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What We Learnt from COP26

Six years ago, the Paris Agreement provided the structure for countries to lay out plans to tackle climate change – COP26 was the first decisive test to measure the progress of this collective global pursuit.

The COP26 UN climate event in Glasgow has now concluded and the Glasgow Climate Pact has been signed and sealed by all 197 countries that took part in talks.

In this blog, we will be looking at what statements, promises and takeaways we took away from COP26. You can see the full agreement here, but below we’ve outlined some of the most important conclusions.

Slashing Emissions

Currently, national plans on slashing emissions by 2030, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), are inadequate in their goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C. In fact, according to the analysis published during the talks, our current course would lead to a devastating 2.4C increase in temperatures.

Only one of the globe’s major carbon emitter’s – India – committed to a new NDC during talks, so it was vital to bring the major players on the world stage on board with the 1.5C targets beyond the summit.

However, as per the 2015 Paris agreement, nations are only obliged to set new NDCs every five years – and are only set to discuss new NDCs in 2025 for terms beyond 2030. This timetable would have taken the planet well beyond the goal of 1.5C, so the UK’s goal was to agree a new roadmap for swifter action in this department.

This goal was achieved, and revised NDCs will be discussed at COP 2022 in Egypt, and for the year after also.

Coal Phase Out

Coal is the dirtiest widely used fossil fuel and the International Energy Agency has outlined that if coal is not phased out, and phased out quickly, the planet will have no hope of staying within the designated 1.5C global heating target.

To have a hope of hitting this target, it’s predicted that at least 40% of the world’s existing 8,500 coal-fired plants must be replaced by sustainable energy options by 2030.

One of the more controversial parts of the talks was the commitment to “phase down” coal-fired power generation. A complete phase-out was originally put forth, but India and several other developing nations were insistent on making the change.

This may seem like a misstep, particular given the critical damage that fossil fuels contribute to the environment, but ever since the Kyoto protocol of 1997, no COP decisions can be made in direct relation to phasing out fossil fuel usage.

This meet-in-the-middle approach reflects just how much influence oil and coal producing countries have on the world stage, since they’re heavily dependent on continuing reliance on fossil fuels.

This stalled some areas of progression during talks, which rely on unanimity for all decisions taken. That said, even small progress should be deemed as a welcome start.

Climate Finance & Adaptation

In 2009, wealthy countries agreed to subsidise poorer countries to the tune of $100bn a year from 2020 to cut emissions and deal with the increasing impacts of a changing climate.

The latest data from 2019 shows that only $80bn was granted.

The broken promise was a point of contention for developing countries at the talks. This prompted a pledge to increase this figure over the next five years to $500bn.

To avoid potentially disabling entire industries, developing countries are looking for finances to adapt current infrastructure, rather than focusing on cuts to emissions.

This is quite crucial because a great deal of the climate financing is used to fund emission slashing projects, such as renewable energy infrastructures. In middle income countries, these are simple to create since they can be used to turn a profit. However, third-world countries require cash to weather the storm of economic, political, and climate uncertainty and may otherwise find it incredibly difficult to obtain any funding at all.

The deal outlines a pledge to double the proportion of climate financing used to put towards adapting current projects.

Loss & Damage

Loss and damage”, in this instance refers to side effects of climate change that are too powerful and destructive to prevent or adapt to – think hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and flash floods.

Nations have been discussing loss and damage for the past ten years, but deliberations have made little to no progress. Developing nations argue that they are fronting large sums from already depleted budgets to repair damage caused by climate change.

However, by agreeing to compensate for climate loss and damage, developed nations are leaving themselves open to legal liability for something that is largely out of their control.

At COP25 held in Madrid in 2019, talks concluded that a database would be built to communicate and report loss and damage. Developing nations were keen to further talks on this database, known as the Santiago Network, and agree to some kind of compensation scheme. This has not materialised, and we can expect something similar to resurface in Egypt next year.

Strengthening Ties

Some nations came to COP26 strongly opposed to the idea of robust climate action and suggested that the idea of focusing on 1.5C was similar to the goals of the Paris agreement, which looked to hold temperature rises below 2C.

However, the UK and close allies such as the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, argued that below 2C, couldn’t mean 1.8 or 1.9C, and we needed to aim for 1.5C.

When it comes to the idea of climate change, we must always err on the side of the best available scientific evidence, which has moved on significantly since the Paris agreement was drafted in 2015, and as we are increasingly aware – every degree counts.

 

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