Where are we six months on from COP26?

Six months on from COP26, we are looking at what the conference delivered, what has happened since and what needs to be done to ensure a net zero transition.

Charlotte Cameron
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Prior to the conclusion of negotiations, COP26 in October 2021 was hailed as the most important climate conference in history.  

Its significance was in part due to its delay because of Covid-19, but largely as it was a chance for nations to reconvene and share progress after the 2015 Paris Agreement.  

The core aim of COP26? To keep 1.5°C alive. At the outset of the conference, COP26 President Alok Sharma warned that what “Paris promised, Glasgow must deliver”. 

What did COP26 deliver?

The global response to COP26’s outcomes were varied. While significant progress was made in certain areas – some of which seemed difficult to imagine only a few years ago – the ultimate result fell short of where we need to be to guarantee a 1.5°C pathway. It failed to build in adequate support for the most vulnerable nations to cope with loss and damage because of climate change.   

The Glasgow Climate Pact, the global deal that emerged from the conference, was a package of agreements to help curve carbon emissions downwards and strengthen climate resilience while providing necessary finance for both.  

Within the pact saw the “phase-down of unabated coal”. Despite being one of the main causes of global warming, coal and fossil fuel subsidies had never been explicitly mentioned in 26 years of treaties and decisions at UN climate talks. While a breakthrough to be included in the pact, the last-minute change in language to “phase down” from “phrase out” demonstrates the hesitancy that still exists around moving away from fossil fuels.  

Another success, thanks to pressure from the most vulnerable countries, was the acceleration of the ratchet mechanism from five years to yearly. The intent is to force continual escalation of climate action by requiring states to present enhanced emission reduction plans in time for COP27 in Egypt, 2022. While only a “request” for countries to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), it does put significant diplomatic pressure on those that fail to do so. This is significant as the next round of NDCs are due to cover the previous from 2031 onwards. This urgency to strengthen 2030 targets offers a narrow window to keep 1.5C limit alive.  

There was also progress made towards the protection and restoration of nature, significantly with the pledge from more than 100 countries to reverse deforestation by 2030. This marked a clear shift from degeneration to regeneration.  Part of this deal involved at least $1.7bn of funding to go to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).  

Meaningful action towards a net zero transition in the UK was made after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that by 2023 most big UK firms and financial institutions will be made to set out public plans on hitting net zero carbon emissions. To avoid greenwashing, part of this commitment included an expert panel to set out the criteria these plans need to meet. This will promote greater transparency for larger firms claiming to be on a pathway to net zero. 

According to a recent study in the journal Nature, if all the commitments made at COP26 are achieved on time, we will limit the rise in global temperature to below two degrees centigrade. So, is this still achievable? 

What’s happened since?

We are now half a year on since COP26 and, as we look towards COP27 in November, it’s important to reflect on what has happened in the months since. Despite commitments to “phase out” coal usage, there are over 2,400 coal-fired power stations with an additional 176 gigawatts of coal capacity under construction and a further 280 gigawatts planned. While this is a decrease from previous years, analysis from the Global Energy Monitor warned that “progress must happen faster to meet the clear demands of climate science for a radical coal phase down within this decade”. 

To address the rising cost of energy, the UK announced a new energy strategy in April. While commitments to invest in renewables like offshore wind and green hydrogen were welcome, scrapping onshore wind was a missed opportunity. It is cheap and quick to deploy so almost immediately helps to reduce the cost of energy for people and improves our energy security. Clear planning guidelines included in the strategy would have unlocked existing and new projects in many communities that are happy to embrace onshore wind.  
As part of the energy strategy the government announced it would almost triple nuclear power generation capacity to 24 gigawatts by 2050. Nuclear, while offering a low carbon solution, won’t deliver for decades and the high cost of construction will certainly mean ongoing delays, plus it involves expensive downstream costs. Promoting energy efficiency and renewables over licensing more oil and gas will create far more UK jobs and skills that would have long term futures 

CEO of Planet Mark Steve Malkin commented, “There are some relatively simple and immediate steps the government should be progressing right now, including reducing consumption by launching a national awareness campaign, similar to what was done during the pandemic, for homes and SMEs. This should also include a comprehensive training programme to upskill installers and engineers. In addition to this, we should have seen a roll out of domestic and commercial insulation, heat pumps and other measures.  Hard-pressed small businesses and households struggling with their skyrocketing bills also need meaningful financial support to bridge this difficult period.”

Despite the deal aiming to reverse deforestation rainforests were destroyed at an alarming rate in 2021. The tropics lost 11.1m hectares of tree cover in 2021, including 3.75m hectares of forest that is critical to limiting global warming and biodiversity loss, according to the World Resources Institute.This prompts concerns that commitments to protect and restore nature outlined at COP26 will fall drastically short. UK environment minister Lord Goldsmith urged, “We are derailing complex natural systems we all depend on, and that in turn makes meeting any of our shared global goals, from peace to prosperity, impossible.” 

Speaking at Tufts University in Boston, COP26 President Alok Sharma urged all “developed countries to deliver on the finance commitments they have made and put funds on the table”. He referenced the $100billion-a-year of climate finance that developed countries have promised developing countries and hoped that the US Congress would approve the proposed increase of climate finance to $11 billion for the 2033 financial year.   

On emission reductions by the G20 nations, which account for around 80% of global emissions, Sharma advised that after discussions with ministers in several countries, further new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submissions will be announced before the end of the year.  

In promising news for businesses, the Treasury announced a UK Transition Plan Taskforce to support corporate climate disclosure. This will strengthen the government’s pledge that by 2023 most big UK firms and financial institutions will be made to detail their plans to reach net zero.  

What’s next?

The shortfalls, disappointments and frustrations around the progress since COP26 will put huge pressure on COP27 in November. For net zero carbon we need zero investment in fossil fuel exploration and zero new fields. 

Here are the outcomes we would like to see to ensure a successful COP27: 

– A benchmark of no more than 1.5C.  

– Support and funding for developing nations. 

– Mobilisation around net zero – all countries to commit to net zero targets and support for businesses to achieve it.  

– Common international standards and frameworks agreed upon for measuring success. 

– Clear commitments in the UK and globally to give confidence and stability to businesses in order to invest. 

– A commitment to zero investment into new oil, gas and coal developments.  

The pressure now builds on organisations to take up where politics has failed to deliver and, as always, we believe brands, institutions and organisations will be the leaders.  

What is the business case for sustainability?

Thursday 21 February 2024, 1:00-2:00 PM

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