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COP26 – What happens now?

After months of planning, followed by two weeks of events and negotiations, COP26 is over.

Was it a success? What happens now? How might the future look like for businesses and individuals?

Why was COP26 so important?

At COP21 in 2015, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming and set a target for temperatures to rise no higher than 1.5C. This was the first time ever that all countries had agreed to work together and became known as The Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement declared that every 5 years, countries must set out increasingly ambitious targets to show that they are taking climate action seriously and working at a fast enough pace. Due to the pandemic, the 5 year update was delayed to 2021 making the summit in Glasgow a critical moment for countries to submit or update their plans for reducing emissions, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Earlier this year, the IPCC produced a report in which it’s clear that time is running out to avoid global warming of catastrophic proportions. Scientists warned that unless there are rapid reductions in CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, global warming of 2C will be exceeded in the 21st century.

The report, prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, highlights that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the Working Group’s report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable”.

What happened during COP26?

The two week climate conference held in Glasgow consisted of a number of discussions, events and statements which formed the Presidency Programme. A different theme, crucial to consideration within the climate emergency, was covered each day including Finance, Energy, Land Use, Nature, Science & Innovation and Transport.

When the UK took on the COP26 leadership role nearly two years ago, only 30% of the world was covered by net zero targets. This figure is now at around 90%. Over the same period, 154 Parties have submitted new national targets, representing 80% of global emissions.

The UK Presidency has also been focused on driving action to deliver emissions reductions. We have seen a huge shift in coal, with many more countries committing to phase out unabated coal power and ending international coal financing.

While on the world’s roads, the transition to zero emissions vehicles is gathering pace, with some of the largest car manufacturers working together to make all new car sales zero emission by 2040 and by 2035 in leading markets. Countries and cities are following suit with ambitious petrol and diesel car phase out dates.

At the end of the negotiations, nearly 200 countries agreed the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ to keep 1.5C alive, but it will only be delivered with a huge global effort. The pact will speed up the pace of climate action. All countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in 2022. This will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leaders summit in 2023.

You can find a full summary of the negotiations here.

Was COP26 a success?

Glasgow has been billed as a key moment in the progress of keeping 1.5C within reach, realigning global leaders with this process as prior to the conference we were facing global warming of at least 2.4C. However, campaigners and climate experts have said decisions surrounding the Glasgow Pact only just meet the 1.5C goal and more ambitious targets should have been made. If countries don’t stick to their commitments, the 1.5C goal will still be unachievable.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that target was “definitely alive” after the conference.

She told the BBC: “We are very far from that goal but we did manage to get together this big package of different decisions that will allow us and gives us very, very specific direction on what we need to work on in order to get there.”

An Enhanced Transparency Framework was agreed which will track and communicate progress on tackling climate change as the Paris Agreement is implemented. A common time frame was recommended to ensure that all future NDCs cover the same period of time.

Under the Paris Agreement, each Party will report on progress made towards achieving its NDC in addition to an annual Greenhouse Gas emissions report. All commitments set forward by Parties in 2025 will show what 2035 commitments add up to, following the common time frame, allowing the world to understand better whether we’re on track for 1.5C.

Developing countries were pushing for a clear plan on loss and damage funding facilities, which were not delivered. The focus will now shift to Egypt, which will host next year’s COP summit, to deliver on this issue.

How might decisions at COP change our lives?

As UK governments focus on their agreed targets to reduce emissions, we can expect to see a number of shifts in our daily lives which need to happen at pace.

Transport – switching to electric transport for road use is likely to happen for most households and businesses. The Department for Transport announced in November 2020 that new petrol and diesel cars and vans will not be allowed to be sold in the UK from 2030.

Within the North East, Strategic Transport Plans are in place to consider the infrastructure for green modes of transport including electric or low emission buses, improved cycle and walking lanes and a better level of public transport options within more remote areas like rural Northumberland and Tees Valley.

Green Power – More than 40 countries have signed up to phasing out coal. A similar number have committed to ensuring that clean energy is the most reliable and affordable option for powering our homes and businesses.

For countries like the UK, this will mean continuing the move towards renewable sources such as wind and solar energy – and possibly more reliance on nuclear energy. The North East will soon be home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm and the North Sea Link Interconnector is in operation. Our region stands to become a pioneering renewable energy hub with the infrastructure, businesses and researchers in place to develop technologies and workable systems to deliver renewable energy on a large scale.

Greener Homes – Along with green energy, comes green homes. With retrofitting of higher grade insulation, solar panels, heat pumps, and hydrogen boilers to reduce and in turn eradicate our reliance on carbon. New homes will be built using low carbon alternatives to cement and concrete. Buildings will also need to be fit for more extreme weather scenarios including flooding, strong winds and heavy snowfall.

Nature – A great source of respite for most people during the Covid-19 pandemic was being able to reconnect with nature and the good news from COP26 is that we may see the benefits of more green spaces around our towns and cities. With research and projects already focussing on nature within built cities and encouraging biodiversity, and tree planting initiatives reaching out to organisations with planting space, we can hope to see an even greener North East in the near future.

Food – More than 100 countries signed up to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests, which aims to halt deforestation.

This could see tougher action on cutting down forests in countries including Brazil and Indonesia to produce things such as soya, beef and palm oil which are then imported and consumed in richer, developed nations. This could end the era of cheap food.

Experts say that a hard choice could be faced – deforestation will never be stopped if sustainability concerns are always out-competed by the price people pay for food:

“Consumers will inevitably have to absorb some of these costs if we want to deliver on the COP 26 declaration – by paying more and consuming less,” says Toby Gardner of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59263761

Money – More than 400 financial institutions agreed at COP26 to provide more money for green technology. It means that many major pension providers are going to be looking at investing your money in more environmentally friendly sectors.

What can you do?

Get involved in climate action, as a business and as an individual. It’s clear that the climate emergency is everyone’s challenge and we can all do something to create positive change.

Join NEECCo as a supporter to help the North East to meet it’s emissions targets and become England’s Greenest Region. As a united coalition, our region can become a global leader in climate action.