Reflections from the First Week at COP26
by Amy Wilson, Charlie Bevis, Vincent Diringer, Virginia Raffaeli, Chiara Fiorino, Catriona Flesher, Emily Matthews
ClimaTalk’s article Looking to COP26: A Focus on Discussion Topics for Week 1 delved into what to look out for during the first week at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26). This article will provide the initial analysis for week one and the headline outcomes from COP26. Note that outcomes stated in this article are findings of ClimaTalk’s trackers.
World Leaders Summit: Monday 1 November & Tuesday 2 November 2021
Speeches during the World Leaders Summit — from the largest economies and country emitters — were largely characterized by emphasisingtheir updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and their most recent climate action successes. These announcements stood in stark contrast to the speeches of developing countries which emphasised the climate disasters affecting their population and their need for greater financial support and action from the countries of the global North.
Some of the standout speeches heard during the Leaders Summit:
- Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Motley: her opening ceremony speech set the scene for the horrors of climate breakdown already impacting the world (notably island states) and the action required to turn the tide on the climate breakdown.
- Kenyan Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, spoke about how the developed country climate pledges, while more ambitious, are still entirely insufficient to fulfill the Paris Agreement target and account for their fair share of international climate finance owed to developing countries.
- Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, emphasised the need for humans to remove themselves from nature. He highlighted the need not only to do more and to develop new practices, but equally that climate action is about what we must stop doing as well. This stood in clear contrast to all the other announcements which highlighted how much new renewable energy was being developed, or which new technologies were being financed.
- Bolivian President, Luis Arce, was the only person explicitly to address the need for an entire system change. President Arce emphasised the need to move beyond capitalism entirely to a new economic system and without a change in economic system, colonial relationships would be reproduced in a world of green growth, leaving no room for meaningful climate justice to take place.
Finally, one of the first major announcements was that over 100 countries had pledged to end deforestation by 2030. This is crucial progress as deforestation is one of the leading causes of global emissions. However, we should be wary as previous commitments to end deforestation (New York Declaration on Forests in 2014, for example) failed due to many loopholes; deforestation still continues at an alarming rate.
Finance Day: Wednesday 3 November 2021
The COP26 presidency identified finance as an important topic for the negotiations. To ensure the scale and speed of changes we need to meet the climate goals, both public and private finance need to be considered . Public finance is government-led, and is used to fund the development of infrastructure needed to transition to a greener and more climate-resilient economy. Private finance, derived from businesses, focuses on the funding of technology and innovation and to help turn billions of public money into trillions of climate investments .
The top three takeaways for public finance are:
- Major commitment to ending public international fossil fuel finance: Over 20 countries committed to ending direct international public finance for unabated fossil fuels by 2022. This should result in $8 billion being redirected towards clean energy.
- It is worth noting that there are several flaws in the pledge. Firstly, it does not cover domestic projects, meaning that US fracking and the UK licensing of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea are set to continue. Additionally, the agreement does not cancel plans already underway, such as a major initiative between the UK government and Mozambique for a fossil fuel project in the latter. Finally, the pledge does nothing to restrict the private sector. Whilst $8 billion is a sizable amount, it pales in comparison to the trillions in the private sector that will be necessary to fund the green transition.
- Achieving the $100 billion by 2023: Countries expressed that they are mobilizing more access to finance to help the transition domestically,
- Intergovernmental partnerships: Seeing partnerships between developed countries and the public sector – such as International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s and the United Arab Emirates teaming up to launch a financing platform for renewables in developing countries.
The main takeaways for private finance are:
- Growth of Jeff Bezos’ Earth Fund: Bezos pledged $10 billion to financing conservation and climate mitigation tactics. This increased commitment to environmental protections is perhaps somewhat at odds with the climatic implications of his recent space flight and plans to build a space station. Nonetheless, more needs to be seen from Bezos in assurances and explanations of where that $10 billion will be spent.
- Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero: COP26 saw the creation of GFANZ, a partnership of corporations which manage around $130 trillion in private assets. The momentum towards green private finance is heartening, but it is yet to be seen how GFANZ will actively work towards implementing inclusive and effective climate solutions.
Check out ClimaTalk’s discussion session on Finance below:
Energy Day: Thursday 4 November 2021
Given energy production is responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it intersects with most discussions at COP26 . The UK COP26 Presidency was especially concerned with consigning coal to history to meet the Paris Agreement’s commitment to limiting global heating to 1.5°C .
The key takeaways from the day of energy negotiations at COP26 were:
- Some progress on coal phase-out, but with significant caveats: COP26 saw an agreement between 40 countries to stop investing in new coal power at home and abroad, promising to phase out coal by the 2030s (developed countries) or the 2040s (developing countries). Promisingly, this included coal-reliant countries such as South Korea and the Philippines. However, China, India, Australia and the US have all failed to sign on. These are the coal powerhouses of the world; their absence undermines the success of the pledge.
- Insufficient commitments to reducing methane emissions: Over 100 countries committed to President Joe Biden’s methane pledge – pledging to reduce their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. However, new analysis from Carbon Brief has shown that to prevent the 0.2 degree temperature rise promised, the methane reduction target would actually have to be 50% .
- Accelerating uptake in renewables: The Race to Zero commitment, signed by 120 countries, commits to bringing 750 GW of renewable energy online by 2030. Additionally, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, pledged to triple his country’s renewable generation by the same year.
- Whilst this progress is notable, the absence of urgency in moving away from fossil fuels is reducing the pressure on countries to increase their uptake of renewables.
- Failing to move towards an equitable transition towards green energy: Underpinning the negotiations on energy, and the climate crisis generally, is the issue of global inequality. The move to renewable energy must not recreate the same systems of exploitation to the detriment of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
- At COP26, the need for an equitable transition is often referred to in broad terms, without there being hard commitments for what this will look like. For example, the ‘One World, One Sun, One Grid’ initiative from Britain and India proposed cross-country collaboration on solar power, without setting clear deadlines for this happening. Too often, such proposals are put to working groups, which can kick the can down the road.
- No resolution yet on international co-operation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: As has been the case since COP21, negotiations have stretched on over Article 6. This is intended to provide a mechanism for international collaboration in the pursuit of achieving Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
- Article 6 contains three main elements that the parties are struggling to reach an agreement on. These are 6.2, 6.4 and 6.8, which correspond to mechanisms for bilateral carbon credit trading, a centralised system for carbon credit accounting and a non-market mechanism respectively.
- At COP26, disputes continue over how states account for carbon credits within their own accounting – known as corresponding adjustments – as some countries like Brazil want to include previous credits from under the Kyoto Protocol.
- The Parties also disagree on whether a portion of carbon credit sales should go towards an adaptation fund for developing countries and, if so, how large this portion should be.
- Risk of no agreement on Article 6: Should the Parties not agree on a resolution, the danger is that the market will be left to generate voluntary carbon trading schemes without the same level of accounting and transparency.
- There have already been accusations of greenwashing as companies like Shell purchase the cheapest carbon credits available and are able to claim that they have offset their emissions. The hope is that the Parties will establish thorough methods of reporting and reviewing to prevent these loopholes currently in the system.
- It is likely that it will come down to the wire whether the parties reach an agreement on Article 6 so follow ClimaTalk’s social media outlets to catch the latest developments.
Check out ClimaTalk’s discussion session on Energy below:
Youth Inclusion: Friday 5 November 2021
Prior to COP26, many youth summits took place. These included: Youth4Climate, COY16 and MockCOP. Each of these youth events made declarations, which listed their priorities for climate action, justice and inclusivity. The declarations were taken to COP26 and presented to the delegates at the conference.
Notably, COP26 held the first ever Youth Day. The organisation of a day focused on youth has been considered a positive step in the right direction to involving young people and their voices in climate discussions. COP President, Alok Sharma, also urged ministers to consider youth priorities during the negotiations.
The conference saw 23 countries make national climate education pledges: this included net-zero schools and putting climate change at the heart of the national curriculum. We shall see at COP27 whether progress on the educational pledges was achieved. Additionally, Italian Ecological Transition Minister, Roberto Cingolani announced that the Youth4Climate will take place every year before the respective COP. However, after week 1 it is looking unlikely that youth priorities will be included in the outcome documents for COP26.
See ClimaTalk’s instagram for a range of interviews with young people discussing youth inclusion too!
Indigenous Community Inclusion: Friday 5 November
Indigenous Peoples do not have Party status at COPs, and often must attend as observers to the conference. It is important that Indigenous Peoples are supported to ensure their engagement, messages and missions to influence climate negotiations and that their rights and lands are included, recognised and protected in climate policies . However, many nature-based solutions have led to further dispossession of indigneous lands by outside corporations and loss of Indigenous land tenure. Consequently, nature-based solutions events at COP26 have continued to discuss how to respect Indigenous rights, land tenure, knowledge and culture.
The key takeaways on Indigenous Communities included:
- Major financial commitment to the advancement of Indigenous Peoples’ forest rights: The IPLC Forest Tenure Joint Donor Statement announced an initial, collective pledge of $1.7 billion of financing, from 2021 to 2025, to support the advancement of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ forest tenure rights. Despite the important role Indigenous People play in protecting nature, only a small fraction of these communities have secure rights to their land. The funding is recognition that IPLCs are crucial to protecting tropical forests and preserving ecosystems.
- This is not, however, a nature-based or community-based solution, and it is not certain that the money will be managed directly by Indigenous Peoples.
- Huge challenges for Indigenous Peoples in accessing COP26: Glasgow has not been the “most inclusive COP ever”. On 4th November, two UN Special Rapporteurs (David Boyd and Marcos Orellana) signed a letter to the COP26 President and Executive Director of the UNFCCC denouncing severe participation issues, especially regarding Indigenous Peoples. The letter called for immediate steps to be taken to remedy the inequality in participation at COP26, for instance by increasing the number of civil society representatives allowed into the negotiation rooms.
- About two-thirds of civil society organizations who usually attend COP could not come to Glasgow due to a combination of visa and accreditation problems, lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines and changing travel rules. Mostly absent are those from the Global South – poorer, less industrialized countries who have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions but are disproportionately harmed by the changing climate.
- Although there have been many side events and civil society-led discussions centering around inclusion, Indigenous Peoples themselves are being deliberately excluded from the discussions: there have been many instances of them not being allowed into many of the areas at COP26, particularly the negotiation ones.
- Failure to protect Indigenous Peoples and recognise their knowledge: There has been a lack of real progress on Indigenous knowledge, nature-based solutions and the protection of human rights defenders (of which Indigenous People represent a large number of those killed: half of the 227 in 2020). Although there have been many discussions on this during side events and the civil-society led discussions, international leaders are yet to make commitments and binding pledges on these issues.
Nature day: Saturday 6 November
Alok Sharma, described the Natural World as humanity’s “first line of defence” against the climate crisis . Nature day at COP26 specifically focuses on agriculture, land use change, and forests. However, this topic also has synergies with other themes such as climate change adaptation and mitigation and Indigenous Peoples & local communities. It is also important to consider that nature and biodiversity underpin human well-being and our economy. Nature is at a tipping point and, as Sir David Attenborough has stressed, “nature’s role must be recognised in the fight against climate change” .
The key takeaways from nature day:
- Climate change and biodiversity recognised as intertwined crises. Previously, climate change and biodiversity have been considered as separate crises. However, following the recent COP15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) there has been much welcomed movement that sees that these two crises interlinked, with inaction in one area harming the other but likewise any solutions will be mutually beneficial.
- Landmark forests declaration now covers 91% of forests globally. Forests are one of our strongest natural barriers to climate change through their removal and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere. However, deforestation practices not only prevent this but the burning of them also releases significant quantities of CO2. 134 nations have committed to ending land degradation and deforestation by 2030. This represents 91% of forest globally. The declaration also commits funding specifically to protecting the rights and livelihoods of Indigenous communities.
- 45 Nations agree on agricultural policy reform principles. The agri-food system is a key contributor to the climate crisis, with the IPCC estimating that land-use contributes nearly one quarter of annual greenhouse gas emissions whilst also being responsible for three quarters of deforestation to date [9,10]. The new policy is designed to help policymakers take action to deliver low-carbon and deforestation-free food systems and also reduce waste and support workers.
ClimaTalk’s live session on nature and oceans will be on Monday 8 November, midday UK time. You can check the recording below:
As we did in Week 1 of COP26, ClimaTalk is holding live discussions every day at midday (UK time) throughout the last week in Glasgow. With the able help of our internal experts and speakers who are on-the-ground at COP26, ClimaTalk will dissect the developments and disappointments of each day’s negotiations. The livestream can be joined via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Youtube. If you want to keep up-to-date with the developments in climate policy at this long-awaited COP26, please do join us.
Featured image courtesy of the UNFCCC´s Flickr Account. UNFCCC, 2021, Finance, URL: https://ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/finance/ (Last accessed 6th November 2021)
 Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, 2020, URL: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 Climate Change News, 2021, UK calls on countries to ‘consign coal to history’ at COP26, URL: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/05/14/uk-calls-countries-consign-coal-history-cop26/ (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 Carbon Brief, Guest post: The Global Methane Pledge needs to go further to help limit warming to 1.5C, 2021, URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-the-global-methane-pledge-needs-to-go-further-to-help-limit-warming-to-1-5c (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 IWGIA, 2021, Indigenous Peoples call for Climate Action at COP 26, URL: https://www.iwgia.org/en/news/4554-indigenous-peoples-climate-action-cop26.html, (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 UNFCCC, 2021, COP26 IPLC FOREST TENURE JOINT DONOR STATEMENT, URL: https://ukcop26.org/cop26-iplc-forest-tenure-joint-donor-statement/ (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 Evening Standard, 2021, Nature: The habitats on the front line of the climate fight, URL: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/nature-cop26-alok-sharma-brazil-trees-b964783.html (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 Glasgow Times, 2021, David Attenborough calls for nature’s role to be recognised amid climate fight, URL: https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/national/19684338.david-attenborough-calls-natures-role-recognised-amid-climate-fight/ (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 IPCC, 2014, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use, URL: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf (Last accessed 6th November 2021).
 Hosonuma et al., 2012, Environmental Research Letters, 7(4), URL: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044009, (Last accessed 6th November 2021).