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The key takeaways from Glasgow’s COP26 climate deal

Billed as vital crunch talks to prevent climate disasters before the end of the century, delegates from around the world convened in Glasgow for COP26. Running over the summit’s original deadline, how has the final deal shaped up?

If you’ve been with us over the last two weeks, you’ll now be accustomed to the topsy turvy nature of climate reform. One minute, you’re celebrating an important announcement from a coalition of delegates, and the next key players have decided to drop out.

While we were fully prepared for the flip flop nature of governments going in, we had hoped the severity of our situation – paired with growing civic pressure – would culminate in a decisive deal that could keep the terms of the Paris Agreement alive.

As COP president Alok Sharma appeared teary eyed before officials on Saturday, however, it became clear the closing agreement has culminated in more a tentative shuffle forward than a giant leap.

Let’s flesh out the legislation and what bearing new changes to mitigation, adaption, and finance will have on our goals of staying under 1.5C. Deep breaths.

 

Breaking down the COP26 deal

Examining the small-print word for word is pretty convoluted, but the central tenet of negotiations were to bring global emissions down drastically – specifically, below 1.5C before 2050.

With just under 100 months to halve global emissions, the 200 attending delegates discussed transport, deforestation, and most crucially phasing out fossil fuels as the pillars of decarbonisation.

Grandiose pledges on national levels received applause. 30 countries and six major vehicle manufacturers vowed to sell purely net zero vehicles by 2040, big emitters like China, the US, and Russia all pledged carbon neutrality at varying deadlines by 2060, and 100+ countries committed to end deforestation by 2030.

Ovations were dished out in conferences and powerful speeches were made, with our personal favourite coming from the refreshingly honest and ever charismatic Barak Obama.

Nonetheless, we were always wary that calling COP26 a success would rely on a faultless final agreement. The old proof in the pudding proverb.

This is where the optimism starts to unravel slightly. Originally slated as the summit’s deadline, Friday revolved entirely around phasing out coal and ensuring the agreement’s language allowed little wiggle room for stubborn economies.

Responsible for around 40% of all carbon emissions, addressing coal – both imported and ‘home grown’ – would be essential to any type of triumph in Glasgow.

Amid opposition from China and India (among others), the dramatic final hours saw countries agree to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ coal, with a view to maintaining balance between economic development and climate justice.

The current pledges will, in theory, bring us to 41.9 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This is a far cry from the 26.6 gigatons required to keep us under 1.5 by the mid-century.

Currently, the pledges that made it into the final deal will only limit global warming to about 2.4C as emission levels rise. Consolidating such damage, already threatened island and developing communities could quite literally perish if this proves to be the case.


Unfinished business is the common verdict

You’ve likely gathered that we don’t yet deem this month’s conference as a watershed moment for climate reform. But are there any upsides?

Greenpeace executive Jennifer Morgan has offered a crumb of positivity regardless of the text being watered down. ‘They changed a word but they can’t change the signal coming out of this COP – that the era of coal is ending,’ she said.

On the more prominent flipside, most are concerned that richer economies will take advantage of the lax guidelines and will also continue to produce oil and gas. Speaking of those ‘extracting and polluting for over a century,’ Friends of Earth’s Sara Shaw lamented the outcome as ‘nothing less than a scandal.’

Funding requests from developing nations to help with loss and damage related to climate change also failed to materialise in the text. The likes of Guinea and Kenya, Latin American states, and small island territories including the Philippines called for such an agreement in the final stages.

‘We recognise the presidency’s efforts to try and create a space to find common ground,’ said Lia Nicholson of Antigua. ‘The final landing zone, however, is not even close to capturing what we had hoped.’

In summation, there are both positives and definitely negatives to take away from Glasgow.

Falling short of initial ambitions, it has delivered the first ever international agreement to bring coal levels down (though flawed) and a science backed roadmap of what’s required to reach 1.5C. Again, we’re left fraught with promises of more drastic action in the future.

While the likes of John Kerry and Boris Johnson commend the climate event as a ‘starter pistol’ for an annual upping of the ante, COP26 will have done little to stem the determination of climate activists.

Expect demonstrations in Egypt to be even more raucous come 2022. Can you blame them?

 

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