Summary of Outcomes for COP26: Was it a Success or Failure?

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1Q 2022 | IN-6401

There were many key outcomes from COP26; however, these results should be addressed noting the highly complex political and economic factors at play in the negotiations.

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Conference of the Parties Gathers in Glasgow to Address Climate Change


“Cash, coal, cars, and trees” to keep the world at 1.5⁰C. This catchy phrase was delivered by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to serve as a concise and memorable summary of the goals of COP26. Since 1995, the countries unified by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) have met as a “Conference of the Parties” (COP), and the 2021 meeting in Glasgow was the 26th annual summit. Ahead of the event, 200 countries were asked for their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, revisiting climate pledges made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Six years ago, in Paris, countries were asked to make impactful changes that would keep global warming “well below” 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels, while aiming for 1.5⁰C. Today, the goal of these ongoing meetings is to keep cutting emissions until they reach net zero by 2050. So, was COP26 a failure or success? What was in the COP26 agreement? Were meaningful goals set for cash, coal, cars, trees, and more?

The Outcomes of COP26


There were many notable outcomes from COP26, though the outcomes were influenced by various political and economic factors at play in the negotiations.  

Cash: This refers to climate finance, or the commitment from rich countries to poor ones to help cut emissions and cope with the loss and damages brought about by climate change. This has long been a key issue and sticking point at the talks, as poorer countries seek climate finance to convert to renewables and respond to climate disasters and events, while donor countries are more apt to invest in mitigating strategies that produce a profit. More than a decade ago, wealthier nations agreed to transfer US$100 billion per year, beginning in 2020, to developing nations to address the climate crisis. However, a report published prior to COP26 found that with current pledges, the goal would not be reached until 2023, three years after the target. As expected, the “Who should pay?” conversation was a difficult one. In other climate finance discussions, 450 banks and institutions currently control US$130 trillion agreed to back green technology, such as renewable energy, and direct capital away from fossil fuel burning industries. Critics of this outcome have highlighted this announcement may be mostly Public Relations (PR), as the terms of the deal still allow banks to pour money into fossil fuels.  

Coal: According to the International Energy Agency, coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, and it is the reason why global CO2 emissions were projected to increase almost 5% in 2021—the second largest increase in history (reversing most of 2020’s decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The key driver is a strong economic rebound for coal demand from the electricity sector. COP26 President Alok Sharma had said that he wanted Glasgow to be the place where coal was consigned to history, and some progress was made. Twenty-three new countries agreed to stop approving or building new coal projects. These nations, including significant coal users such as South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia, also agreed to phase out coal in the 2030s for developed countries and phase out coal by the 2040s for developing countries. To note, the negotiation did not include China, India, and the U.S.—the world’s top three greenhouse gas emitters and the world’s biggest coal users.

Cars: Twenty-four countries and a group of leading car manufacturers agreed to end the sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040. Headlining signatories included Volvo Cars, Ford, and General Motors, as well as India, the world’s second most populous nation. The world’s top two carmakers, Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen were notably absent, in addition to the car markets of China, Germany, and the U.S., highlighting the difficulties in shifting from fossil fuels to zero emissions vehicles.

Trees: One of the first most substantial announcements at COP26 came as more than 100 countries, including Brazil, representing more than 85% of the planet’s forests, agreed to end deforestation and land degradation by 2030. This negotiation was consequential, as 10% of the world’s total CO2 emissions are attributed to the logging and degrading of forest land. The question now is whether countries will follow through with what has been committed.

And more…Methane: A pledge to cut more than 30% of methane emissions was agreed to by more than 100 countries. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a very potent greenhouse gas. It’s invisible, odorless, and packs a punch with more than 80 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide in the first twenty years after reaching the atmosphere. Reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest ways to have an impact and move the needle on global warming.  

And the Verdict on COP26 Is...


Complex, high-stakes, international negotiations are very difficult to classify in absolutes. Therefore, COP26 was neither a stunning success nor an absolute failure. COP26 was instead a global gathering to slowly move the arc of history in the right direction for the planet. We all know what steps are needed to combat global warming and mitigate the impacts of climate change. However, sometimes the economic incentives (in developed nations) and the economic development (in emerging nations) are just not enough to create change. However, forums, such as COP26, bringing together government leaders, politicians, businesses, lobbyists, academics, and scientists can spark change, instigate change, and force change when needed.