COP 26 Promises Verses Realities

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World leaders and individuals across the world are gearing for the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 6 – 18 November 2022. The meeting will see world leaders agree on measures to tackle climate change to mitigate the harsh consequences that we have been experiencing as result of rising temperatures.

The World Resources Institute, in an article titled, Where Do We Stand on COP26 Climate Promises? A Progress Report looks at the commitments made at COP 26 and where we stand today.

Below we highlight these promises and what has been realized: 

National Climate Commitments

What was promised?

At COP26, countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emissions-reduction targets “as necessary” to align with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Sticking to this level of temperature rise is essential for averting some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Where we stand

Since Glasgow, 24 of 194 countries that are party to the Paris Agreement have come forward with new or updated emissions-reduction targets (known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs).

Ramping Up Renewables and Phasing Out Fossil Fuels

What was promised?

The final COP26 agreement emphasized urgency in scaling up clean power, phasing down coal and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. A group of 46 countries —  including the U.K., Canada, Poland and Vietnam — committed to phase out unabated domestic coal, while an additional 39 countries committed to end new overseas finance of fossil fuels by the end of 2022 and redirect this investment to clean energy.

Where we stand

Renewable energy installations reached new heights in 2021 — totaling 295 gigawatts (GW) of green generating capacity — and the International Energy Agency expects these to rise 8% further by the end of this year, even though raw materials costs recently increased 15-25%. China still leads the pack in clean energy installations, but the United States may soon pick up its pace thanks to incentives for wind and solar in the Inflation Reduction Act.

recent report by the OECD found that global subsidies for fossil fuels almost doubled in 2021 from 2020 levels and are estimated to increase even further due to mounting fuel prices. While G7 leaders recently reaffirmed their commitment to end international finance for fossil fuels, they made an exception for natural gas finance during the current energy crisis.

Climate Finance

What was promised? 

In 2009, rich nations committed to mobilize $100 billion a year from 2020-2025 to support climate action in developing countries. At COP26, it became clear that developed countries failed to meet that goal in 2020, though they are still on the hook to deliver it.

Countries also agreed to at least double funding for adaptation by 2025 from 2019 levels, to around $40 billion per year. Meanwhile, more than 70 organizations, including eight countries, endorsed a set of principles to ensure local communities have equitable access to climate adaptation finance and decision-making, and $450 million was committed to locally led adaptation programs.

South Africa announced with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union an historic Just Energy Transition Partnership. The developed countries participating said that they would mobilize $8.5 billion over the next 3-5 years to support a just transition toward a low-emissions, climate-resilient economy in South Africa.

Where we stand

An OECD report published in July 2022 reveals that in 2020, developed countries were still $17 billion short of the $100 billion annual finance goal. While most climate finance in 2020 was directed to curbing emissions (as in previous years), finance for adaptation accounted for a third of the total, or $28.6 billion. More funding is needed to fulfill the $100 billion commitment now, as well as the pledge to reach $40 billion of adaptation finance in future years.

Reaching Net-zero Emissions

What was promised?

By the end of COP26, 74 countries promised to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. More than 600 companies also set net-zero emissions targets in the run-up to COP26. The Science Based Targets initiative launched a Net-zero Standard to ensure these targets were rigorous and aligned with the latest climate science.

Where we stand

Since COP26, seven additional countries committed to reach net-zero emissions, including Indonesia and South Africa, which intend to reach net-zero by midcentury. All G20 countries, except Mexico, now have a net-zero target.

Countries such as Australia and Chile have also backed up their previous net-zero targets by passing national legislation that mandates they net-zero emissions by 2050.

With so many net-zero targets now set, nations must start taking near-term actions that will make reaching their net-zero ambitions possible. Some countries are doing just that. For example, Canada released its Emissions Reduction Plan, Nigeria launched its Energy Transition Plan, and the EU is revising its climate, energy and transport-related legislation under the “Fit for 55 package” in order to align current laws with its 2050 carbon neutrality goal.

Greening the Financial Sector

What was promised?

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) was formed in April 2021 to push the financial sector to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. By COP26, the initiative included more than 450 financial firms with $130 trillion in assets under management. As the Taskforce on Climate-related Disclosures (TCFD) Framework increasingly becomes the financial industry’s norm for climate-related disclosures, GFANZ has pushed the sector to set actionable net-zero transition plans, including interim science-based targets and transparency on progress.

Where we stand:

GFANZ has since grown to more than 500 members. In 2022, it  launched regional networks to support financial institutions’ shift to net-zero and issued guidance on crafting credible net-zero transition plans and measuring net-zero portfolio alignment. In September 2022, GFANZ leadership issued a statement urging for deforestation to be incorporated into institutions’ net-zero planning.

Curbing Methane

What was promised?

At COP26, 103 countries signed up to the Global Methane Pledge to collectively reduce methane emissions 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The U.S. and China also signed a joint declaration in Glasgow to enhance methane emissions controls, including by developing methane action plans.

Where we stand

Since COP26, 19 additional countries formally endorsed the Global Methane Pledge. Signatories now collectively represent over three-quarters of the global economy and half of global methane emissions.

In June 2022 at the Major Economies Forum, the U.S. and E.U. launched the Global Methane Pledge Energy pathway — a joint initiative to reduce methane emissions from the energy sector — as a critical step in implementing the Global Methane Pledge. This effort includes $59 million in funds and in-kind assistance from the U.S., E.U., Germany, Norway, Canada, UNEP and other philanthropic organizations to support additional R&D, policy development, and enforcement and implementation to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Halting Deforestation

What was promised?

Under the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, more than 140 countries pledged at COP26 to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. A group of the largest agricultural commodity companies agreed to release at COP27 a shared roadmap for enhanced supply chain action consistent with a pathway to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Group of 12 governments pledged to provide $12 billion for forest-related climate finance between 2021-2025, and a coalition of public sector donors and private philanthropies pledged an additional $1.7 billion to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities. And more than 30 financial institutions committed to create individual organizational plans, milestones and incentives for commitments on deforestation-free agricultural commodity portfolios.

Since COP26, four new countries joined the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use: The Holy See, Nicaragua, Singapore and Turkmenistan. This brings the total signatories to 145. G20 countries notably absent include India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) will launch at COP27 to accelerate  implementation of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration through country-led commitments, increased ambition over time and annual meetings to take stock of progress.  The FCLP will build on existing commitments focusing on sustainable land use enterprises, supporting Indigenous Peoples and local communities and mobilizing public and private finance.

Greening Cities

What was promised?

At COP26, more than 1,000 cities and local governments, representing a quarter of global emissions, joined the Cities Race to Zero, pledging to reach net-zero emissions in the 2040s or sooner.

Where we stand:

As of September 2022, 1,136 cities had signed up to Cities Race to Zero. This is a significant milestone that should serve as a catalyst for further pledges across multiple sectors.

The recently published Race to Zero report, however, provides little data on progress. It notes that only one-third of cities that have been members of the initiative for more than one year are reporting on progress; of  those, 84% are taking action. Furthermore, data on targets and, critically, actual emissions reductions is unfortunately lacking.

Electric Vehicles

What was promised?

More than 100 countries, cities, states and major businesses signed a declaration to end the sale of internal combustion engines in leading markets by 2035 and worldwide by 2040.

Where we stand:

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, as of June 2022, 18 countries and states had committed to phase out internal combustion light-duty vehicles between 2030 and 2050; nine committed to some level of phase-out for internal combustion trucks; and 11 committed to zero-emission buses. Other cities, states and countries have memorandums of understanding in the works.

What’s Needed at COP27 and Beyond?

Progress made on COP26 commitments since Glasgow is mixed at best. But to be fair, countries and others often save up their exciting announcements for major international moments. Hopefully we are in for some nice surprises when world leaders gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for COP27. The world will be watching carefully to see if countries, companies and cities back up their commitments with real action.