COP26 mid-point updates: highs and lows

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 13: Artists paint a mural on a a wall next to the Clydeside Expressway near Scottish Events Centre (SEC) which will be hosting the COP26 UN Climate Summit later this month, on October 13, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. COP26 will officially begin on Sunday October 31 with the procedural opening of negotiations and finish on Monday November 12th. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

By Dane Mathendele Armstrong
This article is part of our series focusing on the COP26 global climate summit in the UK

So COP26, the grand spectacle of conversations, deliberations and (occasional) agreements about global climate action, will be drawing to a close at the end of this week. We will continue publishing some articles and opinion pieces covering the key results, or lack thereof, whilst trying to pay particular attention to how Eswatini fits into the grand scheme of things…

In the meantime, let’s take a step back and explore what COP is exactly, why it’s important, and what are the key takeaways are from the first week of proceedings that wrapped up on Sunday.

And how has COP26 been going so far? Well, it depends who you ask. The fact that fossil fuel lobbyists have the largest delegation at the event (larger than any individual country) doesn’t bode well for objective decision-making grounded in science. There is also the fact that so much “greenwashing” and corporate disinformation has been experienced in the lead-up that a whole data website has been formed to monitor, expose and report on the matter. Local and international activist and climate-youth groups have been keeping up the pressure in-person and online for the duration of the entire event thus far.

Above and beyond all the scurrying on the ground, and despite pledges made at this year’s summit, new analysis shows that the world is still nowhere near its goals on limiting global temperature rise. It calculates that the world is heading for 2.4C of warming, far more than the 1.5C limit nations committed to in 2015. Every 0.1C over the “limit” puts the whole world into dangerous, uncharted territory – particularly countries like Eswatini that are more susceptible, and less equipped to adapt.


Despite the continued emissions, underhanded political games and corporate agendas, there has been notable progress on certain key issues, as well as a number of more-specific setbacks and let-downs. The following list, long as it may be, is by no means extensive, but it does give a general overview of the rollercoaster world of negotiations currently underway in Glasgow.

New methane pledge without key actors: More than 100 countries —led by the US and the EU— announced a new commitment to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. However, 3 of the 5 biggest methane emitters in the world —Russia, India and China— are not part of the pledge. The latest UN scientific report says that failing to tackle methane emissions would push emissions above the “safe” limit of 1.5C.

The US will still commit to 1.5C: The United States rejoined a key coalition of countries pushing to keep the 1.5C target alive, which is regarded as the “safe” limit of global warming. Under the Trump administration, the country left the coalition (and climate negotiations in general). Now, their return marks a significant push to keep the 1.5C target alive, which is one of the main goals of COP26. A recent UN scientific report highlights that the target is still possible, but requires massive, immediate and transformative action to phase out fossil fuels.

Leaders are talking big – but falling short on delivering real plans for action. Many countries are making net-zero pledges, but few have concrete plans for how they will get there. Together, these pledges won’t hold global warming to 1.5ºC.

Big Polluters and major institutions are dropping the ball. Brazil committed to effectively the same emissions cuts as it did in 2015. Australia is counting on technology that doesn’t exist yet to meet its 2050 goal. India strengthened its 2030 commitments, but pledged to reach net zero by 2070 – a good signal, but far too late to prevent catastrophe. The hope is that near-term targets will help them reach net zero much sooner.

Access and accountability are an issue. COVID travel restrictions mean that one-third of leaders from Pacific Island nations suffering some of the worst climate impacts can’t attend COP 26. These same restrictions have also prevented most Indigenous and civil society observers from attending negotiations, limiting oversight, accountability, and climate justice. 

Forests are finally getting the attention they deserve, with over 100 countries containing 85% of the world’s forest cover pledging to end deforestation by 2030 (coupled with about $19 billion in funding). Over 100 countries have also joined the Global Methane Pledge, with $300 million in funding to cut dangerous methane emissions.  

Steel deal – A group of countries representing 32% of global steel production, including the UK, EU, US, Canada, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Korea, Turkey, Japan, Australia and India, have agreed “to make near-zero emissions steel the preferred choice in global markets by 2030”.

South Africa transition – The huge deal on coal is $8.5bn from the US, UK, France and Germany to support South Africa’s transition to clean energy, including creating good alternative jobs in mining regions. This is a watershed moment for South Africa, depending on the conditions of the agreement…

One step ahead – Panama said they have formed a coalition of carbon negative countries with Bhutan and Suriname to facilitate the global transfer of knowledge and best practices to achieve and maintain carbon-negative status.

Oil cash dries up – More than 20 countries have agreed to end international fossil fuel financing. US, UK and Denmark are among them but not China, Japan or Germany. 

Coal phase-outs – 28 new members are joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Ukraine, which has the third largest coal fleet in Europe, says it will end coal power by 2035. Other new national members include Chile, Singapore, Mauritius, Slovenia, Azerbaijan and Estonia. 

Accessing climate finance – Fiji, Rwanda, Jamaica, Bangladesh and Uganda have been chosen to pilot projects to improve access to climate finance – a huge hurdle to overcome moving forward.

Russian coal – Russia was absent from the clean-to-coal statement on energy day and the Barents Observer spells out why: the country plans to increase production 6% in 2021, with further mine expansion planned in the Arctic. 

The reporting gap – Global greenhouse gas emissions are being underreported on a scale somewhere between the US and China, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. The biggest accounting flaws concern forests and methane, calling into question the baseline for big pledges made last week. It shows why the transparency rules under negotiation here matter. Developing countries say they need capacity building support to improve their inventories.

Dark side – If the fossil fuel lobby was a country delegation at Cop26, it would be the largest with 503 delegates – twice as large as the UK’s, according to analysis by Global Witness. The fossil fuel lobby at Cop is larger than the combined total delegations of the world’s eight most climate vulnerable countries.  

Dutch are in – The Netherlands has joined an alliance of countries led by the UK committed to ending international finance for unabated coal, oil and gas by the end of 2022. The US, Canada and Italy have signed on to the statement. Germany and France have yet to do so. 

Adaptation pledges – Countries committed $232 million to the Adaptation Fund on Monday – more than double the previous highest annual figure. $20m of this came from the UK, with other contributions provided by the USA, Canada, Sweden, Qatar and Germany, among others. There is still a long way to go, however.

Adaptation gap – The cost of adapting to climate impacts in developing countries is five to 10 times greater than current public finance flows, according to UNEP’s Adaptation Gap report published on Thursday.  

Deaf ears – There was no separate funding earmarked for loss and damage. Barbados PM Mia Mottley described the lack of support as “immoral”. “Asking those on the frontlines of climate change to pay for damages is like asking the passengers of a car crash to pay, rather than the driver,” she told leaders. A loss and damage text published over the weekend has been sent back for rewrites.  

Carbon inequality – The emissions from a single space flight on Jeff Bezos’ rocket would exceed the lifetime emissions of someone in the poorest billion people on Earth, according to Oxfam’s latest report on carbon inequality. The world’s richest 1% are projected to emit 30 times a 1.5C-compatible carbon footprint in 2030.

Below 2C? – The world is on course for 1.8C of global warming, if all its climate pledges are met. That’s the analysis of the International Energy Agency, after India’s 2030 and net zero targets and a host of countries’ methane commitments.

U-turn #1 – Promises made by countries this week to halt deforestation by 2030 are showing some cracks. Days after Indonesia signed the deal, environment and forestry minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar released a statement on Facebook saying that: “Forcing Indonesia to net zero deforestation in 2030 is obviously inappropriate and unfair”.

U-turn #2  Poland was on a list of countries from the Cop26 presidency that supposedly agreed to phase out coal power in the 2030s. But hours after it was released, climate minister Anna Moskwa tweeted that Poland planned to exit coal in 2049.

Big money supporting climate: A coalition of major financial organizations —composed of more than 450 banks, insurers and investors from 45 countries— announced the alignment of $130 trillion of private finance towards net zero goals. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero is the largest coalition of private climate finance since it was launched back in April. According to The UN’s Envoy on Climate Finance, Mike Carney, the coalition is the “breakthrough in mainstream climate finance the world needs.” 

Money for indigenous people: A coalition of countries and private funders will provide $1.7 billion to help indigenous people preserve forests. The funding will seek to advance indigenous land rights by 2025 and increase the protection of forests, something that has played a major role at COP26. Some indigenous leaders, however, worried the money would not reach grassroots organizations and instead get lost in bureaucracy.

Finance moving from Africa: The United Arab Emirates and IRENA are launching a $1 billion platform to accelerate the transition to renewable energy in developing countries. The new platform aims to finance 1.5 GW of new renewable energy by 2030.

We have a new pledge to phase out coal: More than 40 countries joined a coalition to phase out coal. Major economies committed to make the energy transition out of coal by 2030, while the rest of nations pledged to achieve this by 2040. The countries also committed to stop granting permits to new coal plants, as well as stopping international financing of coal plants overseas. Members of the coalition include some major coal dependent countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland and Ukraine. It also includes dozens of energy and financial organizations. They issued a statement here. The coalition, however, doesn’t include some of the biggest coal consuming economies, such as China, India, Australia and the US. 

Slashing fossil fuel funding! This time, around 20 countries —among them the US, UK, Canada and Italy— committed to end overseas financing of fossil fuels by 2022. Some major financial institutions like the European Investment Bank, the French cooperation agency Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the East African Development Bank also joined the commitment. 

If promises are kept, we could be making progress: Pledges so far are not enough to reach 1.5C, but they do shine some hope. An analysis by the International Energy Agency shows that, after some new updated NDCs and India’s new net zero target, COP26 commitments so far could limit global warming to 1.8C, a significant reduction from the previous path of almost 3C. Other research organizations like Climate Resource estimated the pledges would lead to around 1.9C. Of course, the problem with this is that it is merely theoretical – promises need to be kept, something not many governments are particularly good at…

The above news is sourced and adapted from the Guardian, Climate Tracker, Climate Reality and Climate Weekly.