Details of the key outcomes from COP26
After two weeks of talks and a last-minute extension to reach an agreement, COP26 is over. This year's COP was highly anticipated, controversial, and crucial for keeping hopes of 1.5C alive. The key takeaways are as follows.
Phasedown of Coal
The last-minute revelation that India and China would not be committing to a total phase-out of coal came as a bitter shock to many of the COP26 delegates. The wording change to phasedown in the final agreement could be significant as the two nations are highly reliant on coal for power generation. This does, however, mark the first time that reducing coal consumption has been mentioned in such a climate deal. Wording remains a contentious issue throughout many parts of the final agreement.
First Draft: call upon parties to accelerate phasing-out of coal and subsides for fossil fuels
Final: accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil duel subsides
Carbon Markets Breakthrough
Countries have reached a deal on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which relates to international cooperation on climate change, including carbon markets. In the four years since the process started, all parties have been forced to make significant compromises, overcoming political disagreements, technical jargon and breaking a few fundamental red lines.
Parties agreed to the carryover of carbon credits generated under the Kyoto Protocol since 2013, bringing up to 320m tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the Paris mechanism. The Kyoto-era carbon offset units amount to potentially more than 5Bn tonnes of CO2e, generated under the Clean Development Mechanism. These units, labelled as Certified Emissions Reductions were created by projects in a handful of developing nations, including China, India, and Brazil.
The eligibility of CERs under the Paris Agreement have been a fierce topic of discussion at past COPs, with the EU and climate vulnerable countries firmly against their inclusion. By including CER reductions that have already happened, its argued that this move may undermine the ability to cut future emissions to the extent which is needed.
The new rules close off the double counting of emissions cut by two different countries or groups (sometimes called double claiming). The final agreement is considered a mixed bag, some hailing its progress and others expressing disappointment at its scope.
Climate Adaptation & Climate Finance
There is recognition that all nations will need to adapt to climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, heatwaves, fires, and droughts. Global south nations are likely to disproportionately face the most extreme impacts but lack the resources to prepare or respond appropriately. This was the focus of the Adaptation Committee at COP26.
Despite much discussion and publicity around the subject of climate finance, 2009 targets of $100bn in annual climate funding for poorer nations remain to be met. This pledge is part of a wider set of priorities for negotiations set out by developing nations. New targets to meet this commitment by 2023 have been set, three years later than promised, with most rich nations still off track to meet them.
The final text of the Glasgow climate pact urged developed nations to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaption to developing Parties from 2019-2025. The UK has pledged 290m to help poorer countries cope with the impacts of climate change. Climate finance pledges at COP26 have more than doubled previous annual fundraising record (COP24).
Transparency of climate action and support remained one of the last unresolved aspects of the Paris rulebook. New transparency rules decided at COP26 attempt to tie up this loose end. New rules will ensure that countries report sufficient information to determine whether they are on track to meet their climate pledges. This will give a better indication of whether the world is on track to reach overarching climate targets.
Transparency is seen as the best way to enforce compliance with the climate regime, encouraging an element of peer pressure and naming and shaming for delegates who fail to meet their commitments. As it stands, only nations identified as wealthy by the UNFCCC when it was established in 1992 are required to report on their greenhouse gas emissions (excl. S.Korea, India, China).
China have not filed an emissions inventory with the UN since 2014, India not since 2016. This puts big question marks over their reported emissions. Under this new framework, all countries will have to report their emissions, progress towards targets and contributions to climate finance.
DfT Operational Sustainability Strategy Release
The Department for Transport (DfT) has released a new policy document entitled DfT Operational Sustainability Strategy 2021-2025 (OSS). The OSS outlines the challenge, drivers, targets, approach, and specific actions that the DfT will take in the next four years. The DfT aims to reduce its emissions through the introduction of electric fleets, energy saving and efficiency changes to its estate, and through the wider implementation of IT and Digital solutions in all parts of its operations.
Data management and utilisation is cited as an important part of meeting and tracking climate commitments in the DfT's short term strategy. To meet the proposed 62% greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the period (2021-2025), the DfT aims to transition its fleet to 25% ULEV by 2022 and 100% EV by 2027. There are challenges around specialist equipment and remote operations being able to electrify but these are being addressed through consultation with manufacturers of electric vehicles.
Other DfT sustainability initiatives such as water saving have the potential for digital and technological solutions, however this is a relatively new space to enter. The DfT are also complying with the Greening Government strategy on ICT and Digital Services.
BEIS Developing Cities and Regions Transition Funding
Announced 11 November as part of the Cities, Regions and Build Environment Day at COP26, BEIS committed 27.5m of UK Government funding to support cities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to tackle climate change. This funding aims to help cities in these regions grow their economies in a sustainable way, with the target of reaching Net Zero by 2050.
The project includes cities like Nairobi, Kuala Lumpar, and Bogota. Low emissions public transport systems, renewable energy generation, sustainable waste management, climate smart building codes, and climate risk planning are just some of the innovations this initiative will use to reach its goals.
It is expected that by 2050, 1.6Bn people will be living in cities will be exposed to extremely high temperatures, and 800m people will be at risk from sea level rises and coastal flooding. Accelerating the Net Zero transition and risk planning for cities will therefore be vital for keeping residents safe under a 1.5C warming scenario.
Heat and Buildings Strategy
Before COP26, the Government released its new Heat and Buildings Strategy, aimed at reducing emissions from home utilities to Net Zero by 2050. This includes grants for low-carbon heat systems as part of a 3.9bn funding commitment to decarbonise heat and buildings by 2035. techUK's announcement on the plan can be found here.
Was COP a Success?
Scientists and climate experts have their final verdict on COP26. Agreements on forests, innovation and methane cuts have been strongly welcomed. The agreement reached on deforestation reenforces hopes that global forest protection can be key to carbon sequestration as well as protecting crucial habitats for nature.
Several new climate related innovations were announced and championed at COP26, including in techUK's flagship report. Along with carbon cutting agreements, it is hoped that tech innovations can help scale mechanical solutions to the causes and effects of climate change and other environmental issues.
The announcement by over 100 countries to cut methane emissions is another important outcome of COP26. The final agreement on coal may have come as a disappointment to many; however, it lays the foundations for future cuts to emissions from the world's largest emitters. More is needed from future conferences to ensure that 1.5C warming is the limit of climate change this century. The establishment of future finance frameworks for developing nations affected by climate change is another positive.
For more techUK insights on COP26 and climate change in general, please visit the Climate Action Hub.