Politicians, analysts, and advocates for climate action are now taking stock of the agreement made at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, COP26. The consensus is that although there was significant progress in many areas, it wasn’t enough.
The world is still far from avoiding a climate crisis. They are not achieving the goal of limiting global warming below 1.5 Celsius above preindustrial levels. This goal was set at previous Paris talks in 2015. Despite agreements to cut carbon and other methane emissions, end the deforestation, and renew the pledge to finance poorer countries most affected by extreme weather, it is still off track.
Britain’s Climate Change Committee, an independent, statutory body, was established to advise the UK government about emission targets. It said that COP26 “marked a significant step forward in global efforts for climate change mitigation.”
It claims that there was an increase of ambitions to reduce global emissions. It lists as achievements “finalization of rules for reporting emissions and international trading in carbon” and “the launch of a variety of new initiatives and sector agreements.”
The committee stated that “how far this can be considered successful will depend on the follow-up actions in the next year and beyond.”
The two-week summit was nothing more than noise for many climate activists. Greta Thunberg, a teenage activist, called COP26 “a global north Greenwash Festival.”
However, some serious analysts agree that the summit should be regarded as a failure because it failed to achieve the goals it set.
“Was COP26 a disaster? This summit fell short of its original goals if we look at it from the perspective of the summit’s original goals. Two big ticket items weren’t realized: renewing targets for 2030 that align with limiting warming to 1.5℃, and an agreement on accelerating the phase-out of coal,” Robert Hales and Brendan Mackey, academics from Australia’s Griffith University, concluded in a commentary for The Conversation website.
An agreement to accelerate the phasing out of coal was canceled due to India’s last-minute intervention. The final communique addressed the vaguer “phasing down” of coal.
Hales and Mackey agree that COP26 was a success, with important decisions being made and some bright spots. They believe that COP26 could be seen as the moment when the world made a clear turn away from fossil fuels as a source for energy. They also highlight COP26’s emphasis on mitigating harm to nature and ecosystems, such as protecting forests and biodiversity.
In a side agreement at Glasgow, 124 countries pledged to end deforestation before 2030. Other analysts praise the final deal urging countries to fulfill their outstanding promise to deliver $100 million per year for five consecutive years to developing countries that are vulnerable to climate change to aid them in adaptation and to build resilient infrastructure. Many developing countries are already experiencing declining crop yields and severe storms.
Rob Stavins, Harvard University professor of Energy and Economic Development, is cautiously optimistic. He says that assessing COP26 success or failure is “both simplistic and obscures many of the purpose and function these annual negotiations.”
According to him, “This is a marathon, and not a sprint.” To continue the metaphor: It’s an relay race. The fundamental thing about any Conference of the Parties is that you don’t drop the baton when passing it on to the next one. This was a fair pass to the next Conference of the Parties. The next global climate negotiations are scheduled for next year in Egypt.
Stavins claims that the world was headed for 3.7 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end this century before the 2015 Paris talks. After COP21, the trajectory of warming fell to 2.7 degrees. The revised emission reduction targets that were agreed upon at Glasgow reduced the trajectory to 2.4 degrees Celsius.
He says, “And then, if we add in all the statements from countries regarding net zero emissions by 2050 as well as statements from the private sector, we could be at around 1.8 degrees Celsius.”
Alok Sharma (chair of COP26), stated that 1.5 Celsius is within reach. However, he added that the “pulse” remains weak.
Who will pay?
Weak or strong, some worry that governments in particular the Western ones may rush to decarbonize too fast and risk losing the support their own populations. They fail to account for the economic impacts of the enormous shifts they envision.
Opinion polls show that the majority of people worldwide see climate change a serious emergency that needs to be addressed. Recent polls have shown that people are reluctant to pay the financial costs of reducing global warming.
COP26 witnessed many discussions about how to finance the transition from fossil fuel dependency to renewable, durable energy. There was also much discussion about how to finance projects that make countries more resilient to extreme weather. There was no consensus on how the costs should be divided among governments (via taxes), consumers, households, and the private sector.
In a coordinated commitment to incorporate carbon dioxide into their investment and lending decisions, major banks, investors, and insurers pledged trillions of green funding at Glasgow. More than 450 financial institutions in 45 countries managed assets worth $130 trillion.
These seemingly small but critical changes to the plumbing and finance of finance can move and are shifting climate changes from fringes to forefront and transforming our financial system in the process,” Mark Carney (an ex-head of the central bank of Canada and England) said at the announcement of the pledge. He said, “The architecture of global financial system has been transformed so that net zero can be achieved.”
However, economists and industry analysts cautioned that these plans are far from concrete and that significant problems remain in measuring the carbon footprint of investment portfolios. They also need to be aligned across international financial markets. It is particularly important to verify the accuracy and reliability of reports by investors and banks.
Others fear that financial firms are only there to maximize profits for shareholders and clients. They could lose customers or violate their fiduciary duties if they fail maintain high returns. At this point, it is unclear how profitable green investments will prove to be.