Outcome of COP26

The COP26 Glasgow Climate Talks concluded this weekend with few things to celebrate.

30 Nov 2021

Despite the media spin, the outcome of the negotiations fails to keep the world below 1.5 degrees of temperature rise or provide finance to the Global South. Outside the talks, people came together in incredible numbers up and down the country and around the world. Now we need to hold governments to account for what they failed to do in Glasgow and continue to show that the solutions to the climate crisis lie with us.  

Here’s what came out of COP26 in Glasgow. 

The Glasgow Climate Pact

Overall the Glasgow Climate Pact – the agreement made at COP26 – doesn’t get the world on track for keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, neither delivering the emissions cut ambitions from Global North countries, nor the finance needed for Global South countries to do the same. 

The Glasgow Climate Pact also "recognises" that 1.5 will require actions including net zero by "around mid-century". This isn’t in line with a 1.5 pathway and allows polluting countries and companies to keep polluting for decades, based on the fantasy of balancing out their emissions with offsets, carbon, markets and other dangerous distractions.

Thankfully, a dangerous reference to "reaching 1.5c by 2100" – which could have allowed for an overshoot of the 1.5 degree target as long as the temperature was reduced back to 1.5 degrees – has been removed.

In each iteration of the text, the language asking for a phase out of fossil fuels has been weakened. The end result is a call on parties for "accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies" and is in a paragraph about the "development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emissions energy systems" which places emphasis on technologies rather than emissions cuts. What we need is real emissions cuts at source, but instead the cover text sets the stage for a "clean power generation" in the guise of coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS).  

Loss and Damage

There has been a huge push from civil society and the G77 (the negotiating bloc that represents the majority of the world’s population) on Loss and Damage finance – the money badly needed to help impacted countries deal with the devastating consequences of climate change that are already locked in and happening now.

But the Glasgow Climate Pact has failed to deliver this. The G77 submitted a proposal for a new finance facility for Loss and Damage, but this has been removed from the text in favour of welcoming the "further operationalisation" of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage (which was set up in Madrid at COP25 to provide technical assistance to Global South countries).

This means that while richer countries may agree to give up some funds for "technical assistance" they won’t budge in paying for the actual damages that are caused by climate change. Instead they have suggested 3 years of dialogue, that’s 3 years of conversation rather than the support that’s needed immediately.  

A further catch being that the Santiago Network isn't operational yet despite the calls of the countries that badly need Loss and Damage support, so describing it as "the further operationalisation" diminishes the amount of work left to do to meaningfully operationalise the network.  

Article 6 – carbon markets

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement has been agreed, after a delay of several years due to how controversial the subject of carbon markets is.

Carbon markets allow polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gases, for a price. Under carbon market schemes, atmospheric space is seemingly bought and sold. For more information about carbon markets, read Friends of the Earth International's report Chasing carbon unicorns.

The agreement on carbon markets could undermine any chance of staying below the 1.5 degree limit as the markets are unlikely to reduce emissions and can even act as a smokescreen for increasing emissions. Carbon credits from previous carbon markets have been allowed into the new market making it even less likely that the scheme will ever reduce emissions.

Countries did agree not to allow double counting of carbon credits, which is good news although will likely require some monitoring to ensure. Under one proposed market there is also a requirement for a 2% cancellation of each credit traded which is designed to stop 1 for 1 offsetting (which is at best carbon neutral) and to instead reduce emissions.

However the rate of cancellation is far too low to significantly reduce emissions and this only applies to one scheme and not to any other carbon trading arrangements countries may decide to implement. Friends of the Earth International responded to the deal on article 6 by highlighting the impacts of carbon markets on indigenous people, people in the global south and on human rights:  

"The Carbon Markets deal will condemn the global south and Indigenous Peoples – already on the frontlines of the climate crisis – to more land grabbing and Human Rights violations, and will likely lead to a rise in emissions."

A note on access and participation

The UK delivered the most exclusionary COP ever. Many of the people who are most impacted by the climate crisis have been prevented from accessing COP26 through vaccine apartheid, difficulties getting UK visas and the soaring costs of travel and accommodation.  

Those fortunate enough to make it to Glasgow found new obstacles placed in the way of their participation via a combination of bad planning, tech failures and shrinking space for civil society. In terms of representation – the fossil fuel lobby was the biggest single delegation – at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists were at COP, two dozen more than the largest country delegation.

People are bringing the change at the grassroots

Over the last few years there’s been an incredible wave of popular movements, especially youth movements, demanding change from governments and proposing solutions to the climate crisis.

The Global Day of Action on 6 November was one of the largest mobilisations ever. Organisers say around 300 demonstrations took place worldwide – over 100 in the UK alone. Glasgow's march saw up to 150,000 people take part.

The narrative on climate is changing – with governments and corporations making a plethora of net zero targets and mentions of fossil fuels, albeit surrounded by weakened language, making it into a COP agreement for the first time.

We need to push for real emissions reductions and not empty pledges, and solutions that put equity first, but its clear calls from people are being heard and decision-makers are feeling the pressure.  

People are bringing the change we need at the grassroots level. Bringing solutions to transform food, energy and economic systems such as building clean community-owned energy projects. Indigenous peoples and local communities around the world live out these solutions and we need to ensure that their rights are protected.