COP26 heralded a significant shift in momentum in a year where the importance of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees was acknowledged across the globe. But pledges still fell short. ClimateWorks’ Australia Country Lead Anna Malos was in Glasgow on our behalf, here she shares her reflections.

Over the last week I have been in Glasgow on behalf of ClimateWorks Australia attending the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). It was the first I had attended since before the Paris Agreement, and the shift in momentum was striking.

Glasgow has been as much about the announcements around the Summit than progress in the formal talks. There were announcements on sustainable finance; on forests; on coal; on oil and gas; and methane to name a few. Combine these with new pledges from various countries over the last year, and the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is almost within reach. There’s some big ifs in that – if countries successfully implement their pledges in full and if developed countries step up on finance – and so far neither are yet on track. Clearly more ambition is needed. However, progress has been made. The last time I was at a climate summit, pledges were putting us on track to 3 degrees.

Outside the summit – on the streets, at the ‘People’s Summit’ and in public events – there is anger and frustration that movement is slow, governments are not doing enough and many are not yet truly aiming for the 1.5 degree goal. The impact that climate change is already having – particularly for vulnerable communities – is so clear that it is hard to see why action isn’t faster.

However, for me coming back to a climate summit for the first time since before the Paris Agreement – momentum is dramatically different. Net zero goals are the norm. Companies and countries are competing to show how they are transitioning. Coal, oil and even gas (to a lesser extent) are seen as on borrowed time. The UK as COP president declared the end of coal is in sight, and for the first time ever there is language about getting rid of coal-fired power and fossil fuels subsidies. There are caveats, but this inclusion is no small thing.

Left to right: Freya Cole, Lisa Cliff, Natalie Isaacs, Anna Malos (ClimateWorks Australia), Sue Matthews and Jo Dodds – Australian women celebrating gender day at COP.

The detail of the ‘Paris rulebook’ has been finished – there is plenty of devil in the detail. Not everything has the highest environmental integrity, there are concerns about equity and about future funding for developing countries especially on adaptation. And how developed countries address the loss and damage of the most vulnerable countries who are least responsible for climate change is a critical issue.

The announcements alongside COP cut across governments, businesses and investors. And in some instances sub-national governments. They show that on any issue there are a group of actors who understand the transformation that is underway and what they have to do.

Since pre-Paris I think there have been three big things that have changed in mitigating climate change: net zero is now the norm, 1.5 C is well and truly on the table as the limit to achieve and a substantial number of businesses and investors are moving, and moving faster than many governments.

As the Icelandic delegate put it: ‘The next time we meet, we’ll do better, and the time after that, even better’. It’s an important approach, and although Glasgow has moved things forward – through improved 2030 pledges, through more net zero commitments and through all sorts of other agreements – it’s an approach countries like Australia will benefit from adopting. The good news for Australia is when we do act, our country has been blessed with the renewable and mineral resources that will give us a competitive advantage in the net zero economy.

And there are other things that mean I leave Glasgow with hope. The result of Glasgow’s COP is not sufficient to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and avoid the impact further warming will have on people and the planet. Yet with this realisation has come a renewed endeavour from governments of the vulnerable countries who are most at threat and their allies, from organisations including ClimateWorks who are catalysing transformation, from progressive businesses and most loudly from the streets.

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