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Progress at Glasgow Climate Conference on three fronts

The conference managed to keep the door open to the 1.5°C goal. But there’s a massive need for further action.

Writer

Oras Tynkkynen

Senior Advisor, Sustainability solutions, Sitra

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The Glasgow Climate Conference COP26 continued past its deadline, as expected. The host country, the United Kingdom, characterised the conference as “the world’s last best chance” to get the climate emergency under control. Critical voices, on the other hand, condemned the conference as a failure even before it was over.

There is often a tendency to place climate conferences on either end of the scale and interpret the outcome as either a breakthrough or a fiasco. However, it is worth breaking the Glasgow outcome down a little more specifically, into three areas.

Progress on many long-term disputes

First, the negotiations reached agreement on a number of long-standing issues. Rules were approved for the market mechanisms of the Paris Agreement. The loss and damage caused by global heating are being taken more seriously. Governments also agreed on how to decide on increasing climate funding in the next couple of years and on the timeframe that national emission commitments should cover.

Governments are urged to update their emission commitments over the next year. The situation will be monitored annually and discussed at ministerial level. For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, almost 200 countries around the world say they will aim to phase down coal power unless carbon dioxide is captured. There’s also support for the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

Tougher targets and pledges on climate funding

Second, a whole group of countries announced tougher emission targets. Over 150 countries have updated their commitments extending to 2030 – with India, Brazil, Argentina and New Zealand joining them in Glasgow. In addition to India, Ukraine, Nigeria, Vietnam and others also set new carbon neutrality targets.

Glasgow also saw some new pledges on international climate funding. We are not yet at the promised level of a total of USD 100 billion annually, but it is within reach. The Adaptation Fund received record-high support, and Scotland announced a small but in principle important sum to compensate for loss and damage.

Third, a breath-taking number of international climate initiatives were announced in Glasgow to boost climate work in different areas. These aim for instance to reduce methane emissions, stop deforestation, phase out oil and gas production and re-direct funding flows.

1.5°C target is difficult but still possible

During the conference several institutions provided early estimates of the impacts of the announcements made in Glasgow on climate heating. All drew similar conclusions: we are now much closer than ever to the emission pathways of the Paris Agreement.

A more exact answer depends on assumptions. If all countries meet their 2030 emission pledges and carbon neutrality targets, global heating might perhaps be kept as low as 1.8 degrees. But if we only look at countries’ current actions, the trend is still towards 2.7 degrees. International initiatives matter too. They alone could help close the emission gap by about a tenth on the 1.5°C pathway.

What will it take to succeed?

The progress on three fronts achieved at Glasgow still leaves the door ajar to restricting climate heating to 1.5°C. Success depends on what happens after Glasgow. The prerequisites for it can be roughly summed up in three points.

  1. First, countries must upgrade their emission commitments. This particularly applies to big emitters – and especially to emission cuts this decade.
  2. Second, the current and updated emission targets must be met. This requires clear roadmaps, but above all decisions on practical climate action, policies and measures.
  3. Third, international climate funding must be significantly increased. This would give a boost to curbing emissions in emerging economies, but it would also create trust, the basic fabric of all co-operation between Global South and North.

It’s unlikely that anyone would expect that a single international conference – or even a series of conferences – secure world peace. Likewise, it may be unreasonable to expect any international conference to the solve the climate crisis by itself.

But many decisive steps forward were taken in Glasgow. If we step up the pace in the coming years, both in international and national policies, board rooms and street demonstrations, it is still possible to solve the climate crisis.

Oras Tynkkynen attended the Glasgow Climate Conference as Sitra’s representative in the Finnish delegation.

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