The first week of COP26: The 10 biggest stories

It's half-time on the two-week push to move the world towards the 1.5C ambition of the Paris Agreement, with negotiations set to continue following a rest day on Sunday (7 November). Here, edie summarises all the key development from the first week of COP26.

The first week of COP26: The 10 biggest stories

Images: UNClimate CHange (flickr)

Frantic. COP26 has been frantic. Every morning new climate commitments are splashed across the front pages and by the time any real scrutiny can be applied to these announcements, world leaders have moved onto the next theme and the next onslaught of newsworthy commitments.

From finance to nature, and touching on clean energy and innovation in between the first week of COP26 has set the stage to truly transform the global economy in a bid to combat the climate crisis.

While the many announcements are welcome, it may well have been difficult for most to keep up with the pace of emerging frameworks and new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). So grab a tea or coffee and catch up on the top 10 biggest announcements to have taken place at COP26 so far.

1) India’s net-zero target set for 2070

India has announced a 2070 net-zero target and said it will update its NDC with a commitment to hosting 500GW of renewable generation by 2030. This should account for 50% of the country’s energy supply.

The announcement was made by the nation’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and includes key pledges to decarbonise over the next 50 years. India is the third-largest emitting despite being classed as a developing country and is home to more than 1.3 billion people.

A lot of scrutiny has already been placed on how and when India could reach its net-zero target, for example.

Under the net-zero target set for 2070, the nation’s renewables capacity looks set to jump to 500GW by 2030, compared to around 130GW today. A holistic range of measures will also be introduced to deliver a projected reduction in emissions of one billion tonnes by 2030. Carbon intensity – emissions for each unit of GDP – will also be slashed by 45%.

While some have lamented the 2070 date – it’s 20 years behind most net-zero targets and 10 years later than China – research has previously claimed that between 2060 and 2070 would be a “realistic” and “feasible” deadline for the nation.

It is also worth considering that despite being the world’s third-largest emitter. India records one of the lowest emissions per capita readings, coming in at under two tonnes per person. In comparison, the UK’s sits well over five tonnes per person.

2) Hundreds of nations pledge to end deforestation

World leaders representing more than 100 nations, which between them play host to more than 85% of forests globally, have committed to end deforestation and reverse land degradation at COP26 in Glasgow.

The commitment is being described as a “landmark moment” for nature and, on the day of its launch, has already garnered financial support pledges of £8.75bn from national governments and £5.3bn from the private sector. The UK Government is providing £1.5bn to the initiative.

Under the commitment, nations commit to halt deforestation and land degradation by 2030, and to enter into a period of restoration by this point if possible.

Funding will be provided to developing nations as a priority, supporting projects that restore land degraded by land-use change for agri-food, other commercial activities, flooding, drought and wildfires. There will also be funding provided for initiatives that seek to ensure that the rights of Indigenous communities are respected. Some 80% of the world’s biodiversity is estimated to be concentrated within regions where Indigenous communities are based.

Additionally, a total of 12 countries pledged to mobilise more than $12bn in donor support to halt and reverse deforestation across the globe, while also protecting human rights, while asset managers representing $87.trn in assets have also vowed to stop financing deforestation.

The private sector has also gotten involved. The chief executives of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and the Co-op have signed a new joint commitment to halve the nature and climate impacts of food systems by 2030.

3) Nations to deliver a ‘reform’ agriculture policies

On Saturday, which marked Nature Day at COP26, 150 organisations agreed to accelerate the deployment of green innovations for the agriculture sector, while 45 nations have agreed to reform policies to support a sustainable food system.

The UNFCCC announced a string of high-level commitments intended to create more sustainable land-use systems. The body estimates that land use generates at least one-quarter of global annual emissions and that three-quarters of deforestation to date has been driven by the agri-food system.

A total of 45 nations have signed on to a new Policy Action Agenda, designed to help policymakers make the necessary changes to deliver a food system that is not only low-carbon and deforestation-free, but that supports farmers and others across the food chain; consumes less water and chemicals and produces less waste. Around one-third of all food produced globally is wasted.

To help support these changes, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is launching a new global initiative to help 100 million farmers access the education, funding and innovations they need to decarbonise and restore nature. Farmers will be supported by businesses and civil society groups.

4) UK to require businesses to publish net-zero transition plan

When Finance Day came around on Wednesday (3 November) Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a vision to “rewire the global financial system fir net-zero”, outlining plans on sovereign green bonds and corporate climate disclosures.

Arguably one of the most prominent announcements at COP36 for corporates was the confirmation that a mandate for all large businesses and public enterprises to develop net-zero transition plans by the end of 2024 will be introduced. Sunak claimed this should be supported and adopted by all major economies with a net-zero target in law.

The UK Governments has reiterated the recent publication of the Roadmap to Sustainable Investing, which confirms that transition plans will be mandated for large firms in high-emitting sectors. From 2023, large businesses in high-emitting sectors will need to meet this requirement.

Sunak also confirmed that the UK Government has developed a science-based ‘gold-standard’ verification scheme for the plans, to safeguard against greenwashing. This scheme has been drawn up in collaboration with industry representatives, academics, regulators and civil society groups. Indeed, the launch of the new International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) at COP26 is likely to help on this matter.

Prior to COP26, the Treasury confirmed that large businesses will be required to report climate-risk-related information in line with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) from April 2022.

5) Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero reaches $130trn

Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney appeared at COP26 on Finance Day to confirm that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ), which launched in April in a drive to unite the global financial sector in transitioning to net-zero portfolios by 2050, now represented more than $130trn in assets under management.

GFANZ members are required to transition their portfolios in line with the Paris Agreement and are being pushed to work towards 1.5C rather than 2C temperature pathways. The Alliance now accounts for 40% of the world’s total financial assets, up from $90trn at the start of October. These assets are managed by 450 firms across 45 nations, from all parts of the financial industry.

Carney claimed that the money was there globally to reach net-zero emissions, but that the financial sector “needed” net-zero projects and businesses to invest in.

“Right here, right now is where private finance draws the line. The £130trn [announced by Sunak through GFANZ] is more than what is needed for the net-zero transition globally and a pool of that capital is being carved out for the transition to a low-carbon economy in emerging and developing countries.

“The money is here today, but that money needs net-zero-aligned projects. There’s a way to turn this into a very powerful virtuous circle. This is what we need to crack over the course of this year.”

GFANZ remains a contentious framework for some, however. Reclaim Finance is highlighting the fact that only one-third of the Alliance’s collective assets are being aligned with a net-zero by 2050 roadmap, and that this roadmap came from the Alliance itself. In short, there is a risk that they are marking their own homework.

6) 190+ parties support Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement

At the start of the week (Energy Day) more than 190 parties, including China and Poland, as well as institutional financial organisations, have agreed to a range of different measures that will signal the end of coal as a global power source.

The commitments have been issued through a “Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement” at COP26 in Glasgow – a Statement that captures coal phase-outs from governments and the private sector in developing countries, vulnerable nations and some of the world’s largest polluters. 

The coalition has agreed to phase-out coal power from major economies my 2030 and 2040 for the rest of the world. This, according to the Statement, will be delivered as part of a “just transition” that benefits workers and communities that currently rely on the coal industry.

It is believed the new commitments could signal the end of more than 40GW of coal across 20 countries. Since the ratification of the Paris Agreement, there has been a 76% decline in the number of new and planned coal plants globally, equating to the cancellation of more than 1000GW of fossil fuels.

A total of 27 new members have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), bringing total membership to 164 nations, cities and regions. They build on the 50 new members that were unveiled at various times during 2021 and 65% of the OECD and EU countries are now members of the Alliance.

Notable new members include Europe’s third-largest coal fleet in Ukraine, which is targeting a phase-out by 2035 and Chile, which is aiming to bring forward an existing 2040 deadline. Mauritius has pledged to phase out the use of coal by 2030 and Singapore becomes the first Asian nation to join the Alliance.

Elsewhere, Slovenia and Estonia (the latter of which is already coal free) will strengthen coal phase-outs in the EU and Croatia, which joined the Alliance in June, announced a 2033 phase-out at COP26.

7) Race to Zero reaches major milestone

The UN’s Race to Zero initiative was launched last year to mobilise corporate action towards reaching net-zero emissions.

In joining Race to Zero, corporates commit to setting more ambitious targets in line with climate science and to using their reach to encourage climate action across their networks. This includes suppliers, customers and their respective sectors.

At COP26, it was revealed that almost two-thirds of FTSE100 companies have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign.

Now, large UK firms participating in Race to Zero collectively represent a total market capital of £1trn and a combined annual turnover of £700bn. This is before smaller businesses, non-listed firms and businesses covered by industry collaborations, like Water UK’s net-zero by 2030 roadmap, are accounted for.

To this latter point, Race to Zero has also confirmed that the number of UK small businesses committed to its initiative, through the Together For Our Planet Business Climate Leaders Campaign, has surpassed 2,000. The Race to Zero campaign has also announced that more than 20% of the world’s water companies by revenue are now signed up.

8) The Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda

At the start of the week, more than 40 world leaders, including those representing the UK, the US, India, China and the EU, signed up to a new declaration aiming to deliver clean and affordable technology and solutions across the globe by 2030.

The Breakthrough Agenda will assist in global efforts to halving emissions by 2030 and keeping 1.5C alive. It has been backed by nations representing more than 70% of the world’s economy, including developing nations.

The Agenda aims to make clean technologies to clean up polluting sectors affordable and attractive for all nations by 2030. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the first five “Glasgow Breakthroughs” that cover more than 50% of global emissions.

Building on these breakthroughs, a host of businesses, including BP, Siemens Energy and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, have co-launched a new collaboration on long-duration energy storage technologies, which could play a key role in ensuring reliable energy as the transition to clean grids continues.

The Long Duration Energy Storage (LEDS) Council is bringing together technology and equipment manufacturers, renewable energy developers, utilities, grid operators, investors and end customers, in the hopes of mobilising $3trn of investment within the sector by 2040.

9) Methane emissions in key nations to be cut by 30% by 2030

Back in September, the EU and US spearheaded a new Global Methane Pledge, jointly stating their intention to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030, against a 2020 baseline. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas and sources include natural gas production.

The Global Methane Pledge went global at COP26. It now has backing from more than 100 of the UN’s 193 member states. This was welcome after the G20 communique released in Rome this weekend was the first to reference methane, but failed to set firm targets for reduction.

The global pledge is already backed by more than $200m in government funding, but research suggests the Pledge doesn’t address these emissions at the required scale.

the  Global Methane Pledge, which is supported by countries accounting for around 45% of global methane emissions, is on course to reduce emissions by more than 50 million tonnes, according to the Energy Transition Commission. However, this is still well short of the 130 million tonnes that Commission is calling to be reduced in order to align with a 1.5C pathway envisioned by the Paris Agreement.

10) Pledges push world into 2C threshold

Speaking of 1.5C, the mantra at COP26 has been “keeping 1.5C alive”. The above pledges (and the many more made so far at COP26) all look set to combine in an unprecedent manner.

This is because, if these pledges can all be delivered within their stated timeframes, the world will be on course, for the first time, to reach the lower threshold of the Paris Agreement.

Going into COP26, pledges from nations look set to limit global temperature rises to between 2.1C to 2.7C, depending on what research you looked at.

However, new research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) claims that if new national pledged and coalition targets announced at COP26 were met on time, the world would be on course for a 1.8C global temperature rise by the end of the century. Others put the trajectory at a slightly different number, most notably Climate Resource claiming the pledges would lead to 1.9C of warming.

It marks the first time that governments have collectively increased ambition to hold global warming to below the 2C threshold envisioned by the Paris Agreement.

Of course, pledges are the easy part, the planning and action to actually deliver on them is what counts. Nonetheless, the first week at COP26 has created a strong foundation for nations to deliver agreements and frameworks that finally put the world on course for 1.5C.

Matt Mace

Comments (2)

  1. Kim Warren says:

    Totally untrue " … the first week at COP26 has created a strong foundation for nations to deliver agreements and frameworks that finally put the world on course for 1.5C …" 1.5C is nowhere near attainable, even if every ‘pledge’ is actually met. And since most of those pledges have no action plans to achieve them, we can confidently expect +1.5C by 2030 and +2C by 2040.
    Please, please stop misleading your audience into thinking anything less than huge responses will be adequate, such as the speech Boris *should* have given –

  2. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    There are two books that inform us what will happen to the planet for every 1 degree temperature rise we cause, The Uninhabitable Earth, and Our Final Warning. You would not vote for it!

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