Safeguarding a steady future for generations to come is undoubtedly a complex task. That’s where the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow comes in. The good news? I have gone on a research frenzy to fill you in on the COP26 agreements. Since I know keeping up with everything, everywhere all the time is like trying to pivot a heavy couch up a narrow staircase. Impossible.
The great news? This summit united parties to inspire climate action in light of the goals of the Paris Agreement. And I’m not surprised that my (okay, everyone’s) favourite natural historian, the one and only Sir David Attenborough, stepped up as ‘People’s Advocate’ to stir things up. “The stability we all depend on is breaking,” he said during his speech at the conference.
But there’s more to this international hooha than meets the eye, it’s all about the detail. So, the pressing question is, what was agreed at COP26?
Well, here’s our roundup of five main agreements to help reach the goal of net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach:
- Phasing out coal and fossil fuels
- Speeding up affordable and green technology
- Supporting poor countries
- Reversing deforestation
- Cutting methane emissions
Phasing out coal and fossil fuels
With the ever-warming Earth top of every Government’s agenda, more than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal and subsidies of fossil fuels. But, it’s believed the lack of a definite date for this to be achieved might compromise the pledge.
On the plus side, a promising announcement made at the summit includes helping developing countries, such as South Africa, to transition to clean energy. I leapt for joy when I heard my beloved country will get £6bn ($8.5 billion) to do away with coal. Seeing as the gross scale of coal operation makes South Africa the 12th biggest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, it will have both local and global implications if this deal goes well.
But more pessimistically, a last-minute push from India and China has watered down the pledge to phase out coal, sparking frustrated responses from vulnerable and European countries. The wording “accelerate efforts towards phase-out of unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” replaces “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuel” in the draft COP agreement. This means coal-reliant countries could continue to construct coal plants and give tax breaks to oil exploration.
Still, the promise to stop public funding to overseas fossil fuels by 2022 marks the possible diversion to clean energy. The countries involved in the pledge include Canada, the United States, Italy and Denmark along with public finance institutions.
Speeding up affordable and green technology
More than 40 leaders, including the US, Australia, Turkey, the EU, India and China, agreed to speed up affordable green technology by 2030.
Examples of green tech include:
- Clean power
- Zero-emission vehicles
- Near-zero emission steel production
- Affordable renewable and low carbon hydrogen
- Sustainable agriculture
As overly ambitious as it sounds, the shift towards greener technology could be transformative if it works.
Supporting poorer countries
One gigantic unavoidable issue COP26 addressed is the “loss and damage” developing countries continuously face from climate change. With this in plain sight, it’s worth remembering that rich nations infamously failed to commit their promised $100bn to poor countries by 2020 at Copenhagen’s COP15 in 2009.
“This story is one of inequality and instability,” Sir David Attenborough passionately expounded in his speech. “Today, those who have done the least to cause this problem are being the hardest hit,” he said.
The good news on the financial front includes five countries and a group of global charities that promised $1.7bn to fund indigenous people’s conservation of forests. And the Scottish government has pledged £1 million to aid climate disaster sufferers.
Hopefully, other wealthy nations will follow the example of these generous undertakings.
Another notable COP26 agreement includes forcing listed companies and all financial institutions in the UK to publish their transition to net-zero plans from 2023. An expert panel will ensure the plans are legit.
Ironically, the trees that naturally absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) have become victims of the “great chainsaw massacre” – a facetious but accurate term Boris Johnson used to describe the horror of deforestation.
In a collective effort to stop deforestation by 2030, more than 100 countries promised to pledge almost £14bn ($19.2bn) of public and private funds. These countries, including Brazil, Russia, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, represent almost 85% of the world’s forests, making their commitment an astronomical endeavour in tackling climate change.
It is true previous initiatives failed to stop deforestation, mainly due to unsustainable agriculture, but it seems this one is well funded.
Cutting methane emissions
According to the BBC, methane is responsible for a third of human-generated warming. The major contributors to the most potent greenhouse gas come from sources including waste disposal, fossil fuel extraction and wait for it – livestock farming. The Guardian dubbed the lack of mentions of methane emission “the cow in the room” and frankly, I love it.
Nonetheless, the EU and US launched a scheme to curb methane by 2030 and many leaders signed up for the initiative.
Now, it’s a waiting game.
Why does COP26 matter?
In short, climate change continues to impact us all.
In light of climate action, I hope Sir David Attenborough’s powerful closing words inspired leaders at COP26 and will echo far beyond.
“Is this how our story is due to end? The tale of the smartest species doomed by that awe too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals. Perhaps the fact that the people most affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generation, but young people alive today. Perhaps that will give us the impotence we need to rewrite our story. To turn this tragedy into a triumph. If working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet. Surely, working together we are powerful enough to save it.”