Latest News, MEIG Highlights 7 décembre 2021

Highlight 34/2021 – Did COP26 save our planet?

Samuel Duelli, 7 December 2021

Source: University of Plymouth

COP26 was opened in Glasgow on 31 October 2021 and closed on 13 November 2021, after concluding an agreement. The main objective of COP26 was to keep the 1.5-degree goal alive and finalise the open points of the Paris agreement. These two goals have been achieved, as COP26 President Alok Sharma summarised after the COP: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”

As the president of COP26 mentioned, achieving a 1.5-degree goal will be difficult with the outcome of this COP26. There has not been a clear commitment to phase-out coal and other fossil fuels but only a commitment to erase subsidies for these sectors and introduce carbon capture and storage of CO2 emissions. With this technology, CO2 that normally would be emitted into the air is captured and stored in a particular container, e.g. next to a cement production site. Unfortunately, this technology is still too costly and comes along with new issues. Furthermore, the used language may lead to get-out clauses to the largest polluters. Therefore, agreeing to a total phase-out would have been more effective.

Other problematic points during the negotiations were the carbon markets and the financial and technological assistance of developed countries to developing ones. Reaching an agreement on carbon markets is a milestone due to the many different interests of the countries. Nevertheless, this agreement is far from perfect and might not lead to reductions in carbon emissions but, instead, to stagnation or even an increase of those, according to the Carbon Market Watch’s Executive Director, Sabine Frank. The outcome is thus insufficient to reach the 1.5-degree target but should nonetheless lead to some emission reductions. Future stricter adjustments can be amended in the current deal, which leaves a little bit of hope. The 100 billion US dollar yearly help from developed countries to developing countries agreed in the Paris agreement has been developed further. Nonetheless, these 100 billion US dollars should have been achieved since 2020. In the new Glasgow agreement, developed countries agreed to increase their financial contribution for mitigation, hence decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the financing from developed to developing countries does not reach 100 billion US dollars per year. The picture is less optimistic in adaptation finance (financial aid mechanisms for damages resulting from climate-related events). Even though developed countries are mainly responsible for climate change and have committed to increasing finance, they are not doing enough to protect people and countries in the most vulnerable situations.

The inclusion of the greenhouse gas methane in the negotiations can be seen as a success story. COP26 was the first UN climate conference where methane was significantly discussed and mentioned in the final document. Therefore, COP26 might be remembered as the COP with “the methane moment”. Methane is the second most severe greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, and it is imperative to have this greenhouse gas mentioned in the decision. Nevertheless, no specific target is mentioned in the draft text on decision 1 of COP26, which shows that States have much room to act.

COP26 was neither a success nor a failure. The pledges made in COP26 consider that decreasing emissions will be possible with technology only and that a change of behaviour is unnecessary. However, technology alone will not save us. According to the UK Climate Committee, the 1.5-degree goal can only be reached through technological transition combined with behavioural change. Hence, the main challenge is for politicians to understand that behavioural change is crucial to saving our planet. Another main challenge remains financing mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Developed countries committed to increasing their funding, but they did not even reach the goal of the Paris Agreement. It remains to be seen if they will achieve this new commitment. In conclusion, COP26 did not save our planet. There is still work to do in setting political targets and then translating these targets into concrete actions. In the end, only concrete actions can save our planet and ensure safe lives for this and future generations.

Samuel Duelli, Did COP26 save our planet?, Highlight 34/2021, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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