The COP26 international climate conference took place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. The main goal was to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep a maximum of 1.5 C degrees of warming within reach. Net zero means total emissions are equal to or less than the emissions removed from the environment.

Other goals included accelerating the phase-out of coal and mobilising at least $100bn in climate finance per year.

After 13 days of negotiations between nearly 200 countries, the Glasgow Climate Pact was signed, and the Paris Agreement’s Rulebook was completed.

This Insight looks at the main outcomes from COP26 and how the conference was received by the international community and environmental groups.

What were the goals of COP 26?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), states that the annual Conference of the Parties (COP), serves two main purposes:

  1. To review the implementation of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, respectively.
  2. To adopt decisions to further develop and implement these three instruments.

Specific objectives are also set for each COP. Prior to COP26, four goals that needed to be achieved were set out. These were to:

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 C degrees within reach by:

  • accelerating the phase-out of coal
  • curtailing deforestation
  • speeding up the switch to electric vehicles
  • encouraging investment in renewables.

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.

3. Mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year.

4. Work together to deliver; finalising the Paris Rulebook and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through.

A House of Lords Library briefing on COP26: aims, goals and progress, published in November 2021, contains further details.

What was agreed?

The two headline outcomes from COP26 were the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact and agreeing the Paris Rulebook. Other significant deals and announcements, not part of COP26 itself, were also made during the conference.

What is the Glasgow Climate Pact?

The Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed to on 13 November after negotiations overran the last day of COP26. It is a “series of decisions and resolutions that build on the Paris accord”, setting out what needs to be done to tackle climate change. However, it doesn’t stipulate what each country must do and is not legally binding.

What is the Paris Rulebook?

The Paris Rulebook gives the guidelines on how the Paris Agreement is delivered. A focus of COP26 was to secure agreement between all the Paris signatories on how they would set out their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce emissions.

The finalised Rulebook, includes agreements on:

  • An enhanced transparency framework for reporting emissions
  • Common timeframes for emissions reductions targets
  • Mechanisms and standards for international carbon markets.

Other agreements

Commitments in a range of other areas such as forests, methane, car emissions, and private finance were also made. This included a commitment from 137 countries to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation” by 2030.

Phasing out the use of coal for energy production was a key objective for the UK presidency. 190 countries agreed to phase down coal power, resulting in a 76% decrease in planned new coal power plants. Over 40 countries, several states and organisations declared their support for the global coal to clean power transition statement.

The Clydebank Declaration, which aims to decarbonise shared shipping routes was signed by 22 countries. Agreements were also signed between private business, and cities as well as countries, such as a declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans by “2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets”.

How has the outcome been received?

In an emotional address at the end of the conference, COP26 President, Alok Sharma said:

We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.

The UK lead negotiator, Archie Young, in evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “across the board, we achieved what we set out to achieve”.

In a post-conference statement, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called the approved texts “a compromise” that “reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.”

Others stressed the need to act quickly. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s reaction was that it “gives us confidence that we can provide a safe and prosperous space for humanity on this planet. But there will be no time to relax: there is still hard work ahead.”

Minister of Environment for the Maldives, Shauna Aminath, highlighted the sense of urgency to prevent the effects of climate change was greater for some parts of the world than others. She said adapting to climate change was a matter of survival for the Maldives and while COP26 provided the foundations “it does not bring hope to our hearts. The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death sentence for us.”

CarbonBrief reported that the commitment to doubling climate adaptation finance was welcomed by many but “others were disappointed that this COP once again failed to provide vulnerable nations with the money to rebuild and respond to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.”

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth suggested that the Glasgow Pact fails to deliver on three fronts. Firstly, it disagreed that the world was on track to keep temperatures below 1.5 C degrees. It also said the pact didn’t deliver on loss and damage and hasn’t addressed the “complexity and urgency of phasing out fossil fuels”.

Further reading

All the outcomes of COP26 can be viewed on the United Nations Climate Change page and a concise overview is also available from UN Climate Action.

Commons Library briefings COP26: Delivering on $100 billion climate finance and Climate Change Explainers provide further insight to some of the key issues covered at COP26.

Further analysis is also provided in articles by BBC News, The Conversation and The Guardian.

About the author: Dominic Carver is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in the Environment and Climate Change.

Image: The action zone and globe by COP26, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

COP26: Briefings for the 2021 conference

Briefings about COP26 and climate change including the background to issues such as climate finance to developing countries and emissions trends.

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