by Amy Wilson, Charlie Bevis, Jack Johnson, Emily Matthews, Roxana Pollack, Virginia Raffaeli, Catriona Flesher, Vincent Diringer
ClimaTalk’s article Looking to COP26: A Focus on Discussion Topics for Week 2 delved into what to look out for during the second week of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26). This article will provide the initial analysis for week two and the headline outcomes from COP26, and builds on the outcomes from week 1 at COP26. Note that outcomes stated in this article are findings of ClimaTalk’s trackers.
US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration
On 10 November 2021, the US and China released the Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s . This declaration states the enhancement of communication on climate change, reducing methane emissions, and phasing out coal between the two countries in the 2020s. The US and China are the largest contributors to the climate crisis in terms of carbon emissions, thus this declaration provides hope for ambitious climate action and large-scale greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction.
COP26 and the Considerations of Ocean
Oceans cover 70% of the planet and are a major carbon sink . Coastal environments (inclusive of seagrass, coral reefs and mangroves) are also vital for conserving fish stocks and the livelihoods of people living on the coastlines . It is therefore unfortunate that the UK Presidency Programme for COP26 did not include a focused day on the oceans. However, discussions on ocean policy took place in the formal negotiation halls, pavilions and Green Zone. The key outcomes included:
- Conserving 30% of oceans by 2030. As it stands, less than 8% of our oceans are protected. This target seeks to rectify this and received support from some key parties such as the UK . Whilst not many pledges were recorded, the ocean has at least been a topic of conversation as Small Island Developing States, or Big Ocean States, seek to maximise opportunities to leverage a blue economy. In order for this to happen, there needs to be additional safeguards in place to protect oceans, fish stocks, and related environments – as well as enforcement and active management of these areas. This all requires financing, which has in itself been a major point of discussion at COP26. Overall, concrete action needs to be taken to safeguard this environment and its resources.
- Trialing of Blue Bonds. These are a mechanism by which a nation will offer debt-relief or investment in exchange for another country’s efforts to conserve natural resources and environments. So far, the Fiji Islands are the first and only country to have begun proceedings to launch a blue bond – expected to be available 2022 – with Belize potentially following soon after [5, 6]. During COP26, Fiji was able to secure more funding for its bond, which will finance activities including low-carbon shipping, a ban on deep-sea mining, and investment in ocean-based renewable energy. These are an interesting mechanism, especially considering the debate over the viability of similar efforts within the REDD+ programme, and remain one of the few pathways for island nations to source financing.
See ClimaTalk’s discussion on Ocean negotiations and progress during COP26 below:
Adaptation, Loss and Damage – Monday 8th November
Monday’s adaptation, loss and damage focus was headlined by finance discussions. These were dominated by country commitments to increase adaptation finance. However, the sum-total of these increased provisions are still failing to meet the needs of those most affected by climate breakdown in terms of quantity, proportion, and quality. Some discussion also included ideas of how to crowd in private capital to adaptation – a theme which is receiving increased recognition in global climate discussions. Loss and damage was once again treated as a subsection of adaptation meaning no meaningful progress was made on this crucial topic which is a matter of climate justice.
- Countries announced increases to their adaptation finance commitments, but they are not enough. In quantity, the $100 billion pledge has still not been met. In proportion, many countries still are not committing 50% of their total climate finance to adaptation: currently, only one fifth of climate finance is directed at adaptation. In quality, most adaptation finance is committed in the form of loans not grants, forcing developing countries to pay back this adaptation support with interest – a great injustice since the countries of the global North are most responsible for climate breakdown which is forcing countries to undertake adaptation measures. Failure to provide appropriate adaptation support will be measured in the loss of human lives and livelihoods.
- Loss and damage didn’t receive appropriate attention. Loss and damage was once again treated as a subsection of adaptation. This allows developed countries to escape their duty to compensate developed countries for the loss and damage they suffer at the hands of climate breakdown caused by the developed world. In treating loss and damage as a component of adaptation, developed countries have been able to double count their contribution to adaptation as a contribution to loss and damage as well. Additionally, there was particularly little mention of non-economic loss and damage (e.g. loss of land, harm to health, decreased mobility, damage to local habitats, ways of life, and culture). As a result, many of the impacts of the climate chaos were never discussed, resulting in underwhelming outcomes, including no progress being made on operationalizing the Santiago Network.
- Discussions lacked local community voices. Adaptation discussions were not complemented by the input of people on the front lines of climate breakdown (citizens of the global south, women, indigenous communities) who have been forced to undertake adaptation measures for years. Their voices, input, experiences and knowledge bases were not connected to discussions about provision of top-down adaptation measures. As a result, adaptation discussions existed in a vacuum, disconnected from lived experiences on the ground, resulting in weak outcomes.
COP26 and Transparency
As leaders and delegates announced their climate policies, it was disappointing that greater focus was not given to transparency. Despite resolution of the final details of the enhanced transparency framework (ETF) being a key issue in the negotiations, transparency was not given a dedicated day at the summit. Whilst this might be justified on the basis that transparency underscores every other theme already, overlooking this important principle risks destabilising efforts to pass a bold, unanimous agreement on climate action as countries cannot guarantee that the promises of their counterparts will come to fruition.
- Resolution of the enhanced transparency framework (EFT). The main issue within transparency was agreeing on a common framework for countries to report progress on the implementation of their emissions pledges. Naturally, this is essential for global trust and cooperation, which will underscore bold, multilateral climate action. The main sticking points are how much flexibility countries should be given to design their accounting mechanisms and which developing states should be exempt from the onerous demands of the framework.
- The failure to deliver on promises. Whilst bold promises are welcome, it is not guaranteed that countries will always meet them. For example, President Biden’s Build Back Better Initiative and PREPARE scheme show an appetite for climate finance initiatives but will have difficulty being passed through the US Congress. Furthermore, many leaders have pledged to reduce emissions to achieve net zero, but, while they have targets, most have not outlined a delivery plan. The failure to do so prevents accountability or transparency as to how they will achieve their goals. Little to nothing has been mentioned about reporting GHG inventories. There is no legal requirement for nations to deliver on the promises that they are making; so how can we guarantee that these targets will be achieved?
- Exclusions from the transparency negotiations. The need for a just transition has been mentioned a lot throughout COP26, but can transitions be just if they are not inclusive? Many B.I.P.O.C. (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) groups have reportedly been profiled and delegates from developing nations weren’t granted visas so could not attend. Likewise poor planning has meant that many developing nations could not attend coinciding meetings due to lack of staff. This prevents the creation of a shared framework that is inclusive and just. Furthermore, transparency talks rarely cover pledges on adaptation or loss and damage. These areas are just as crucial as mitigation for international cooperation and should be viewed as such.
See ClimaTalk’s discussion on Transparency at COP26 below:
Science and Innovation – Tuesday 9th November
The Science Day’s discussions were largely focused on the acceleration and launch of ‘green’ technology and innovations that would play a major role in solving the climate crisis.
The most significant initiative launched this week in relation to science was the ‘Innovation Missions’. The aim of this initiative is to target sectors responsible for half of the world’s emissions. The first mission is directed at urban environments, and aims to transition them to net zero carbon environments. The second is concentrating on CO2 removal with the aim of meeting one of the recommendations set out by the IPCC that the removal of 100-1000 gigatonnes of CO2 may be needed this century to reach that 1.5 degree target. The third focuses on the industrial sector and in particular construction materials (e.g. cement & steel) which use large amounts of energy. The final is termed the ‘Biorefineries Mission’ and will utilise technologies suitable for replacing fossil fuel-based fuels, chemicals and materials with bio-based alternatives. 22 Governments and the European Commission committed the initiative .
The two takeaway questions from the Science day at COP26:
- Do we need behavioural change, alongside innovation, to solve the climate crisis? Is there too much pressure on the scientific community to deliver the climate goals when behavioural change can also be part of the solution? Evidence tells us that changes in our lifestyle habits, particularly our diets and transport choices, can reduce our carbon footprint . Yet there were no negotiations that reflected this evidence. This omission also raises the need to improve education on climate change so that we as citizens can make informed and impactful decisions. Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific advisor, stressed that behavioural change was also required to solve the climate crisis .
- Should we bring back nuclear energy? Nuclear power has some key benefits when considering sources of electricity; it produces very few GHG emissions and can also provide us with a constant stream of electricity, so none of the intermittency issues associated with solar or wind power. The fact that nuclear power has even been a conversation at COP this year shows that attitudes are changing. In previous years, nuclear power has not been welcome at the table. A lot of that has to do with the media and public perception; there isn’t a lot of confidence in nuclear power, mainly due to the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima . However, current knowledge and data shows that nuclear plants can be operated very safely. But that’s not to say that nuclear energy is all good: it does disproportionately impact indigenous people’s livelihoods and they’re often not included in nuclear policy, and this is something that is rarely mentioned in the media or in negotiations. From the discussions this week, some countries, such as the UK, France and US, are launching programs that invest in nuclear energy and many other countries have expressed their support. It will be interesting to see if countries use existing plants in the short term whilst ‘green technology’ is being scaled up.
Gender – Tuesday 9th November
Climate change has been found to impact women across the world significantly (80% of people displaced by climate change are women and girls), yet they remain seriously under-respresented in climate policy, climate decision-making and climate finance [11, 12]. Prior to COP26, very little of climate finance went to gender inequality-focused projects or to women . The Women in Climate Finance Action Group prior to COP26 called for urgent action to address gender inequality .
The main takeaways in relation to gender at COP26 include:
- There was progress in the context of gender and climate finance but there is still a long way still to go. The UK announced £165 million to tackle climate change while addressing the inequalities that make women and girls more vulnerable to climate change and empowering them to take climate action. £45 million to help empower local communities and grassroots women’s groups in Asia and the Pacific and £120 million to build resilience, prevent pollution, protect biodiversity, strengthen renewable energy and better manage waste, while also supporting women’s leadership, access to finance, education and skills in Bangladesh.
This announcement needs to be an urgent rallying cry to other governments to follow suit and truly equip women and girls to be leaders in the fight against climate change, rather than victims, and to put gender equality at the heart of climate action.”Kathryn Pharr, Senior Policy Advisor on International Climate Action, WaterAid .
- Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change . A statement calling for the role of women and girls to be advanced in addressing climate change, jointly-sponsored by the Scottish Government and UN Women. The statement will remain open for signatures from today until the 66th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, to be held in March 2022.
- UNFCCC called upon Parties to increase their work for gender inclusivity in all policies and processes. The draft conclusions proposed by the Chair (Recommendation of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation FCCC/SBI/2021/L.13 (6 Nov 2021)) states the work done to date is insufficient, however the draft fails to mention the right to education.
- COP26, and all previous COPs have had major barriers to women’s inclusion in climate negotiations. The Gender Action Plan (COP25) called for women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in the UN climate process and to ensure a prominent role for women in decision-making and in climate policies . However, despite progress including many country climate plans now cross-referencing gender and more women included in country delegations, less than 30 per cent of the lead negotiators are women.
- Every girl should have equal access to education. However, the vast majority of NDCs (less than 10 NDCs mention education) and formal declarations do not include this.
“We cannot hope to build resilience for the decades ahead unless we educate all children. This especially is true for girls,” said Nobel Peace Prize laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai, via video conference at the panel.
See ClimaTalk’s live discussion session on Science, Innovation and Gender below:
Transport – Wednesday 10th November
The transport sector accounts for around one-fifth of global carbon emissions, with road vehicles accounting for three-quarters of the transport emissions .
The focus of the COP26 transport negotiations was on electrification of the transport sector and the infrastructure required to support such a transition. 32 countries, 6 major vehicle manufacturers (GM, Ford, Mercedes, BYD, Volvo, JLR), 39 cities, states or regions, 28 fleets and 13 investors all jointly set out their determination for all new car and van sales to be zero emission by 2040 globally and 2035 in leading markets. Additionally, 15 countries agreed to work together toward 100% zero-emission new truck and bus sales by 2040 and have signed a memorandum of understanding for zero emission medium and heavy duty vehicles (ZE-MHDVs). Sadly, there were very few mentions of moving away from car dependency and reducing the demand for electric car manufacturing. Even though electrification is good for reducing GHG emissions, the mining of raw materials for batteries raises further environmental and social concerns for the developing countries where the minerals reside .
Shipping and aviation were also considered during the COP26 discussions. Green shipping corridors were supported by 19 governments, while 18 countries (40% of global aviation emissions) committed to work together to achieve an ambitious new aviation decarbonisation target through the International Civil Aviation Organization (part of new International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition).
Sadly, active travel (walking and cycling) and public transport were not mentioned heavily throughout the climate negotiations. Originally the declaration on the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans did not mention active travel. However, after more than 300 organisations signed a COP26cycling letter to the COP26 leaders, active travel was included.
COP26 and Accounting for Importation
The need to account for imports in GHG emissions tracking has hitherto received little attention in international climate politics. Yet imports and exports in international trade hugely complicate countries’ abilities to calculate accurately the GHG emissions for which they are responsible. In particular, when consumer countries import goods from abroad, the GHG emissions associated with the good’s production are accounted for by the producer state’s NDCs: not the consumer of the good. Despite a study into this by the University of Leeds in 2020, there was notably little momentum on better accounting for international trade at COP26.
- Problems with current accounting methods for NDCs continued to be overlooked at COP26. Countries – often in the Global North – consume huge amounts of carbon-intensive goods produced abroad. These goods wouldn’t have been produced if it weren’t for the demand from consumer countries, and yet the carbon emissions associated with that production have to be accounted for by the producer country’s NDCs. This was shown clearly in a study by Leeds University last year, which showed that 46% of the UK’s carbon footprint comes from emissions in overseas production. The picture is even more stark for small countries like Switzerland, which depend heavily on imports: Switzerland’s emissions are 209% higher once GHG emissions associated with the production of imports are taken into account. Despite these obvious issues with NDC accounting, this issue appears to have been completely omitted at COP26.
- Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) discussions continued. The EU adopted the CBAM in July 2021, which will put a tariff on carbon-intensive imports. The CBAM is designed so that increased carbon regulations in Europe do not lead to producers relocating to other, less environmentally regulated, countries: a process called ‘carbon leakage’. Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the European Commission, gave a speech in support of CBAM at COP26, but it was otherwise little discussed. It was, however, made clear that the CBAM must be introduced gradually due to a host of implementation conflicts and issues – such as allowing for countries to introduce environmental regulations in their own countries, and improving CO2 emission reporting – and it is not expected to become fully operational until 2026. In the meantime, CBAM has provided some tacit pressure to encourage export-dependent countries to introduce greater regulation of CO2 emissions: a member of the Turkish envoy at COP26 said that Turkey – a country in which 48 percent of exports go to the EU – would have not have ratified the Paris Agreement had it not been for CBAM .
- CBAM must be paired with financial support to enable manufacturing-dependent economies to go low-carbon: but that is not yet widely recognised. As recognised by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in 2020, CBAM may economically penalise countries – often in the Global South – without the financial means to transition to low-carbon . The UNFCCC and Paris Agreement are both attentive to the fact that developing countries should bear less burden in reducing emissions than developed countries. As such, if border adjustment mechanisms become the norm, then the Global North should financially support the move towards low-carbon in developing countries: to ensure they are not simply penalised by the CBAM tariffs. COP26, however, did not see acknowledgement of this need for joined up policymaking.
See ClimaTalk’s Live Discussion session on transport and accounting for imports and exports below:
Built Environment – Thursday 11th November
The built environment contributes to around 40% of the global carbon footprint, and around half of these emissions are from the energy consumed in the buildings or the associated infrastructure . COP26 saw Thursday 11 November dedicated to the built environment, specifically how to make buildings more energy efficient, building materials and the finance associated with building sustainable housing or retrofitting the existing housing stock. There was also the COP26 Built Environment Pavilion which held events throughout COP26.
The key takeaways from the built environment day include:
- Cites, regions and states have announced net-zero targets. There is a growing awareness that cities and the built environment play a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions. This can be through making new buildings net-zero carbon in operation, as well as reducing carbon emissions during the manufacturing of building materials . Events and discussion included the considerations of circular economy, heat-source pumps and passive buildings. Discussions also focused on ensuring accessibility, climate resilience and sustainability of buildings.
- Importance of retrofitting existing buildings. The UK Green Building Council told world leaders that retrofitting must be included in the plans to achieve net-zero by 2050. However, there are concerns about retrofitting buildings to the standard needed to meet the 2050 goals because of the large sums of money required for insulation, double glazing, and switching heating sources. For example, the UK has one of the oldest and least efficient housing stocks – and the solid walls of buildings built prior to 1919 are very difficult to insulate .
- Whole Lifecycle Roadmaps and consideration of building codes. This initiative was launched at COP26 by UKGBC and aims to support the decarbonisation of the built environment and will cover the entire building life cycle (and all buildings and infrastructure). Additionally, the consideration of building codes was also mentioned at COP26 and how to align these codes with future weather events and climate science.
- There needs to be collaboration between private banks, national governments and the consumer on finding the finance for change. Upgrading the existing housing stocks will be expensive; as a result, incentivisation, green mortgages, green living rewards, EPC ratings and thermal imaging of properties were all discussed at COP26.
Examples of new technology and projects displayed in the green zone of COP26 include:
- Digital Twins – integrated environment solutions – it is a visual digital representation of a building or house that can help to collect data on energy consumption and efficiency of a building . This provides a risk-free method of trialling solutions.
- Niddrie Road EnerPHit Retrofit – John Gilbert Architects has been commissioned by Southside Housing Association (Scotland) to draw up plans to refurbish a block of flats. This includes upgrading a full renovation of the internals as well as the properties insulation, stonework and rainwater goods .
See ClimaTalk’s Live session recording on the built environment below:
References: United States Department of State, (2021), “U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s”, URL: https://www.state.gov/u-s-china-joint-glasgow-declaration-on-enhancing-climate-action-in-the-2020s/ [Accessed November 13, 2021)
 Jamie Shutler & Andy Watson, (2020), “The oceans are absorbing more carbon than previously thought”, Carbon Brief, URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-the-oceans-are-absorbing-more-carbon-than-previously-thought [Accessed November 11, 2021]
 Howard J. et al., (2017) “Clarifying the role of coastal and marine systems in climate mitigation.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 15.1, pp 42-50.
 Mark Jones, (2021), “Analysis: Belize offers ocean ‘blue’ print with debt-for-reef swap” Thompson-Reuters, URL: https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/belize-offers-ocean-blue-print-with-debt-for-reef-swap-2021-11-05/ [Accessed November 8, 2021]
 UK Government, (2021), “COP26: Government leads on Ocean Action Day”, URL: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cop26-government-leads-on-ocean-action-day [Accessed November 8, 2021]
 Timoci Vula, (2021), “COP26: Fiji to launch Blue Bond in 2022 – PM Bainimarama”, The Fiji Times, URL: https://www.fijitimes.com/cop26-fiji-to-launch-blue-bond-in-2022-pm-bainimarama/ [Accessed November 11, 2021]
 COP26 (2021), “New Mission Innovations”, URL: https://ukcop26.org/new-mission-innovation-missions/ [Accessed November 8th, 2021]
 IPCC (2021), Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, URL: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Full_Report.pdf [Accessed November 8th, 2021]
 The Guardian (2021), “Changes in behaviour needed to tackle climate crisis, says UK chief scientist”, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/09/changes-behaviour-tackle-climate-crisis-patrick-vallance-cop26 [Accessed November 9th, 2021]
 Goldstein, J. S. (2019), A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow. Ingram Publisher Services [Accessed November 9th, 2021]
 Aviva, 2021, COP26 – women excluded in fight against climate change, URL: https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2021/11/cop26-women-excluded-in-fight-against-climate-change/ [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 Patricia Scotland, 2021, Women shouldering the burden of climate crisis need action, not speeches, The Guardian, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/13/women-shouldering-the-burden-of-climate-crisis-need-action-not-speeches [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 Bonnie Chiu, 2021, COP26 Vows To Change The Sexist Climate Finance System, Forbes, URL: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniechiu/2021/11/09/cop26-vows-to-change-the-sexist-climate-finance-system/?utm_campaign=forbes&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_term=Carrie&sh=480bfffa17eb, [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 The Guardian, 2021, Cop26: Extinction Rebellion starts 24-hour vigil outside JP Morgan – day nine as it happened, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/live/2021/nov/09/cop26-extreme-heat-nancy-pelosi-climate-day-nine-live [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 Scottish Government, (2021) Gender equality and climate change: Glasgow Women’s Leadership statement, URL: https://www.gov.scot/publications/glasgow-womens-leadership-statement-gender-equality-climate-change/ [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 UNFCCC, The Gender Action Plan, URL: https://unfccc.int/topics/gender/workstreams/the-gender-action-plan [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 Hannah Ritchie, (2020), Cars, planes, trains: where do CO2 emissions from transport come from?, Our World in Data, URL: https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions-from-transport, [Accessed November 13th, 2021]
 UNCTAD, (2020), Developing countries pay environmental cost of electric car batteries, URL: https://unctad.org/news/developing-countries-pay-environmental-cost-electric-car-batteries [Accessed November 13th, 2021]
 Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, (2020), The Global Impacts of an EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, IASS Policy Briefs, URL: https://www.iass-potsdam.de/en/output/publications/2020/global-impacts-eu-carbon-border-adjustment-mechanism [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 Politico, (2021), EU’s looming carbon tax nudged Turkey towards Paris Agreement, says envoy, URL: https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-carbon-border-adjustment-mechanism-turkey-paris-accord-climate-change/ [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 UK GBC, 2021, Climate Change, URL: https://www.ukgbc.org/climate-change/ [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 Global Cement and Concrete Association, Concrete Future, URL: https://gccassociation.org/concretefuture/ [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 UK Parliament, (2021), Achieving net zero, URL: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmselect/cmenvaud/346/34605.htm [Accessed November 13th, 2021]
 University of Cambridge, (2021), Collaboration through connected digital twins is key to tackling climate change, URL: https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/news/national-digital-twin-programme-produces-film-and-interactive-app-cop26-showcasing-role [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
 John Gilberts Architects, (2021), Niddrie Road EnerPHit Retrofit, URL:http://www.johngilbert.co.uk/?portfolio_page=niddrie-road-retrofit [Accessed November 12th, 2021]
Image courtesy of UNFCCC