The much anticipated COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow has now come to an end. Over 30,000 world leaders, delegates, and private companies convened to draft an updated deal for addressing climate change, while over 100,000 activists and protesters gathered outside to remind them they aren’t moving the needle nearly enough.
We have a special newsletter coming with first hand accounts from 2 of those activists in Glasgow, so stay tuned! But today, let’s get you caught up on the major takeaways.
Overall, it’s hard not to be disappointed. We are way off pace of hitting the Paris Accord goals and limited warming to 1.5C, there was a really big last minute change to key pledge that left the president of the summit in tears, and as usual, no super firm commitments with teeth to them or stakes in the ground. Just pledges and goals as usual that even if they are met, won’t meet our Paris targets.
All that said, we also need to look at the positives. We’ll get into some of the details but it’s great seeing the summit get the media attention and analysis it has never seen before. More coverage = more awareness. More awareness = world leaders taking this more seriously. There were steps in the right direction here which is good, but baby steps when we need some angsty teenager steps.
Unlike with the Paris COP in 2015 where they agreed to review each countries’ progress 5 years later at this latest COP (missed 2020 cause of COVID), this time around they are declaring an audit as soon as next year at COP27 in Egypt.
Here is the full, detailed new deal that came out of it, but we are going to do you a favor and break down the main takeaways as follows:
- Coal Phase-Down
- Climate Aid
- Carbon Markets
- US & China
COP BY THE NUMBERS
1.8 to 2.4C: The range of outcomes of temperature increase vs. pre-industrial levels based on the newest pledges at COP26, against a goal of 1.5C
45%: The updated target emissions reductions by 2030
14%: The rise in emissions by 2030 we are currently on pace for based on 2020 numbers
2070: The year India pledges to reach net-zero emissions, 20 years past the 2050 deadline outlines by the Paris Agreement
80x: Methane’s potency for trapping heat compared to carbon, leading to the first ever methane pledge at COP26
1.2 billion: The number of people who may be displaced due to climate change by 2050 if we continue at our current pace
0: The number of times President Xi from China showed up at Glasgow
1. COAL IN YOUR STOCKINGS
The most important issue coming into COP was addressing fossil fuels and the need to drastically lower our emissions. Since Paris in 2015, when countries made pledges to reduce their emissions by as much as 50% by 2030, carbon emissions are actually up 9% globally. And instead of being on pace for hitting the 50% reduction by 2030, we are on pace for a 14% increase by 2030. Really, really bad.
Climate activists came in banking on getting actual language in the new deal to get off of fossil fuels, in particularly the worst of them all….coal. Coal is responsible for 46% of carbon emissions globally and 72% of all emissions from electricity. It’s as dirty as it gets.
Up until the final hour, there was consensus on language to phase-out coal and put a stop to new plants. But then a handful of developing countries led by India, changed their mind and refused to sign unless the language was changed to phasing-down coal instead. Meaning work to reduce it, but don’t all out stop new coal development. This sent shockwaves across the summit. They need every country to sign in order to put something into the closing agreement, and India was not playing ball here
India’s case is that they should be able to receive the same economic benefits that further developed countries like the US and UK have achieved through years of burning coal long before India was able to at scale. They are not wrong about this in a sense, but one would really have hoped India would come to the table with more aggressive plans for pushing into renewables or even producing more natural gas, which while also problematic, isn’t nearly as dirty as coal.
It was a crushing blow to what would have been the most significant positive result from COP, but at least this time around, unlike in pervious COPS, coal was and it’s phase-down were called out specifically. Here’s hoping this moves to phase out in 2022.
Animalia Grade: D (might have been a B if phase-out had stuck)
We wrote about this in more detail last week, but for the first time at COP, methane emissions were addressed specifically.
This is important. While there is far less methane than carbon in the atmosphere, methane traps heat at a rate 80x higher than carbon. It is also in the atmosphere for a much shorter period – 10-15 years vs. 100+ years for carbon. This means serious reductions in methane could really help us address short term goals in limiting warming.
Methane emissions are divided between fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and waste/landfills. Of these 3, fossil fuels are the most straightforward to address. Namely natural gas, which causes a lot of methane leakage. So this is where the summit focused.
Only problem – the 3 largest methane emitters – China, Russia, and India – did not join the pledge. Although there was some progress in US-China talks towards the end we’ll get to in a sec which included methane as a talking point.
Animalia Grade: C-
3. CLIMATE AID
This was a big one coming in. All the way back in 2010, developed countries made a pledge to commit $100 billion per year in climate aid and support by 2020. And…..that didn’t happen. With those developing countries using the ole COVID excuse for falling short. Geez, how many times in your life in the last year has someone used COVID as a reason for not doing something they committed to? If we had a nickel for every time…..
However, that’s not the only issue at hand with climate aid. The other issue has been the money developing countries have been offering to date have been directed much more at mitigation in the form of emissions cuts via investment in renewables such as building solar farms, rather than funding for adaptation and loss & damage.
Reducing emissions and investment in renewables is super important, but this is really only directing funds with a target for profitable returns. So many developing countries need funds to pay for damages that have already occurred, such as loss of farmlands from droughts or coastal erosion or toxic runoffs in drinking water. They also need help adapting how they grow and produce food and cool their cities for example.
Developing countries called for as much as $1.3 trillion per year from the developed world to support emissions cuts, adaptation, and loss & damage. However, the Glasgow pledged settled on the same $100 billion per year figure from now through 2025. Let’s hope at least this time it’s met.
Also worth mentioning here – The Santiago Network – which was meant to provide technical assistance for developing countries for loss and damage assistance. When it was drafted a couple years ago, it received no funding and no staffing. Which is asinine. This time around, the Glasgow Deal included language encouraging funding and staffing going forward. Beyond frustrating. This is where we can and should be upset about the nerves of world leaders to keep important things locked away in vague obscurities.
Animalia Grade: D-
One of the easier announcements at COP26 was a pledge to combat deforestation. With over 100 countries committing to end deforestation by 2030. While this might sound good as a PR headline, the devil is really in the details here, and sadly, there aren’t enough of them that will really move the needle. Again, a step in the right direction, but a much smaller one than we need.
For some background, the first global commitment to slow down deforestation came in 2014, where 25 countries came together to decrease deforestation rates from the 2014 levels by 2020. Well that didn’t happen. Deforestation has accelerated by 43% since 2014. It’s gotten so bad in Brazil that the Amazon is at a tipping point of being a net greenhouse gas emitter rather than a sink. Historically bad.
Forests are a big deal. Not only do they sequester greenhouse gases, but they also contribute to rainfall that feeds agriculture around the world, cool the air, filter water, and provide oxygen. 85% of the world’s tropical rainforests lie in 3 countries – Brazil, Congo, and Indonesia. The big culprit of deforestation has been industrial agriculture, namely livestock and certain mass scale crops like palm oil.
In addition to the pledge to end deforestation, nearly $20B was committed to the work as well. And 30 financial companies committed to stopping investment in activities that involve deforestation (such as financing palm oil plantations).
Those are all fine, but there are many reasons to be disappointed here:
- Allowing deforestation to continue for another 9 years at current rates is hardly a solution. Many studies show, for example, by then the Amazon may reach a point of no return, where it’s change will have fully ushered in a new desert environment that reforestation can not solve.
- While we are moving in this direction, we still have not gotten to a place where the developed world will pay developing countries to protect their forests not out of charity or carbon credits, but because of the economic value healthy forests offer the world vs. dead ones in the form of natural sequestration, water quality, air quality, etc..
- We still need to draw clearer lines around phasing out highly inefficient use of land – such as industrial livestock – vs. less problematic uses such as biomass energy generation. The latter does not come without its own concerns, but we should factor in land efficiency.
- Funds towards Indigenous groups got less than 10% of the pledge, yet studies show that forest lands managed by Indigenous peoples are 25% healthier than those which are not, while still offering commercial opportunities. We need to empower these groups to govern these lands, not throw them a charity check for getting out of the way.
- There again are no real teeth or sanctions in this deal if commitments aren’t met. So it’s hard to believe this is going to end up much differently from the pledge in 2014.
Still, it was good to see countries like Brazil be part of a deforestation pledge that we have not seen before.
Animalia Grade: D
5. CARBON MARKETS
For the first time, COP made some strides towards putting some rules and regulations in place for the growing world of carbon markets.
Carbon markets have been all the craze in 2021 as every company and nation and city races to “net-zero” by offsetting their emissions with purchasing offsets. If you know us, you know our highly skeptical view on offsets. The price of carbon credits is up a whopping 181% since January, and it’s total chaos in terms of how they are structured, traded, counted, monitored, and registered.
It will take a while to really regulate that market globally, but COP started by establishing a UN-Certified Credit that will at least govern how country level credits work and are counted towards net-zero commitments, with the main goal of trying to tackle the problem of double-counting – where multiple parties can essentially receive equal credits for the same emission reduction.
They also agreed that only credits registered post January 1st, 2013 will count towards a countries’ accounting, and that they will form a supervising body that will meet twice per year to update methodologies, monitoring and registration. As well as establishing a 5% tariff on credit exchanges under this agreement with proceeds going towards funding adaptation needs for developing nations.
There are still many other issues with carbon credits to tackle and we still believe that countries and companies alike should be required to set different goals for emissions reductions vs. net-emissions using credits to avoid these markets being a fill-in for actually lowering emissions, but the steps taken at COP in regulating this field were in the right direction.
Animalia Grade: C+
“The massive development of President Jokowi’s era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or in the name of deforestation,” Indonesia’s environmental minister said, referring to Indonesian leader, Joko Widodo by his nickname.”
“1.5 degrees is what we need to survive,” Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, said last week. “Two degrees is a death sentence for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, Maldives, Domenica, Fiji, Kenya, Mozambique, Samoa and Barbados.”
“It’s beneficial not only to our two countries but the world as a whole that two major powers in the world, China and the U.S., shoulder special international responsibilities and obligations,” Chinese special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua told reporters at a news conference. “We need to think big and be responsible.”
“It allows another decade of forest destruction, and isn’t binding,” said Carolina Pasquali, executive director of Greenpeace Brazil. “Meanwhile, the Amazon is already on the brink and can’t survive years more deforestation.”
“The people in power can continue to live in their bubble filled with their fantasies, like eternal growth on a finite planet and technological solutions that will suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere and will erase all of these crises just like that. All this while the world is literally burning, on fire, and while the people living on the front lines are still bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.” – Great Thunberg
“Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper.” – UN Secretary Antonio Gutteres
“We are, after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth. If working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilize our planet. Surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it.” – Sir David Attenborough
6. US & CHINA
Going into COP, the world was nervously awaiting if these two nations could come together to combat the climate crisis. Not only are they responsible for roughly 40% of all carbon emissions globally, they are also the most influential economic engines across the planet.
Things did not start off well, with President Biden criticizing Chinese President Xi for not showing up in person and only sending a delegate leader, with Xi clapping back and reminding everyone that China did not pull out of the Paris Agreement like the US did under Trump.
In the end, US Climate Envoy John Kerry and China’s delegation head Xie Zhenhua came together and announced a collaboration to come, which as usual, was pretty much void of any concrete details.
- China agrees to phase-down coal by 2026 but no hard numbers associated with this
- The two nations said they would share policy and technology development around cleat issues
- They agreed to jointly announce new targets for 2035, by 2025, which honestly felt like just a random point to add some substance
- China acknowledged the need to cut methane but did not full on sign the methane pledge
This was less about substance and more about intent. It sounds crazy to give his even a passing grade, but honestly, given the massive political divide between these two competing powers and the jabs Biden & Xi were taking to each other going in, this might have been one of the largest victories of COP.
Which shows just how entitled and privileged the US & China are on the world stage that they can make such headlines without actually committing to really anything at all.
Animal Grade: C
Animalia Overall Grade: D
Even Boris Johnson, of all people, gets how much of a letdown this was!