The first week COP26 summarized

November 6, 2021
min reading time

The first week COP26 summarized

We are halfway through COP26. Announcements of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrations by young climate activists in the streets of Glasgow (UK), and rivalries between major powers: What do we learn from this first week of COP26?

This breathtaking week for the environment was the scene of announcements, some commitments and declarations. However, the conference has also come under heavy criticism. The first measures announced were not particularly ambitious, and on top of that, most of the heads of state and government arrived in private jets. Both left the bitter taste of a "hypocritical" appearance. Especially because the appearance shows again that many have come "only" to talk and do not really want to act. The absence of Chinese, Russian and Brazilian leaders was also conspicuous, as were geopolitical tensions that have crept into discussions about global warming.

The science is clear that the window of opportunity for us to keep the 1.5℃ target and avoid the worst impacts of climate change is closing fast. But with political will and commitment, we can and must achieve an outcome in Glasgow that the world can be proud of.

- Alok Sharma, COP President

These are the highlights of the first week: Clear commitments on deforestation, coal and methane

Forest conservation & action roadmap for forest, agriculture and commodity trade

Around 100 countries have committed to halting deforestation by 2030. These countries, including China, account for 85% of the world's forests, which are currently shrinking at an alarming rate. This new plan aims to put an end to industrial logging in less than ten years. According to Greenpeace, the goal is too far away and a green light for "another decade of deforestation."

We will be looking for concrete evidence of change in the way funds are invested. If 80 percent of the proposed funds go to support land rights and proposals from indigenous and local communities, we will see a dramatic reversal of the current trend that is destroying our natural resources.

- Tuntiak Katak, Deputy Coordinator of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

In a global economic context where financial investment takes precedence, it is important to make the link between finance and climate protection. This was discussed at the conference. Finance plays an important role as leaders pledged to facilitate the alignment of financial flows with international goals to reverse loss and damage, while ensuring action to accelerate the transition to a greener economy. The pledge, signed by more than 30 financial institutions and covering more than $8.7 trillion in assets under management worldwide, aims to change that. It specifically aims to shift away from portfolios that invest in agricultural commodity supply chains with high deforestation risk and towards sustainable production.

The Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade Action Roadmap is a new partnership between the governments of key producer and consumer countries to break the link between deforestation and agricultural commodities, and has been endorsed by British Prime Minister and Indonesian President Joko Widodo under the slogan "Chocolate without Guilt." The roadmap will introduce measures to incentivize sustainability in the supply chain, support smallholder farmers to participate in markets, improve supply chain transparency and promote new technologies and innovations for the industry.

The Congo Basin Pledge, signed by more than 10 countries, the Bezos Earth Fund and the European Union, was also presented. The goal is to mobilize about $1.5 billion for the protection of forests, peatlands and other important carbon reservoirs. The initiative is also part of the global forest finance pledge of more than $12 billion.

The Congo Basin is the heart and lungs of the African continent, we cannot win the fight against climate change if we do not preserve the basin.

- Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabonese President

The private sector and large global companies also bear their share of responsibility for the climate crisis. It is therefore all the more important and welcome that they are making a financial commitment to climate protection. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pledged another $2 billion to restore nature and transform food systems. The fund had already pledged another $1 billion in September.

Global Clean Power Transition

Alok Sharma announced the new Global Clean Power Transition Statement, a commitment to end coal investment, expand clean power, transition equitably, and phase out coal by 2030 in major economies and by 2040 elsewhere.

190 countries, regions and organizations have pledged to phase out coal. According to scientific analysts, industrialized countries would have to shut down the last coal-fired power plant in 2030 and emerging countries in 2040. However, the commitment speaks of "in the thirties/forties." Therefore, there is criticism of the wording, because states would not be able to shut down the last coal-fired power plant until 2039. Under the commitment, however, that would be almost 10 years too late to achieve the Paris Agreement. Moreover, countries that are among the largest consumers of coal, such as China, India, Japan, Australia and the United States, unfortunately still refuse to commit - an unfortunate brake on environmental progress.

In addition, at least 19 countries have committed to stop foreign financing of fossil fuel projects without carbon capture technology by the end of 2022, including major investors such as the U.S. and Canada. Some G20 countries recently agreed to stop supporting overseas coal-fired power plants.

Global Methane Pledge

U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have launched an alliance of more than 100 countries, the Global Methane Pledge. These 100 countries account for more than 40% of global methane emissions. The agreement aims to reduce methane emissions by around 30% between 2020 and 2030. Moreover, according to Ursula von der Leyen, this alliance would be an important step because

Methane is one of the gases we can reduce the fastest. This will immediately slow down climate change.

In fact, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas in terms of volume after carbon dioxide (CO2). It is therefore urgent to implement measures to reduce methane emissions in addition to the indispensable measures to reduce CO2 emissions. While the European Union and the United States are part of the Global Methane Pledge, major polluters such as China, India and Russia are unfortunately still missing.

Denunciations of Indigenous Peoples and Solidarity with Countries Affected by Climate Change

There was a particular focus on solidarity with the countries that suffer most from climate change, namely the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Island Developing States (SIDS). This includes urgent funding for these countries through climate finance, grants and subsidies. To this end, Txai Suruí, an activist from the Amazon, picked up on the problem that climate activists from the Global South are often victims of assassination attempts. These facts are unfortunately too often ignored in favor of criminal organizations. Furthermore, Elizabeth Wathuti from Kenya (founder of the Green Generation Initiative) pointed out that the results of COP26 will determine the supply of clean water and food for the poorest populations. In addition, Tuntiak Katak, Deputy Coordinator of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, emphasized his particularly strong view of the Glasgow Forest and Land Pledge.

Geopolitical tensions

Finally, the conference also saw geopolitical tensions, particularly between U.S. Gov. Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, over how seriously the climate crisis and measures to improve climate protection are being taken.

Private jets, "blah blah blah" and "hypocrisy" at conference

On Friday, November 5, thousands of young people took to the streets in Glasgow, accusing politicians of making empty promises. The goal was to get governments to act. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg called this COP a "failure." The private jet trips of many leading politicians, such as Boris Johnson from London to Glasgow and Ursula von der Leyen from Brussels to Glasgow, were also heavily criticized and helped to highlight the paradox of COP26. In addition, several NGOs denounced the access restrictions imposed on Wednesday, November 3. In fact, thousands of experts were not able to participate in the negotiations, calling into question the claimed inclusivity of this COP and raising doubts about its transparency.

Glasgow financial alliance for net zero

Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announced the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a group of bankers, insurers and investors committed to putting climate change at the center of their work. He emphasized that he sees NetZero as the critical infrastructure of the new financial system. The commitment is linked to a pathway in which participating companies, including most major Western banks, must apply science-based guidelines to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To do so, they would have to commit to interim targets for a 50 percent reduction by 2030 and even an additional 25 percent reduction over the next five years. Dr. Güenther Thallinger, Member of the Board of Management of Allianz SE, expressed his commitment to the Glasgow Financial Alliance.

According to the Financial Alliance for Net Zero, private finance can help fund private sector initiatives and turn the billions allocated to climate investment through public channels into trillions in total climate investment. However, achieving systemic change will require shared, ambitious commitments and near-term action across the financial system. The head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, confirms this, stating:

Our emissions gap report shows it: there are about 500 gigatons [of CO2 emissions] left, with the current NDCS (national emission reduction plans) we've taken 4 gigatons [of emissions], but we're emitting 55 a year. That doesn't add up. There are some real opportunities for the financial sector, we need to stay away from coal, oil and gas.

At COP15 in 2009, climate finance of $100 billion per year by 2020 was agreed to support resilience, adaptation and energy transition in developing countries. This pledge has now been officially postponed until 2023.

Thus ends the first week of COP26, in which decisions and announcements for the future of humanity were made in many discussions. What we remember, apart from many decisions, is rather the impression of lack of ambition to make a quick and concrete change of course now. The urgency of the situation seems to be limited to empty speeches and decisions that are concrete, but still not enough. The release of UNEP's Adaptation Gap Report 2021 on Nov. 1 clearly showed that we are currently on track to experience a 2.7 degree increase by the end of the century. Therefore, it is critical that even more ambitious action is taken in the coming week.

After this intense week full of information and emotions, we will also closely follow the next announcements.

Hopefully we remain: We can still make it! #COP26#climateemergency #actnow #COPforfuture #youthclimate #savetheplanet


Copernicus(2021, November 1) ECMWF at the United Nations COP26 Climate Change Conference

Franceinter (2021, November 6) Ce qu'il faut retenir dela première semaine de la COP26

UNClimate Change Conference UK 2021 (2021) Latest News

UnitedNations Environment Programme (2021) Adaptation Gap Report 2021

UnitedNations News (2021) Special Coverage of COP26

Wright,A. (2021, November 5) COP26: The first five days, a brief summary.

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