Lessons from COP26: part 1.


What progress was made?

The 26th UN climate conference of parties (COP26) provided a focal point for global leaders and businesses to agree how to tackle our dependency on fossil fuels and the impacts on the planet. There were four primary aims:

  1. Secure global net zero by 2050 and keep the 1.5-degrees target within reach.
  2. Help protect vulnerable communities and natural habitats.
  3. Mobilise financial institutions so they can play their part in achieving net zero.
  4. Accelerate action and collaboration.

What progress was made?

Much was achieved, with some major pledges initiated, including a broad agreement to ‘phase down’ coal use and ‘inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’. There was an agreement by more than 130 countries, including Brazil to half deforestation by 2030. A new International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) was established to increase the global focus on climate risk disclosure and reporting. In addition, the EU and US committed to cut methane emissions (a strong greenhouse gas) by 30%. Some countries made unilateral pledges, without waiting for others to do the same. For example, the UK has a new requirement for net zero transition plans for listed companies by 2023.

The UK government reinforced its commitment to increase the renewable energy contribution to power generation, so that the grid can be nearly zero carbon by 2035 (although there are still many technical and infrastructure hurdles to overcome).

Climate change can’t be controlled in two weeks of negotiation. COP26 is part of an ongoing international progress on commitments and actions. Individual countries are expected to review their 2030 emission reduction targets in 2022, and thereafter annually, so reviewing action plans will be a focus of the next climate conference taking place in Egypt.

There were also commitments to increase adaptation funding to developing countries and to collaborate more on building capacity and sharing knowledge in the technologies and methods that will help us transition to a net zero carbon world.

Science-based targets
Notwithstanding the progress, it’s clear that more commitments will be required to limit global warming within the upper limit of 2 degrees, and ideally at 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, as agreed by 195 countries at the Paris climate conference in 2015.

Global warming in numbers:

1.1°C current level of global warming, compared to pre-industrial times.

1.5°C COP26 target global limit by the end of the century.

2.4°C projected warming by the end of the century, based on present policies.

Scientists say that to have a chance of achieving the 1.5 degrees target we will need to half greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. Yet the International Energy Agency (IEA) anticipates emissions are set to rise in 2022 compared to 2021. Climate Action Tracker, a non-profit scientific body, has projected that – based on present commitments – global warming at the end of the century is likely to be within the range of 2°C and 3°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, with a mid-point estimate of 2.4°C (we currently stand at 1.1°C). This will be devastating for Africa, tropical countries and low-lying island nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. As the representative from Kenya declared at the COP26 conference, even a 1.5 degrees global average might actually mean 3 degrees for their country, due to anticipated regional variations that are projected.

This tough global picture requires national policies, but the business and the finance sector have an enormous role to play in the transition to a net zero carbon economy.

Look out for part 2, where we’ll explore the contribution these industries can make to progress the transition.