The COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow concluded Saturday with a landmark pact intended to keep alive the Paris Agreement that aims to limit global warming this century to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the deal represented “a decisive shift in the world's approach to tackling climate emissions, setting a clear roadmap to limiting the rising global temperatures to 1.5 degrees and marking the beginning of the end for coal power”.

For the first-ever time, the COP text mentioned fossil fuels, specifically the phasing down of coal-fired power generation and that of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, although many nations decried the watered-down wording of the ultimate document.

The initial draft of the text, published on 10 November, called for the phasing out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies but there was strong resistance to the wording not least from India and China.

Are you missing out on ACCELERATE?
Gain valuable insight into the global oil and gas industry's energy transition from ACCELERATE, the free weekly newsletter from Upstream and Recharge.

Deeply frustrated

India and China will “have to explain themselves to poor nations” after effectively diluting the Glasgow Climate Pact, said COP26 president, Alok Sharma, who added that their actions had left him “deeply frustrated”.

Sharma said he eventually accepted the compromise because “it was my view that otherwise we might end up with no deal at all. We would have lost two years of really hard work and would have ended up with nothing to show for it for developing countries".

However, environmental non-governmental organisations were far from impressed with the behind the scenes lobbying by hydrocarbon sector proponents.

Weasel words

“We have sadly seen the hand of fossil fuel interests interfering with that [initial] text, to water it down with weasel words like ‘unabated’ and ‘inefficient’,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director at Destination Zero.

“This language: ‘Unabated coal, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’, we’ve seen it before, we’ve seen it in the G20 through 12 years. ‘Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’, it means nothing, and we’ve seen no progress on limiting those subsidies since we’ve seen that language,” said Abreu.

Caroline Rance from Friends of the Earth Scotland agreed that it looks like the fossil fuels lobby had “got its hands on the decision text”.

The summit also saw Article 6 rules drawn up that pave the way for a carbon trading market, which is expected to see an influx of funds into schemes that generate carbon credits.

The new framework will include a system that will allow nations to trade credits to help meet their decarbonisation targets.

Developing carbon abatement progammes

Partner Elisa de Wit, who heads Norton Rose Fulbright’s Australian climate change practice, said: “It is fantastic that we now finally have the rules for the operation of carbon markets finalised under Article 6. Finalisation of these rules means that there can be a co-ordinated approach to the development of carbon abatement projects, and strong integrity as to how credits from these projects can be utilised to meet countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

“It will allow private sector investment to mobilise to scale up the undertaking of nature-based solutions, with the associated co-benefits that these types of projects can generate, including addressing biodiversity loss, indigenous engagement and regional employment,” said de Wit.

Adaptation was also high on the agenda during deliberations at the latest climate change summit. Parties established a work programme to define the global goal on adaptation, which will identify collective needs and solutions to the climate crisis already affecting many countries.

At COP26 there also consensus on the need for developed nations to continue increasing support to developing countries, while the duty to fulfil the pledge of providing $100 billion annually from developed to developing countries was also reaffirmed. The first $100 billion tranche had been due for payment in 2020.

“90% of the world's economy is now following our lead here in the UK, by committing to net zero. When Alok took the reins of COP, it wasn't even a third who were committed,” said Johnson.

“We've got trillions of pounds of private sector assets lined up with climate goals and we've even managed to do something that has eluded the world for six years. By finalising the Paris rule book, allowing us to move from interminable debates about how to measure emissions and instead get on with cutting them,” he said.

“Before Paris, the world was on course for a devastating 4 degrees warming by the end of this century. After Paris, remember, we were heading for 3 degrees,” added Johnson.

“At Glasgow, we've turned that dial down to around 2 degrees increase and, of course, that's still far too high but for all our disagreements, the world is undeniably heading in the right direction.

“Even the most pessimistic commentator will tell you… that goal of restricting the growth in temperatures to 1.5 degrees is still alive.”

However, UNFCCC secretary Patricia Espinoza cautioned that despite what had been achieved in Glasgow, “it’s imperative we see more climate action this decade to achieve it”.

“The emissions gap remains a serious threat, as do the gaps in finance and adaptation. NDCs must be significantly boosted.

“… every country, city, company and financial institution must credibly and verifiably reduce their emissions and decarbonise their portfolios starting now,” she said.

Under the Paris Agreement, 195 nations set a target to keep average global temperature change below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C.

Before COP26, the planet was on course for 2.7°C of global warming. Based on new announcements made during the conference, experts estimate that we are now on a path to between 1.8°C and 2.4°C of warming, noted the European Commission.

At the end of the summit, Parties have now agreed to revisit their commitments, as necessary, by the end of 2022 to put us on track for 1.5°C of warming, maintaining the upper end of ambition under the Paris Agreement, according to the Commission.