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What was agreed at COP26 – and can we call it a success?

A last-minute intervention from China and India saw a commitment on phasing out coal watered-down.

COP26 President Alok Sharma fought back tears on Saturday night as a final agreement was reached at the climate conference.

Sharma apologised for the “deep disappointment” over the final pact, which saw an earlier pledge on the phasing out of coal watered down thanks to last-minute interventions by China and India. 

In spite of this, the UK government published a statement on its website saying COP26 had come to a “successful end” with a global agreement to accelerate action on climate change this decade.

So what was actually in the final COP26 agreement, how far will it go to halting climate change – and can we call the conference a success?

What was in the final agreement? 

The agreement is broken down into several sections, each covering a different area of climate change. The sections are as follows: 

  • Science 
  • Adaptation
  • Adaptation finance
  • Mitigation
  • Finance and capacity-building
  • Loss and damage
  • Implementation 
  • Collaboration

The final agreement followed several other pacts made at COP26, including a commitment to end and reverse deforestation and cut methane emissions by 30% by the year 2030.

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Nearly 200 countries signed the final “Glasgow climate pact”, which covers dozens of different areas and pledges.

Adaptation was particularly high on the agenda due to a number of countries already suffering the effects of the climate crisis.

Adaptive measures are those that will help these countries adapt to change.

The final pact agreed to establish a “work programme” to define the global goal on adaptation and identifying needs and solutions to the climate crisis in badly-hit countries.

Finance for helping developing countries cope with climate change was also central to discussions, with the pact calling for finance from wealthier countries to be at least doubled in the coming years.

The pact asks countries to republish their plans on tackling climate change by the end of 2022, and has requested that countries make more ambitious commitments on reducing emissions by the end of 2022. 

Parties are encouraged to strengthen their emissions reductions and to align their national climate action pledges with the Paris Agreement.

Another key outcome was the conclusion of the so-called Paris rulebook, which lays out the rules for making the Paris Agreement functional.

The Paris Agreement, made at a 2015 COP, set the target of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5C.

The finalisation of the rulebook saw agreements made on how countries will report their carbon emissions and targets. 

What are the positives? 

Though COP26 has been branded a failure by many environmental groups, the pledges made at the conference have brought the forecast of global warming down.

The first set of reduction commitments brought the trajectory of 6C of warming down to 3.7C, then the second set took this down to a 2.4C course. 

COP26 also brought forward the date by which countries are being asked to submit more ambitious climate targets, now set for the end of 2022.

A large amount of money –  $20bn  was committed to protect forests, while more than 100 countries pledged to reverse deforestation by 2030. 

What are the negatives? 

Coal was undoubtedly the biggest disappointment in the final pact, with wording on phasing out coal watered-down twice throughout the negotiations.

The original clause, published late last week, read: 

“[The Conference of Parties] Calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.

The first revised draft read:

“…Calls upon Parties to [accelerate] the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.

Thanks to a last-minute intervention by Chinese and Indian delegations, the wording was changed over the weekend so that the pledge was to “phase down” coal rather than “phase out”. 

Though Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the agreement sounded the “death knell” for coal, climate activists, indigenous delegations and environmental groups have blasted the new wording as inadequate. 

The deal calls for greater cuts to emissions and pledges more money for developing nations,but the pledges don’t go far enough to limit global warming to the key 1.5C agreed in Paris.

While some welcomed even one mention of coal, the first time it has ever been added to a COP agreement, others were disappointed that oil and gas were left out of the document.

Climate-vulnerable nations such as the Pacific Islands have also criticised the deal for failing to make strong commitments on climate finance.

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