Looking to COP26: A Focus on Discussion Topics for Week 2

by Amy Wilson, Charlie Bevis, Catriona Flesher, Vincent Diringer, Jack Johnson

This article builds on Looking to COP26: A Focus on Discussion Topics for Week 1, and delves into some of the negotiation points for a range of topics for week 2 of COP26. 

If you would like to find out how the negotiations went – and, crucially, whether these issues were resolved – come along to our topic specific live discussion sessions: 

· Monday 8 November: Nature and the Oceans 
· Tuesday 9 November: Transparency, Adaptation and Loss and Damage
· Wednesday 10 November: Science, Innovation and Gender
· Thursday 11 November: Transport sector (including cars, shipping and aviation)
· Friday 12 November: Progress and learnings surrounding the Built Environment 


Though the primary focus of COP26 is climate change, the agenda of the conference rightly recognizes that the changing climate, nature, and biodiversity can not be disentangled [1]. As recognized at the recent COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, limiting global heating to 1.5°C can not be achieved without the protection of ecosystems across the globe – at the very least because around 50% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are absorbed by the Earth’s land and oceans [2].

Humans have already significantly changed, and in many cases destroyed, three-quarters of all the Earth’s land and two-thirds of the oceans [3]. This is particularly due to the activities of the global food industry, with more than a third of land and three-quarters of freshwater resources utilized for crops or livestock [3]. In 2017, scientists Gerardo Ceballos et al argued that the current rate of humanity’s ‘biological annihilation of nature justifies describing the present era as the ‘sixth mass extinction’ [4].

At October’s COP15 in Kunming, the UN announced the Kunming Declaration, which committed to ‘Ensur[ing] the development…and implementation of an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework’ [5]. As the WWF has acknowledged, however, these pledges are yet to translate into ambitious, concrete policies with sufficient funding to achieve the UN’s stated biodiversity goals [6].

COP26 is an opportunity to mobilize government policies to achieve the ambitions of the Kunming Declaration. Given the aforementioned impact of the food industry on nature, the COP26 Presidency is focusing much of the ‘Nature’ day of COP26 on increasing the sustainability of the food supply. This is best illustrated by the UK’s Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue, which is intended to catalyze collaborative international action to increase the sustainability of supply chains and trade [1].

Perhaps the most-discussed issue surrounding nature at COP26 will be the potential for nature-based solutions. Nature-based solutions are strategies which involve working proactively with natural environments and processes to achieve policy goals such as economic development and the reduction of climate change; to learn more, have a look at ClimaTalk’s interview with Isabel Key at the Nature-based solutions Initiative. As outlined by Glasgow University, nature-based solutions can have multifaceted benefits, facilitating climate change mitigation and adaptation, enhancing biodiversity, promoting human wellbeing, and supporting economic growth [7]. Despite these benefits, at present only 3% of global climate finance is spent on nature-based solutions [1]. In the UK, nature-based solutions could involve the restoration of degraded peatlands: crucially, they should not simply involve tree-planting [8]. COP26 is an opportunity to internationally instrumentalise nature-based solutions in the fight against the climate crisis in a way yet unseen in environmental policy.


The nature of the climate crisis means that transparency is a crucial element of supranational and national policies. As 1.5 degree and net-zero targets are dependent on all countries taking some responsibility for our global commons, the oceans and atmosphere, governments need to be confident that other countries will be held to account [9, 10]. Furthermore, effective policy requires the collaboration of climate scientists from around the world with access to the maximum amount of data.

At COP26, the focus will be on resolving the remaining issues with the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) before it becomes fully operational in three years’ time [11]. Concerns to be addressed include:

–   Ensuring that countries are approaching the reviewing phases consistently [33]. 

–   Supporting countries to produce their first biennial transparency report (BTR) in 2024 [12].

–   Supporting countries to nominate a diverse body of reviewers with the requisite training and funding to be effective [12].

–   Discussing whether to set a requirement to report on adaptation initiatives [12].

Other big questions within the transparency discussion include making the functions of the Green Climate Fund less opaque and increasing contributions to the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency under the Paris Agreement [13, 14].


The implications of climate change are already revealing themselves in increasingly extreme weather events across the globe [15]. Given the inevitability of some climate change-induced natural disasters, the COP26 agenda recognises the importance of adaptation, and effective responses to loss and damage [16]. Adaptation, loss, and damage are particularly pressing issues for the most geographically vulnerable and least economically developed countries [15, 16]. 

As discussed in ClimaTalk’s article on the Unresolved Issues from the Paris Agreement, adaptation, loss, and damage have long been issues in the UNFCCC climate negotiations. Countries in the Global North have conflicting views on how global adaptation strategies should be funded, given they are primarily required by Global South countries. Indeed, the US has resisted funding for adaptation given a clause in the Paris Agreement suggesting the WIM ‘does not involve…any liability or compensation’ [17]. The result has been an international failure to pursue sufficient adaptation, loss, and damage policies: at present, only 1% of global climate finance is spent on adaptation [18].

COP26 calls for ‘more finance’ to build resilience to extreme climate events. Whether such funding for adaptation is agreed upon at COP26 – and, perhaps more importantly, is delivered upon in the months after COP26 – will be a major test of the Global North’s commitment to preventing the worst effects of climate change. The UK, the COP Presidency, is also hoping for greater collaboration on its Adaptation Action Coalition, which currently partners with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, the Netherlands, and St Lucia [18]. This Coalition would facilitate communication and collective action on adaptation strategies [18].

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attending COP26 presents unique challenges for the nations which are most vulnerable to climate change, hence most in need of effective adaptation, loss, and damage strategies. One third of small Pacific small island states and territories do not plan to send government figures to COP26 due to pandemic-induced travel restrictions [19]. Ralph Regenvanu, the opposition leader of Vanuatu, said ‘If we go back to Paris, it was the personal presence of Pacific leaders that really made a change’ and precipitated agreement over the 1.5 degree target [19]. Without the presence of Pacific government leaders and climate activists, COP26 will lack a significant set of voices advocating for transformative action on climate change: their absence may well affect its outcomes. 

Science and Innovation 

Science is the foundation of climate action. Research enables us to understand the current state of our climate and necessary climate action as well as understanding the scalable, affordable, accessible adaptation and mitigation solutions. The IPCC recent report (AR6) will undoubtedly inform many of the negotiations at COP26 [20].

In terms of mitigation, four sectors (power, hydrogen, industry and shipping) have been identified as key locales of technological advancement if we are to remain below 1.5°C [21]. 

  • The power sector accounts for a quarter of global emissions [22]. In the power sector, technology is key to the transition from coal, crude oil, and gas to renewable energy. There has already been significant progress in this transition, as renewable energy is now cheaper than non-renewable sources [23]. From this perspective, the barrier to a fast power shift is now a political one rather than a technological one. Still, technology in the power sector is still required to make renewable sources even cheaper and develop better energy storage capabilities. Follow the Energy Transition Council for updates in this area.
  • Hydrogen is identified as the energy source of the future. It has the potential to be a zero-emissions source of power (particularly useful in the transport sector), and can also be used to safely store renewable energy. The problem is that green hydrogen is very expensive and energy-intensive, meaning that grey or blue hydrogen are the dominant forms of hydrogen at present. COP26 can drive hydrogen innovation by developing a clearer consumption roadmap and tariff structures for increased demand and investment [24]. 
  • Industry see the section below on the built environment. 
  • Shipping is a particularly important component of transport in such a globalized world. Decarbonization of this sector is important and relies on technology advancement (including hydrogen development mentioned above). 

Most methods of adaptation also involve science and innovation. This includes weather forecasting technologies, flood safeguards, water purification, and crop resilience (although this enters the world of geo-engineering, solutions which are increasingly discussed but unlikely to feature prominently at COP26) [25]. It’s vital that adaptation technologies are affordable and accessible given that poor nations suffer the worst consequences of ecological collapse.

The COP26 Presidency has established three programs to integrate science into decision making:

  1. Futures We Want – tasked with developing global strategies to achieve a net-zero world [26].
  2. Risk – programme tasked with promoting climate change risk assessment [27].
  3. Health – develop resilient health systems [21].

Finally, it’s important not to get carried away by science and innovation. Many state and non-state actors are reliant on the assumptions that technological development will make a sustainable world possible (key for their net-zero pledges). However, science and innovation is not a silver bullet. Thanks to science and innovation, clean energy currently produces 8 billion megawatt hours more energy than in 2000 (enough to power all of Russia). In the same amount of time, energy demand grew by 48 billion megawatt hours [28]. If energy demand, overconsumption, and economic growth continue at current rates, technology will have little impact on our climate. Science and innovation can’t be relied upon as the solution to climate change – it must be coupled with urgent, large scale political-economic shifts.

Innovation focused sessions will be held from 8 to 10 November at COP26, hosted by the Sustainable Innovation Forum. 


Gender is a critical issue at COP26 for various reasons. Historically, women have not had equal access to positions of power and consequently are greatly underrepresented today. Unfortunately, at COP26 the story remains the same. The COP26 UK leadership team is all-male. When accumulating the leadership teams of all countries at the conference, only 15% are women [29]. There are several questions that come to mind when considering gender:

  1. What drives this representation imbalance?
  2. How does this trickle down into lower levels of decision making?
  3. Can COP26 be successful with such underrepresentation for women?

Additionally, Climate change disproportionately affects women [30]. With that in mind, we must see a review and strengthening of the Gender Action Plan developed at COP25. Gender must also be a cross-cutting issue across all topics at COP26. Intersectionality has to be considered too. Policies must particularly address injustices experienced by women of colour, women living in poor communities, women living in rural communities, and gender-non conforming people. Without these considerations, meaningful climate action may not take place. 

See ClimaTalk’s article on Women at COP, to find out more about SHE changes Climate and the initiatives they have. The Virtual Gender Marketplace will also be taking place at COP26 from 15:00-18:00 (UK time) on 9 November 2021. 

Consideration of the Built Environment 

COP26 offers a great opportunity to evaluate the construction industry and its role in reaching the 1.5°C of warming target. The industry must think of the carbon emissions associated with extracting, manufacturing, processing and transportation of materials as well as the assembly of the built environment [31]. As an example, concrete (the second most used building material) contributes 8% of global carbon emissions, consequently consideration of how to reduce the materials associated emissions is vital [32]. Other issues that may be considered at COP26 include demolition versus refurbishment, renewable energy for households, upskilling the workforce, sustainable urban planning and management of properties through energy efficiency standards [33, 34].

To find out more about the built environment and COP26, take a look at the planned UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) virtual Built Environment Pavilion at COP26 which has been organised with more than 40 partner organisations [35]. There will be a range of events at the Pavilion which will consider technologies, best practices, innovation and the pathway to ensure the built environment reduces its carbon footprint. Other organisations such as Balfour Beatty will also showcase low-carbon options for the industry [32].  

See ClimaTalk’s Introducing the 15-Minute City article to find out about a possible built environment solution too!

Decarbonisation of the Transport Sector

Ensuring the transport sector goes through a decarbonisation transition as quickly as possible is vital to achieving the Paris Agreement aims. 

The UK presidency for COP26 established the Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council, which represents over half the car market, to encourage greater ambition towards net-zero emissions [36]. The Climate Change Committee also identified that significant global investment in battery production, infrastructure, and new power generation will be needed, as well as enhanced communication over how to sustainably scale-up and meet capacity of electric vehicle demand [37]. See ClimaTalk’s The Pathways To A Low-Carbon Future: Transport and Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries articles which delve into these topics further. 

Aviation and shipping must also be considered, which account for around 6% of global emissions [38]. However, these do not feature on the COP26 agenda and have often been left to the ICAO and IMO to consider [38]. 

Developing Nations

There are many definitions and categories that group together countries with small, developing economies.  Within the nomenclature of the United Nations, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are “low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development [that] are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets.” There are 46 countries that meet this criteria [39]. However, this does not include nations from other categories such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS), or Developing Economies [40]. 

Developing nations are set to have a larger platform than at previous COPs. This is due in part to the mounting levels of mistrust between these countries and their developed counterparts [41]. LDCs, SIDS, and other developing nations had been calling for action against climate change for a decade prior to COP21 and the ratification of the Paris Agreement [42]. However, while the risk of the climate crisis was acknowledged, the mechanisms put in place to promote capacity-building and adaptation in these vulnerable countries have yet to bear fruit.

Least Developed States will be keen to see the results of negotiations being held on November 3rd and November 8th, which will discuss Finance, and Adaptation, Loss & Damage respectively. COP26 President Alok Sharma has routinely expressed a desire to see SIDS and LDCs’ interests better represented, vowing to make them more visible during negotiations [43, 44]. If the official Pre-COP event in Milan is anything to go by, economic negotiations between developed and developing countries will be near the top of the COP26 agenda.
“My hopes are that this COP is an event of action with tangible solutions to avert the climate crisis,” stated Island Innovation CEO James Ellsmoor in an interview with ClimaTalk, “I hope that we will see real governmental and financial commitment to accelerate our transition to clean energy technologies in order to reach our net-zero targets. The same can be said in regard to providing debt relief to the most vulnerable nations. The COP needs to amplify pressure on our governments to implement global collaboration for a green and resilient economic recovery post pandemic, as well as urgent action to fight climate change.”

Indigenous People

The UNFCCC has actively worked towards including Indigenous Persons and communities in the negotiations either as a party, or as a consideration within them. In the lead up to COP26  in Glasgow, there have been additional efforts made to have Indigenous voices heard via the creation of an online platform capable of facilitating knowledge sharing between global communities and using it to help shape decision-making [45, 46]. However, as noted by Anthonethe Castaneda in ClimaTalk’s Meet The Experts: IPCC Edition, there still is a lack of acknowledgement of Indigenous knowledge within current frameworks.

Under the Paris Agreement, Indigenous Persons, their communities, and their knowledge are referenced six times within the document, mostly to acknowledge its existence, and without setting aside specific guidelines for their inclusion [47]. As COP26 approaches, and with issues surrounding broken promises and lack of financing for developing nations, the challenges facing Indigenous People are flaring up, as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz tells SciDev [48], “What I would like to see is the inclusion of safeguards and human rights into many of these solutions being discussed.”

She continues, “These solutions (must) not further marginalise Indigenous Peoples, and these solutions will also include them, there will be participation of Indigenous Peoples in deciding how these solutions are being made, especially as it concerns their lands, territories and resources, and of course their traditional knowledge.” This COP will no doubt be defined by the assurances and actions taken to support Indigenous communities and developing nations globally. 


Featured Image Courtesy of the UNFCCC Flickr Page.

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