The COP26 climate change conference concluded on Saturday with the landmark Glasgow Climate Pact intended to keep alive the Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius 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 decried the watered-down wording of the ultimate document.
The initial draft of the text, published on 10 November, had called for coal use and fossil fuel subsidies to be phased out but there was dogged resistance to the wording, not least from the major coal-fired economies India and China.
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”.
A visibly weary and emotional Sharma said he eventually accepted the compromised text 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."
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 enable nations to trade credits to help meet their decarbonisation targets.
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.
However, environmental groups were far from impressed with what they described as behind-the-scenes lobbying by the hydrocarbon sector.
“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.
Adaptation was also high on the agenda during deliberations at COP26, where the parties established a work programme to identify collective needs and define goals for countries already adapting to the changing climate.
Johnson highlighted that "90% of the world's economy" had now committed to net zero targets, up from less than one-third before the conference.
Paris rule book
“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,” Johnson said.
However, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (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," Espinoza said, while insisting that "every country, city, company and financial institution must credibly and verifiably reduce their emissions and decarbonise their portfolios starting now”.
Under the Paris Agreement, 195 nations set the goal to keep average global temperature change below 2 degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Before COP26, the planet was on course for 2.7 degrees Celsius of global warming. Based on new announcements made during the conference, experts estimate that we are now on a path to between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming, the European Commission this week noted.
The Commission said signatories would revisit their commitments by the end of next year to make sure they hew to the "upper end of ambition" of the Paris Agreement.
Johnson struck a hopeful tone at the meeting's conclusion.
“Even the most pessimistic commentator will tell you... that (the) goal of restricting the growth in temperatures to 1.5 degrees is still alive,” he said.
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