Politics

Why is COP26 important? 10 vital announcements that affect you – and how they could fail



Boris Johnson has long since swept away from the cavernous Glasgow venue in his domestic jet.

But since the PM splurged about humanity “pulling back a goal” on Tuesday, COP26 has remained locked in talks about halving emissions by 2030.

The climate summit still has a week to run, and has hit the halfway mark as 25,000 delegates take a short weekend break.

So what has it actually announced – especially while the nation’s attention has been diverted onto Tory sleaze instead?

The truth is a fair number of things HAVE been agreed so far at the summit in Glasgow, many of them promising.

UK officials believe they have moved the dial on crucial issues including coal, the “ratcheting” up of the Paris deal and a crucial pact with South Africa.



But climate activist Greta Thunberg branded the conference a “failure” and a “PR exercise” at a rally in Glasgow.

And next week some of the consensus we’ve seen will start to be severely tested, as technical talks get into the detailed issues that countries aren’t so keen to agree.

Meanwhile while they will all affect your life in ways big and small, it can be hard to see how, because they’re so broad and general.

For this same reason, there are plenty of fears that while these pledges are shiny, they won’t actually be enforced.

Just compare Boris Johnson ’s upbeat assessment to US President Joe Biden – who condemned China for “walking away”.

So let’s get back to basics. Here are the COP goals, what’s been announced so far, and some of the problems we can see.

Keeping 1.5C alive

World leaders want to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C – down from a projected 2.7C by the end of this century.

This is the central target of COP26. Every step forwards will affect it – even if only a tiny amount. And every rise means more people displaced, more dead coral reefs, wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and entire cities destroyed.

UK officials claim we were on course for more like 6C before the Paris talks, then 4C, and COP26 has had some impact.

But officials were still crunching the numbers this week, making it difficult to assess exactly how far we’ve got.

One UK source claimed moving the dial under 2.5C would be an achievement. Another hoped we’re getting closer to 2C.

More optimistic research by the University of Melbourne suggests we’re now on track for 1.9C.

But Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates warned the 1.5C goal is “very difficult” – “I doubt that we’ll be able to achieve that”.








Demonstrators during the Fridays for Future Scotland march through Glasgow
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Image:

PA)



Net Zero targets

UK ministers boast 90% of the world’s economy is now covered by pledges to reach Net Zero emissions.

The figure includes India, Thailand, Nepal, Nigeria and Vietnam, all of whom unveiled new pledges around COP26.

But India has only pledged Net Zero by 2070, which a UK official branded “curious” and predicted will shift forward.

The UK is leading efforts to commit the world to Net Zero by 2050, and some officials hope that will one day move to 2045.

China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, however, have all chosen 2060 instead while Turkey has chosen 2053.

And the G20 in Rome committed the wealthiest nations only to Net Zero “by or around mid-century”.

UK officials are optimistic about India’s pledges, though, despite the 2070 date.








The sprawling venue in Glasgow includes a room with a big globe
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Image:

Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock)



Deforestation

110 nations covering 85% of global forests signed a declaration to “halt and reverse” deforestation by 2030.

The UK said it was the biggest breakthrough on forests “in a generation” and a “massive success for COP”, while Boris Johnson said it would “end this great chainsaw massacre”.

Importantly it is signed by forest-rich countries such as Brazil, Russia, China, Colombia, Indonesia and the DRC.

And over 30 financial institutions with $8.7tn of assets committed to stop investing in deforestation-linked activity.

But almost immediately there were questions about how the plan will be enforced.

Nations pledged in 2014 to halve tropical deforestation by 2020, but a report this year found it has increased.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement, Boris Johnson accepted some governments might “break the pledges”.

And Indonesia’s forestry minister said the 2030 promise was “unfair”, despite his government signing it.








Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg outside the summit in Glasgow
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Ewan Bootman/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock)



Coal

COP26 leaders declared at least 23 nations had made new commitments to phase out coal power, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, South Korea, Egypt, Spain, Nepal, Singapore, Chile and Ukraine.

UN officials suggested they would phase out coal power “in the 2030s” for major economies and “2040s” elsewhere. This leeway was introduced to make sure countries got on board.

Those close to the talks described the breakthrough as a watershed moment, beyond the hopes of some negotiators.

But Juan Pablo Osornio of Greenpeace said: “The small print seemingly gives countries enormous leeway to pick their own phase-out date, despite the shiny headline.”

Meanwhile the G20 in Rome committed rich nations to stop financing overseas coal power stations by Christmas.

But the G20 – which includes huge polluter China – stopped short of banning coal power in their own countries.

Methane

More than 100 countries backed a US/EU plan to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030.

The gas is one of the main causes of climate change – and it’s claimed this pledge alone will limit 0.2C of warming.

Methane traps heat more than CO2 but also breaks down in the atmosphere faster over time as emissions are cut.

Joe Biden said the Global Methane Pledge covers nations with nearly half of emissions, including Brazil.

But Greenpeace said the pledge was a “missed opportunity” by not including cattle that are killed for meat.








A climate activist runs in a hamster cage at George Square. Will methane pledges be more than hot air?
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Image:

@JamieLawson1001 via REUTERS)



Cars

So-called ‘transport day’ will only come next week at COP26 ahead of final agreements next Friday.

But UK officials say there have already been some commitments at the summit, where an electric racing car is proudly on display in one of the public areas.

One of five ‘Glasgow Breakthroughs’ announced by Boris Johnson was that “zero emission vehicles are the new normal and accessible, affordable, and sustainable in all regions by 2030.”

However, this is a lot vaguer than the UK’s pledge to actually end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

The Paris Agreement in 2015 unveiled bold pledges – but not enough action to achieve them.

So it contains a system to “ratchet” up nations’ pledges to cut their carbon emissions every five years.

Much of this is done through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which were due to be submitted before COP.

The UN hailed improved NDCs from Argentina, Brazil, Guyana, India, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique and Thailand.

Brazil said the country would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, an improvement from 43%.

But China’s NDCs, unveiled days before COP26, failed to go further than what the country had already announced.

Boris Johnson urged President Xi to go further and reach peak emissions by 2025, not 2030.





$100billion a year to poorer countries

World leaders failed in a bid to hand $100bn a year in public and private climate finance to poorer nations.

The target was meant to have been hit in 2020. Instead rich nations were on track to hit it in 2023 – though John Kerry of the US suggested this may now happen in 2022 instead.

COP26 has seen fresh commitments from the UK, Spain, Japan, Australia, Norway, Ireland and Luxembourg.

And the UK has pledged £12.6bn overall from 2019 to 2025.

Boris Johnson insisted: “We will work closely with developing countries to do more and to reach the target soon”.

UK officials believe finance is one of the hardest nuts to crack – and even when $100bn is reached, will it be enough? Prince Charles says trillions of dollars per year are needed in investment to stop a climate catastrophe.








Time is running out to save the planet
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NurPhoto/PA Images)



Forcing firms to go green by 2050

COP26 has seen some action involving big companies – including in the UK.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced hundreds of UK-listed companies will be told to go green by 2050 or face sanctions.

A new law will force them to publish yearly “green” investment plans to move to net zero by the middle of the century..

The change from 2023 will pile pressure on businesses like BP and Rio Tinto, which rely heavily on fossil fuels.

But half of the biggest companies listed in the FTSE index not thought to have any net zero target in place.

And Greenpeace said the announcement needed a ‘concrete timeline’ for the law, which was missing from UK plans.

Closing the gigaton gap

To ‘keep 1.5 alive’, the world needs to cut global emissions by 28 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Or 22 gigatons, if you follow a different measurement by the UN.

A UN press release claims measures announced at COP will “close the ambition gap” by nine gigatons, leaving 13 to go.

It’s thought India’s commitments at COP – despite its 2070 Net Zero delay – will cut a gigaton of emissions alone.

Officials believe a UK-backed plan to hand $8.5bn to South Africa will prevent a further 1-1.5 gigatons over 20 years. Officials are particularly excited about this deal – which focuses on the electricity market – as it’s about big, structural change.

And the declarations on forestry and land use could knock off 3.5 gigatons, it’s claimed.








Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference
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Image:

REUTERS)



What happens next?

There has been talk about reconvening climate “ratchet” talks more than every five years.

But at the moment it’s just talk, and UK sources played down any hope of them being convened once a year.

At the moment, if COP26 fails, it’s a little unclear when the next big opportunity to save the planet will come.


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