The long-awaited summit marked a significant moment in climate action, with countries expected to bring greater ambition to keep 1.5 degrees within reach – a goal once seen as unrealistic, but now recognised as crucial. So was it enough?

While it may have seemed like a lot of talk, progress was made.

The resulting Glasgow Climate Pact called for renewed efforts to raise ambition on cutting emissions, climate finance and adaptation, and to address loss and damage already being caused by warming. The Pact requests that countries raise their ambition again next year and creates a ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ on funding for loss and damage, as well as pledging to double adaptation finance.

Importantly, the COP26 text increased the focus on 1.5 degrees; that climate change impacts will be lower at 1.5 than at 2 degrees, and on the need to reduce emissions 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels, which requires accelerated action this decade. And for the first time ever, COP formally acknowledged the need for action on fossil fuels. Although caveated in places, the text sends a clear signal about the importance of accelerating the energy transition this decade. 

A number of announcements and pledges demonstrated momentum, but the world is not on track for 1.5 degrees… yet. 

This year’s COP – the fifth since COP21 in Paris – was particularly important, with countries expected to bring stronger pledges and finalise the ‘rulebook’ to implement the Paris Agreement. And many delivered, with 151 countries submitting new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Further, net zero targets were set by Australia, India, Thailand and Vietnam. ClimateWorks supported the Government of Tonga to develop and submit its long-term climate strategy. Tonga demonstrated their leadership as a small-emitting island country and their strategy showed how countries can develop robust participatory strategies in resource constrained settings. There were also various sectoral pledges, with 190 countries and organisations pledging to phase out coal power through the Coal to Clean Power Transition. A total of 104 countries plus the European Union signed the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. 

And yet according to Carbon Brief analysis this still won’t be sufficient to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. These new pledges combined with updated NDCs will lead to a best-estimate of around 2.4 degrees warming by 2100 – though for many countries, doing their bit will require climate finance. If countries meet their long term net zero targets, projected warming by 2100 falls to 1.8 degrees. So despite the momentum, there is still more work to do. 

Some big money was committed but it still fell short of the annual $100bn target.

Money – and the lack of it – was a defining issue at COP26. There were, however, some big offers of support, with Japan committing an additional $10 billion over the next five years and a $8.5bn commitment by the EU, UK and US to support South Africa’s transition from coal to clean energy. Australia offered an additional $500 million, a similar pledge to New Zealand which has an economy six times smaller. Despite these promises, COP was plagued by unfulfilled climate finance promises and failure to agree to a vehicle or facility to provide financial support for loss and damage. Without this funding, vulnerable countries will continue to suffer from economic hardship caused by climate change. 

Article 6 saw loopholes closed, but issues on environmental integrity and human rights concerns remain.

After four years of negotiations, countries meeting at COP26 finally reached a deal on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which covers international cooperation including carbon markets. However this was not without compromise, as parties agreed to the ‘carry over’ of carbon credits generated by projects registered in 2013 or after, under the Kyoto Protocol. The rules also prevent any ‘double counting’, meaning that the same reduction cannot be counted by more than one country in contributions to their overall emissions reductions. There was also successful inclusion of human and indigenous rights, for example disputes around carbon-offsetting projects will be subject to an independent grievance process. On balance, Article 6 can be counted as a qualified ‘win’ out of COP26. 

COP26 was not the second, enhanced Blue COP that was hoped for.

Expectations were high for Glasgow, with the previous COP25 being deemed the ‘Blue COP’ and a Dialogue on Ocean and Climate Change held in the intervening period. And while the Glasgow Climate Pact has some positive measures, it failed to coherently include oceans and requires no action by parties to do so. 

Some positive measures include the establishment of the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue as a permanent annual process aimed at strengthening ocean-based action. It also recognised the importance of ensuring the ocean ecosystem’s integrity and invited UNFCCC bodies to consider how to ‘integrate and strengthen ocean-based action into existing mandates and work plans’.

While these are markers of progress, countries still aren’t required to report on and take responsibility for climate impacts within their maritime territories. ClimateWorks’ Senior Project Manager, Dr Sali Bache, noted in Monash University’s Lens, ‘The actual impact of the Glasgow Climate Pact will remain uncertain until the next COP, dependent on how the UNFCCC bodies respond to these directives, and what then occurs in regard to obligations of state parties and oceans resource allocation.’

The Glasgow Climate Pact is a step in the right direction for oceans, but it remains leagues from where it needs to be, to ensure the level of action on oceans and protection of blue carbon ecosystems that is essential, if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. 

Indonesia joined ambitious pledges at COP26, but already these are being caveated.  

Prior to Glasgow, Indonesia published its Long Term Strategy, which laid out its 2050 scenario, committing forests to become carbon sinks by 2030, and achieving net zero emissions by 2060 or sooner. At COP26, the country continued to demonstrate ambition, signing the previously mentioned Methane Pledge and Coal to Clean Power Transition, along with committing to end deforestation by 2030

However, it was in the detail where some of these pledges were diminished. For example, when signing on to the Coal to Clean Power Transition, Indonesia chose not to support Clause 3, which asks countries to cease new coal-fired power projects. While Indonesia plans to decommission 9.2 GW of coal-fired power plants, it is already building and planning another 13.2 GW in the pipeline. In addition, the commitment to end deforestation has been called into question by Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister. ClimateWorks’ Country Lead for Indonesia, Guntur Sutiyono, suggests these caveats come from the end of the Forest Conversion Moratorium for Palm Oil Plantation this year. ‘This Moratorium has been a key success in reducing deforestation since its inception. President Jokowi extended the Moratorium’s first term, but is unlikely to do the same this year.’ Mr Sutiyono also notes other challenges come from government programs in biodiesel production and the Food Estate, which will most likely impact deforestation and forest conversion. Indonesia shows how it’s not just the pledges made at COPs that matter, rather, the implementation of these pledges and their translation to local climate policy.

There is a ‘renewed endeavour’.

ClimateWorks’ Anna Malos reported from Glasgow that while the result of COP26 is insufficient, ‘…with this realisation has come a renewed endeavour’ amongst governments of vulnerable nations, from organisations driving change, from business, and from the public.

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