COP26: Negotiating for 1.5 Degrees Celsius

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The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held from 31 October to 12 November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. Over 39,000 people attended COP26 including representatives from governments and intergovernmental and non‑governmental organizations and members of the media.

Although measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 reportedly restricted their access to the negotiations, youth, Indigenous people and other representatives of civil society were present both inside and outside the conference, drawing attention to the needs of vulnerable groups and putting pressure on governments to respond to concerns.

A main goal of COP26 was to conclude an agreement to prevent global warming of more than 1.5 ℃ above pre-industrial levels. Another priority was to improve financial and other supports for adaptation to the impacts of climate change. A third focus was on mobilizing financial resources to pay for necessary adaptations and emissions reductions in developing countries.

This HillNote summarizes the current state of climate change and the outcomes achieved on selected issues at COP26. Finally, it highlights some commitments Canada made at the conference.

Current State and Impacts of Climate Change

There is consensus among climate scientists that the increase in global average temperature by the end of the century must be kept near 1.5 °C above pre‑industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

According to the August 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global average temperature has increased to approximately 1.1 ℃ above pre-industrial levels because of human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This heating has led to water scarcity, heat waves, forest fires, extreme precipitation, sea level rise, species loss and ecosystem decline; such effects are expected to worsen with every increment of additional warming.

Climate change impacts are not felt evenly around the world nor by all members of affected communities. Furthermore, populations that have not contributed significantly or at all to climate change, such as young people, future generations and citizens of poor countries, must still live with its consequences.

Outcomes Related to Selected Issues at COP26

The Glasgow Climate Pact was adopted at COP26 by consensus on 13 November 2021. Notably, the agreement calls for “accelerating efforts” by parties “towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” This is the first time coal has been mentioned in such an agreement.

Many decisions were reached at COP26, and some outcomes are described below.

Efforts to Reduce Emissions and Limit Temperature Increase

In the Paris Agreement, reached at COP21 in 2015, the parties to the agreement committed to limiting the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 °C” and to “pursuing efforts” to limit it to 1.5 °C. They also agreed to set their own GHG emission reduction targets, referred to as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). New NDCs were to be updated every five years and to “represent a progression beyond” the previous targets by aiming to reduce emissions more or faster. The first updated NDCs were supposed to be submitted in time for COP26; as of 2 November 2021, 151 out of 193 parties had submitted new or updated NDCs.

The combined formal pledges made by all parties to date – if honoured – would limit the global temperature rise to between 1.7 °C and 2.6 °C above pre-industrial levels. However, as illustrated in Figure 1, current policies would lead to warming of between 2.0 °C and 3.6 °C. The disparity indicates a need for new policies and actions to implement the pledges.

Figure 1 – Projected Increase in Global Average Temperature by 2100

This figure presents a thermometer that uses a colour gradient to depict the increasing severity of climate change impacts with each increment of warming above pre-industrial levels. The projected increase in global average temperature if all countries honour their emissions reduction pledges is 1.7 °C to 2.6 °C. The projected increase under current policies and actions is higher, at 2.0 °C to 3.6 °C.Note: “Current policies and actions” refers to those already in place or underway. “Current pledges and targets” refers to those that have been formally submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat. Targets announced informally but not yet submitted are not represented here but could, if implemented, reduce the average temperature increase slightly.
The temperature shown in the middle of each coloured box is the “median” warming estimate in 2100. This means that there is a 50% chance that the calculated temperature will be exceeded if the given emissions pathway is followed.
Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from Climate Action Tracker, “The CAT Thermometer explained,”
The CAT Thermometer.

The Glasgow Climate Pact requests that countries “revisit and strengthen” the 2030 targets in their NDCs by the end of 2022.

International Climate Finance

In the Copenhagen Accord, reached at COP15 in 2009, developed countries – which have higher per capita GHG emissions – committed to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Developed countries agreed to mobilize US$100 billion in “climate finance” annually by 2020.

However, developed countries raised only approximately US$80 billion in 2019. In the lead-up to COP26, Canada and Germany jointly developed a Climate Finance Delivery Plan to reach the annual US$100 billion goal through 2025.

In June 2021, Canada announced that it would double its previous commitment to climate finance by providing C$5.3 billion in funding over the next five years.

Adaptation

Members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, representing about 1.2 billion people from 48 countries, advocated at COP26 for greater financial support from developed countries and for more funds to be spent on adapting to climate change. The Glasgow Climate Pact does call for doubling the funds for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025, but the failure to raise US$100 billion annually means that there will be less funding than campaigners had sought.

Loss and Damage

Groups and countries that have contributed little to global warming are disproportionately harmed by climate-related disasters and have limited capacity to respond. The Alliance of Small Island States, among others, called for attention to this topic at COP26.

Although COP26 involved discussions about a possible “Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility” – a financial mechanism through which developing countries could receive funds from developed countries to help recover from climate-related disasters – the Glasgow Climate Pact did not include plans for such a facility.

Paris Rulebook

At COP26, six years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, negotiators completed the rulebook for its implementation. Notably, negotiators finalized rules to implement Article 6, agreeing on a system to trade carbon credits – essentially, emissions permits – that are earned by projects that mitigate climate change.

Canada’s Commitments at COP26

Canada submitted its enhanced NDC to the UNFCCC secretariat in July 2021, committing to reduce GHG emissions to between 40% and 45% below 2005 levels by 2030.

In addition to adopting the Glasgow Climate Pact and submitting an updated NDC, Canada signed on to commitments including:

Conclusion

In his closing remarks at COP26, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres summarized the event as follows: “[T]he announcements here in Glasgow are encouraging – but they are far from enough. The emissions gap remains a devastating threat. The finance and adaptation gap represent a glaring injustice for the developing world.”

In absolute terms, COP26 failed to achieve one of its central objectives, because under current commitments, the earth’s increase in temperature will exceed 1.5 °C, and few countries have the financial resources to respond to the associated impacts. However, COP26 yielded relative progress on emission reductions, building momentum towards further climate action.

Additional Resources

Allen, Myles et al., “Summary for Policymakers,” in Valérie Masson-Delmotte et al., eds., Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, IPCC, 2018.

Climate Action Tracker. Warming Projections Global Update. November 2021.

Government of Canada. Canada at COP26.

Government of Canada. UN conference on climate action: COP26 in Glasgow.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 °C.

Schonhardt, Sara. “Adaptation Becomes Focus of Climate Summit as Talks Draw to a Close.” Scientific American, 12 November 2021.

U.K. Government. COP26: The Negotiations Explained.

United Nations Climate Change. “COP 26 Speeches and statements: UN Climate Change Conference – Glasgow 2021,” Process and meetings.

United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021. COP26 Outcomes.

Authors: Alison Clegg and Natacha Kramski, Library of Parliament



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