One week after the start of COP26. What has been achieved and what more needs to be done?
As of Monday 8 November 2021, COP26 entered its final week of negotiation. The first week achieved significant agreements on extremely crucial issues: deforestation, methane emissions, green finance, investments in new coal power generation and a new commitment for sustainable agriculture.
But what exactly do these agreements state? And who signed them?
Leaders of 131 countries, which contain over 90% of the Earth's forests, have agreed to stop deforestation by 2030. To achieve this goal, Western countries and the EU have made available $12 billion. In addition, President Biden announced that he has proposed to Congress to contribute an additional $9 billion, on top of the $7.2 billion funded by private organisations. In addition, dozens of multinational companies have pledged to clean up their supply chains of deforestation-prone products, while 14 government and private donors have promised $1.7 billion to support indigenous peoples and local communities.
Although the functioning of this fund has not been clearly specified, this is the first time that a commitment against deforestation has been accompanied by "real money". The previous pledge, the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, remained an announcement of principle, not signed by many key countries including Brazil and Russia, who are among the signatories of the Glasgow Forest Pledge.
The Global Methane Pledge
The United States special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have announced the signing of an ambitious agreement: a commitment to limit methane emissions to 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. Although 105 countries have signed the agreement, China, India, and Australia have not.
The Global Methane Pledge is historic in scope. Indeed, methane has the capacity to warm the atmosphere about eighty times faster than carbon dioxide. Methane gas is blamed for 30% of global warming and its emissions have more than doubled since pre-industrial times.
If the agreement is respected, it would reduce the temperature increase by 0.2 C by 2050. This would make the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius achievable.
UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that 450 financial institutions, based in 45 countries spread over all six continents, have committed to the terms of the Paris Agreement and to implementing the transition to green finance from 2030, to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050.
This means that global finance and investors have pledged not to pour money into oil rigs or coal mines, but into all the projects considered to be 'zero-emission' and conducive to clean energy.
Ending investments in new coal power generation
46 States have signed a pact to eliminate the use of coal for energy production. The agreement calls for the total shutdown of coal-fired power plants and the non-construction of new ones. Eliminating coal is considered essential to curb rising temperatures.
This pact has been signed by countries coal-based economies such as Poland, Ukraine, Vietnam, Chile, and South Korea. However, China, India, the United States, Japan, and Australia are not signatories, indicating that the road ahead is still long and difficult.
Governments and companies have established new agreements to accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture and land-use practices. 46 States have pledged to invest a total of $4 million to develop climate-resilient seeds and solutions to improve soil health. In addition, the World Bank will also commit to spending $25 billion a year on climate finance, with a focus on agriculture and the environmental sector.
It is too early to say how this commitment will translate into concrete initiatives, as it will depend on the individual projects and the contexts in which they are developed.
Even with some doubts, the balance of the first week is extremely positive. The second week has more technical, but equally important and very sensitive objectives. All the Parties will be asked to negotiate on:
- Different guidelines to make reporting on decarbonisation achievements more transparent: reporting methods must be standardised, to avoid states ending up providing inaccurate data.
- New rules to be adopted to recreate at the global level a system similar to the ETS (Emission Trading System) used by the EU.
- What procedures to adopt to make the Paris Agreement effective.
- The measures to be taken to stop the production of heat-powered cars.
The final verdict on the COP will depend on the outcome of this week's work. The technical details to be agreed on how to comply with the NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) will be crucial in making countries' promises concrete.