 12 November, after a two-week-long push to prevent the worst of the climate crisis and align global plans with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory. It officially over-run overnight and, and negotiators continued their work until the 13 November night. So here are the top 10 biggest key developments that took place at COP26 during the second week.
After a first week full of World Leaders’ speeches, huge protests and new international initiatives, week two of COP26 has been equally frantic and all eyes have remained firmly fixed on Glasgow. There have been new international commitments, declarations and initiatives on issues ranging from cleantech to human rights, low-carbon cities to hydrogen. There have been speeches from youth activists, world leaders past and present, and the gentleman dressed as Darth Vader who has been offering songs, dancing and educational talks to people on their way to the Blue Zone.
‘Near-final’ draft texts finally came out on Friday during breakfast time, and another update was published on Saturday morning (13 October). The mention of fossil fuels has survived the latest round of negotiations and proposals. At the start of the week, the draft called on upon nations “to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.
In the updated version, the language has been watered down slightly. It now only calls for the phase-out of “unabated” coal power and “inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. It comes after nations such as Saudi Arabia lobbied for the reference of fossil fuels to be removed from the documents altogether. This morning’s “final draft” keeps the most recent references in but “recognises” the need for support towards a “just transition”.
References to the need for rich nations to deliver on the $100bn per year climate finance target are also kept, as is the 2025 date for providing at least $500bn.
Much remains outstanding on adaptation, loss and damage at this stage. A proposed financing facility for loss and damage is absent, following reports of nations including the US blocking progress. Separately, the UK COP Unit has published documents commencing a programme of work on the issue through to 2024, with COP27 as a key milestone.
In the first week of COP26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world leaders to break their “addiction” to fossil fuels, as it is “pushing humanity to the brink”. On biodiversity, he also accused them of historically treating nature “like a toilet”.
He delivered a similarly strongly-worded speech on Thursday afternoon, as the official involvement of non-state actors at COP26 was closed.
“The climate action struggle requires all hands on deck – it is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “I am inspired by the voice of civil society, of young people keeping our feet to the fire. By the dynamism and example of indigenous communities. By the tireless engagement of women’s groups. By the actions of more and more cities around the world. By a growing consciousness, as the private sector aligns balance sheets and investment decisions around net-zero.”
“Governments need to pick up the pace and show the necessary ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and finance in a balanced way. We cannot settle for the lowest common denominator. We know what must be done.”
“Net-zero pledges require rapid, direct emissions cuts this decade… promises ring hollow when the fossil fuel industry still receives trillions in subsidies, as measured by the IMF. Or when countries are still building coal plants. Or when carbon is still without a price, distorting markets and investor decisions.”
Additionally, Gutteres said the UN’s body for assessing the credibility of net-zero commitments from non-state actors would be operational from 2022. “We need to hold each other accountable — governments, non-state actors, and civil society,” he stated.
Throughout COP26, Indigenous groups and youth activists have stated that they have had trouble making their voices heard at the main events. Barriers have included high accommodation and transport costs, confusion over Covid-19 testing and a business-as-usual approach from many nations and non-state actors present.
Nonetheless, there has been a packed Green Zone agenda, protests that have gathered more than 100,000 people and, on Friday, in a first for the COP process, a People’s Decision for Climate Justice was submitted in the Blue Zone, as part of work spearheaded by the COP26 Coalition. This makes ten asks of wealthy and high-emitting nations on behalf of the world’s most affected and vulnerable communities, covering adaptation; finance and debt; skills; human rights; improving the inclusivity of COP processes and preventing green washing. There was also a mass walk-out, with numerous groups leaving the Blue Zone and chanting “Power to the people” and “another future is possible”. Groups represented included youth, the most-affected regions and nations, people with disabilities and Indigenous communities.
Thursday (11 November) saw Denmark and Costa Rica launching their highly anticipated alliance requiring nations to set an end date for new oil and gas licensing and plans to phase out existing capacity. The Alliance includes Wales, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Greenland, California and Quebec. Many in the room had questions on why many governments which are not oil and gas producers had joined and why the world’s largest producers, such as the US, Russia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Norway and the UK, were not present.
To the former, the argument was made for the need to keep undrilled fields undrilled. To the latter, Costa Rica’s environment minister Andrea Meza said: “This is about early movers. It is about having courage. This is just the starting point, with few countries – maybe not the big oil producers, but those who have the courage to do something”. Danish climate and energy minister Dan Jørgensen said the initiative is already in dialogue with “many other countries”. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, on a speedy visit to Glasgow on Wednesday (10 November), that the UK “would see” what Costa Rica and Denmark were proposing with their new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance – despite the fact that it had been confirmed the UK would not join immediately. He stated in a press conference that the hydrocarbon age is coming to an end. However, he then gave a separate interview stating that hydrocarbons have a long future – so long as we “liberate the hydrogen from the carbon”. This has been widely criticized.
The US and China are the world’s two biggest emitters, in terms of annual emissions in recent years. The media center was packed out on Wednesday evening as the nations unveiled a joint declaration on addressing climate change this decade.
The declaration confirms that the two nations will convene a joint working group regularly, with the first meeting set for early 2022, on issues including methane emissions, low-carbon energy, and deforestation. The aim will be to flash out long-term net-zero plans with “concrete” actions to be taken this decade. The nations call for “stepped-up efforts” to close the “significant gap” that remains to a Paris-aligned world.
There are commitments to strengthen national and sub-national methane reduction targets and to assess whether 2030 NDCs are 1.5C-aligned ahead of COP27. Little is said in the way of new commitments. Reaction to the agreement has been split, with some berating the lack of additional commitments and others noting the symbolic significance of the agreement.
Transport was the official theme for Thursday, and, building on its own commitments to end new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 and new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sales by 2040, the UK spearheaded a new global declaration on ending ICE vehicle sales. The declaration has been signed by more than 30 countries and dozens of businesses – both those that manufacture vehicles and those that operate fleets. The declaration states that, in keeping with a net-zero world by 2050, all new vehicle sales should be zero-emission by 2035 in leading markets. There is a 2040 deadline for all other markets.
The world’s three largest car markets, the US, Germany and China, have not signed the declaration at this stage, but businesses, cities and regions in these geographies have. There was also the launch of a separate ‘Count Us In Citizens’ Declaration’, calling on world leaders to ensure that only new zero-emission vehicles are sold in the bus space by 2030, followed by light-duty vehicles in 2035 and heavy-duty vehicles in 2035.
Aviation is responsible for around 3% of global annual emissions and is hard to abate. Pandemic aside, it has been growing rapidly in terms of passengers and emissions, so there were hopes for a new agreement on low-carbon aviation ahead of the transport day.
The day saw 18 nations sign a new declaration in support of the development of emissions targets for aviation that are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature pathway. The targets will be pre-2050 and developed in line with global net-zero by 2050.
Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Spain, Turkey, the US, the UK, Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, Morocco, the Maldives, Kenya, Finland, Costa Rica, and Burkina Faso are the first signatories to the declaration. These nations are collectively responsible for more than 40% of global annual emissions from aviation. There will also be guidance on which technologies should be used to deliver the commitment, but the declaration does not consider capping growth.
Also on Transport Day, a new ‘Clydebank Declaration’ was launched to unite nations in developing zero-emission shipping routes between ports. These so-called ‘green shipping corridors’ will act as a test-bed for emerging technologies. Bodies such as the Global Maritime Forum and World Economic Forum are foreseeing that a mix of technologies will be needed for low-carbon shipping, including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and electrification.
The aim is to establish at least six corridors by the mid-2020s, which are likely to be shorter routes, and to add “many more routes”, including long-haul routes, by 2030. Signing the Clydebank Declaration this week were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the US and the UK.
The Blue Zone quickly reached full capacity on Monday (8 November), ahead of a speech from former US President Barack Obama. Obama spoke to several issues, including the Trump administration’s “hostile and sustained attacks” on climate action; “strained” global collaboration during the pandemic and how young people are “rightly frustrated” that the ratcheting up of climate commitments and actions promised post-Paris-Agreement have not materialized.
His overarching message was for nations to understand the urgency of the situation at hand, and for individuals to keep putting pressure on policymakers and businesses while being mindful of the social and political arguments for weakened action. He said: “There is one thing that should transcend our day-to-day politics and geopolitics, and that is climate change.
“Not only can we not afford to go backwards, we cannot afford to stay where we are. I guarantee you that every victory will be incomplete. We will face more setbacks, sometimes we will be forced to settle for imperfect compromises. Because even if we don’t achieve everything we want, at least they advance the cause and move the ball down the field.”
“If we work hard enough, for long enough, those partial victories add up. If we push hard enough, stay focused enough and are smart about it, those victories accelerate. If we listen to those who are resistant and we take their concerns seriously, working with them, organizing and mobilizing, and get our hands dirty in the difficulties of changing political dynamics in our countries, those victories start happening a little bit more frequently. If we stay with it, we will get this done.”
China, India, the UK, the US, and the EU are among a cohort of 23 governments that announced new plans to catalyze cleantech investment this week, under the ‘Mission Innovation’ platform first convened at COP21 in Paris. Participating nations collectively accounted for 90% of global public investment in low-carbon energy innovations made last year. Adding to existing plans for decarbonizing power systems and shipping, the platform announced new workstreams on low-carbon cities, decarbonizing heavy industrial sectors, scaling up renewable fuels, decarbonizing the chemicals sector, producing renewable materials, and scaling up man-made carbon capture technologies.
Mission Innovation claims that the plans are consistent with an agreement signed by more than 40 world leaders on scaling cleantech and renewable energy solutions last week, called the ‘Breakthrough Agenda’. Separately, an independent body of experts from the International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and UN High-Level Climate Action Champions was appointed to hold nations participating in the Breakthrough Agenda to account. The body is responsible for what is called the ‘Global Checkpoint Process’ – ensuring that nations report annually and advising them on how to move faster if needed.