Last week's COP26 was arguably one of the most successful in the annual climate conference's history. However, analysis suggests that the promises made still won't be enough to avert massive climate disruption. Here's our take on what emerged from the COP – and what did not.
The Glasgow Climate Pact
The primary agreement to come out of COP26 was the Glasgow Climate Pact – a 97-article document signed by nearly 200 countries. Perhaps the most headline-grabbing element of the pact is its nominal commitment to eliminating coal power.
The aim of 'consigning coal to history' has been a major focus for COP26 president Alok Sharma, as it is responsible for up to 40% of the world's annual CO2 emissions. That he was able to push through an agreement that addresses the issue should be seen as a success – especially in light of the fact that no previous COP decision has included a reference on the need to reduce or eliminate fossil fuel use.
The Glasgow Climate Pact also includes reference to the need to dramatically increase the amount of money spent on the fight against climate change – both in terms of governments' spending on things like planning and infrastructure, and in support for the developing countries most severely affected by environmental turmoil.
Additionally, it includes a tougher so-called 'ratchet' system. The ratchet requires countries to re-evaluate and revise their stated plans to cut emissions. These plans – known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs – are key in accomplishing the 2015 Paris Accord goal of 1.5ºC global warming.
There is scientific consensus that the best way to avoid environmental catastrophe is to limit global warming to 1.5ºC from pre-industrial levels. Already the climate has warmed by 1.1ºC, so the need for action is pressing. The Paris Accord set a goal of putting into place by 2030 the structure necessary to maintain that limit. The individual NDCs of countries are the 'how' of achieving that goal.
Before COP26, NDCs were required to be revised every five years. (This was why COP26 was so important, as it was the first time such a revision process had taken place since the Paris Agreement.) The Glasgow Climate Pact acknowledges the need to act even more urgently and turns the ratchet into an annual process.
There has been heavy criticism of the Glasgow Climate Pact, with many feeling that it is simply too little too late. University of Reading professor Hannah Cloke echoed the feelings of many when she told CNN: 'If the success of an international agreement can be measured in its ability to disappoint everyone equally, the Glasgow accord could be seen as a triumph.'
And Alok Sharma himself was visibly upset in response to the anger of climate-vulnerable nations over last minute changes to the pact, later telling delegates: 'I apologise for the way this process has unfolded.'
The Glasgow Climate Pact is not legally binding, so there's nothing really to stop a country from completely ignoring whatever promises it has made. Equally frustrating for observers is the fact that the language of the pact is not strong enough, relying heavily on words like 'request' and 'invite' in stating its articles.
One of the most notable examples of watered down language can be found in the article related to the reduction of coal use. Originally it had called for the 'phase-out' of coal power but a last-minute objection from India resulted in the statement being changed to a call for a 'phase-down.' Additionally, there is no suggested deadline for that action.
However, the Pact's declaration that coal would be scaled down – for the first time ever – was to be welcomed, observers said.
In terms of the finance needed to fight climate change the pact is vague about specifics. No fund is established; there is simply an article that 'urges' developed countries to do more.
One of the reasons the Glasgow Climate Pact sought to implement an annual review of NDCs was the overshadowing news that the world is presently on track to suffer a 2.4ºC rise in global average temperature, even if all the Paris Accord's 2030 goals are achieved.
Analysis also found that if current policies are left in place, ie, if some 2030 targets are ignored or missed, the world is more likely to see an increase of 2.7ºC by 2100. The implications of such a temperature rise are nothing short of catastrophic.
The analysis underlines the importance of reviewing NDCs on an annual basis. Especially in light of additional analysis that suggests the NDCs of COP26 are still not enough. According to Climate Action Tracker, even in a best case scenario of full implementation of all announced targets the world will still see a temperature rise of 1.8ºC – that's more than the Paris Accord goals.
That said, COP26 organisers say hope is not lost. Alok Sharma told delegates that 1.5ºc is still 'within reach' but that 'its pulse is weak.'
'It will only survive if we keep our promises, if we translate commitments into rapid action,' he said. 'And if we deliver on the expectations set out in this Glasgow Climate Pact to increase ambition to 2030 and beyond.'
Elsewhere at COP26
The Glasgow Climate Pact was not the only thing to come out of COP26, of course. The event, which drew in excess of 40,000 attendees, provided an opportunity for a number of countries to interact and announce major initiatives.
For example, two of the world's largest economies, the United States and China, have agreed to step up climate cooperation – even in the face of rising diplomatic tension between the two countries.
Both countries were also part of a 100-country pledge to end deforestation by 2030. Forests are seen as key in the fight against climate change, helping to capture billions of tonnes of carbon each year. Yet in recent decades the destruction of such forests has been on the increase.
The countries signing the deforestation pledge represent 85% of the world's forests. Additionally, the pledge includes more than $19 billion in public and private funds.
China did not join the US, however, in being among the 100 countries that have pledged to reduce methane emissions. Methane is a major cause of global warming. The pledge – led by the US and European Union – seeks to cut emissions by 30%.
And the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, made up of the world's biggest financial players which together control around 40% of global assets, pledged to direct a stunning $130 trillion in capital toward achieving a 'net zero' global economy by 2050.