The 26th annual COP concluded earlier this month and we wanted to highlight some of our takeaways from this historical conference.
Why was COP26 so important?
We are at a critical time in the fight against climate change. With temperatures currently sitting at 1.1℃ warmer than pre-industrial levels, it was undeniably important that world leaders came together to find ways to keep 1.5℃ alive through negotiations, commitments and pledges. Science proves that if our world warms past 1.5℃, there will be catastrophic and irreversible events. COP26 was also the first ratchet marker for nations who all agreed at COP21 (Paris) to re-evaluate their efforts every five years.
What were the results of COP26?
People have praised and criticized the outcomes of COP26 - however, one major result was the Glasgow Climate Pact. Similar to the Paris Accord, the Glasgow Climate Pact is an agreement based on two weeks of intense negotiations between 197 nations and organizations. The agreement includes the commitment to phase down (more on that below) the use of unabated coal, the consensus to re-visit climate action plans at COP27 with more aggressive targets, larger financial commitments from developed countries, and many other pledges from world leaders.
Although COP26 was the most aggressive form of COP talks since their inception, Climate Action Tracker shows that even if all COP26 commitments were executed the world is still on track to warm by 2.1℃.
Below we've outlined five takeaways that stood out to our team from the conference.
1. Coal power needs to be signed to history, but it wasn't
Coal is the single largest contributor to global warming. According to the End Coal Organization, burning coal is responsible for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and accounts for 72% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity sector.
COP26 was the first time coal was named in an official COP declaration, it was the first time countries listed a fossil fuel as a major contributor to global warming and signifies that science took the forefront of discussions at COP26. This was a huge step in the right direction but more action needs to be taken.
At the end of COP26, there was a last-minute phrase change that switched "phasing OUT" coal with "phasing DOWN". Both India and China opposed the original wording.
The consensus is the world needs to transition to a clean and renewable energy economy but there need to be market and investment incentives to do so.
Commitments made at COP26:
- Leaders agreed to end funding to coal projects overseas.
- 25 countries/public finance institutions committed to ending funding to fossil fuel energy projects by 2022 freeing up $17.8 billion a year for clean energy transitions.
- 40 leaders support the Break Through Agenda, representing more than 70% of the world economy. The Break Through Agenda sees countries/businesses coordinate their climate action each year to scale up the development and deployment of clean technology.
- 190 countries and organizations agreed to eliminate coal power.
- 23 countries made new commitments to phase out coal power including 5 of the world's top 20 coal-powered generators.
- 28 new countries commit to building no new coal plants, matching commitments made in the last few years from other countries.
2. Countries pledge to halt deforestation & restore our forests
There are many reasons why we need to prioritize halting deforestation. First, releasing CO₂ has the same effect on global warming no matter it comes from, whether it's from extracting fossil fuels or cutting down forests. Second, forests absorb and store CO₂! PNAS estimates that forests absorb up to 20% of emissions from the atmosphere each year.
Commitments made at COP26:
- Over 100 leaders, from countries that account for 85% of the world's forests, committed to halt and reverse forest loss/land degradation by 2030 and pledge USD $19.2 billion of public and private funds.
- 28 countries pledged to remove deforestation from the global trade of food and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soya and cocoa.
- Fund of USD $1.4 billion to be established to protect the Congo Basin, the world's second-largest tropical rainforest.
- 30+ of the world's biggest financial companies have promised to end investment in activities linked to deforestation.
3. Climate adaptation for developing countries takes the spotlight
Simply put, climate adaptation means adapting our lives, behaviours and systems to protect our families, economies and our planet from the effects of climate change.
Climate adaptation can be pricey, especially for developing countries, so it's become essential that climate change funds work to reduce global warming and help ready individuals, businesses and countries for the life-threatening impacts of climate change (i.e. drought, wildfires, flooding, rising sea levels, etc.).
Although there were significant pledges made at COP26, one major concern is that there still isn't a program for hard-hit countries to receive financial aid for climate change losses and damages that occur as a result of actions, or non-actions, by major polluters countries like the USA and China.
Commitments made at COP26:
- The Glasgow Pact declared a goal of doubling the annual financial contribution for adaptation, from developed countries to developing countries, by 2025.
- Over USD $450 million was announced for locally-led adaptation approaches and USD $356 million was pledged to the Adaptation Fund.
- Donors pledge USD $413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund, which is the only climate resilience fund that exclusively targets least developed countries.
- Creation of Glasgow Dialogue, a task force designed to discuss future funding for a Loss and Damage Facility, which would provide financial assistance to countries suffering climate change impact due to big polluter countries.
4. Developed countries commit to actually deliver on financial promises
Climate change comes with a big price tag. One of the top goals for COP26 was how to mobilize finances from developed countries to countries that desperately need funds as they transition to a clean economy and prepare for the impacts of global warming (adaptation).
At COP15, developed countries pledged to mobilize USD $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020, but this goal has not been met. In 2019, only around USD $80 million was sent to developing countries, up from USD $78 billion in 2018.
Commitments made at COP26:
- New financial commitments towards adaptation and the USD $100 billion-a-year goal from Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden each worth more than USD $500 million per year by 2025.
- New climate financing commitments from the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Australia, Norway, Ireland and Luxembourg towards the USD $100 billion a year goal.
- Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance was established for combating difficulties in securing climate finances which received USD $100 million in financing.
- Major commitments include Norway tripling its adaptation finance, Japan and Australia doubling their adaptation finance, and commitments from Switzerland, the US and Canada for the Adaptation Fund.
- USD $8.5 billion will be made available over the next 3-5 years to support South Africa's transition to clean energy.
- Announcement of the launch of Climate Investment Funds’ Capital Markets Mechanism (CCMM), which will boost investments in the clean energy transition.
5. Holding everyone accountable, checking in annually
COP26 was the first ratchet for nations post-COP21 that required updated climate plans from countries every five years, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. However, at COP26 world leaders agreed to launch an ANNUAL checkpoint process moving forward, rather than every five years. This signals a global understanding of the urgency to keep each other accountable and the need to revisit and increase efforts yearly if needed. This annual process will include detailed reporting, which will be peer-reviewed, and the requirement to increase NDCs (pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change) if they are too weak.
A new international board was also instated. The International Sustainability Standard Board will develop a comprehensive global baseline for sustainability reporting so everyone is on the same page.
World leaders also agreed to adopt the Enhanced Transparency Framework under the Paris Agreement that will see ALL countries reporting their national emissions and their progress towards achieving their NDCs every two years after 2024.
So many pledges made, so many 'agreements' signed, but what now? While COP26 had an urgency to it and the general consensus is we are headed in the right direction, the gap to make substantial change is quickly deteriorating. The time to take concrete action is now!
We understand the urgent need to change the way items around the world are extracted, produced and discarded in order to keep 1.5℃ alive. That's why our products and solutions are designed to have an immediate impact while supporting goals for long-term change. At Smart Plastic, we aren't promising solutions for 5, 10 or 20 years down the line. We're delivering tangible, sustainable products NOW.