What You Need to Know About COP26

Audio by: Megan Bergeron | Writing by: Callie Rhoades, Marie Hogan, Wangyuxuan Xu| Socials by: Wangyuxuan Xu

As of the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties, or COP26, a global climate summit organized by the UN, several important agreements were made that may positively impact our future climate. However, there were also several disappointments and shortcomings on activists’ climate goals that were not achieved. 

Here are some key takeaways from COP26:

  • The U.S. and China agreed to work together to cut emissions
  • More than 20 countries, including the U.S., agreed to stop funding the majority of new oil and gas projects
  • Multiple organizations and companies form the private sector pledged funds to help in the fight against climate change 
  • Some coal-reliant countries have decided to continue using coal until 2040 or possibly later
  • Developed countries are continuing to fall short on their promises on financing $100 billion for climate disaster funds and renewable energy innovation  
  • Even with plans to cut emissions by 2030, Climate Action Tracker estimates that the globe will still warm by 2.4 degrees Celsius

What’s new?

Glasgow Climate Pact, the final report of the conference, emphasizes the fact that emissions will be nearly 14% higher in 2030 than in 2010 under current emission-reduction pledges. All the countries present acknowledged the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. To keep the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 °C within reach, carbon dioxide emissions will need to fall by 45% from the levels recorded in 2010 by 2030.

For the first time in COP history, countries made a pact to reduce coal-fired power (without carbon capture) and eliminate subsidies for other fossil fuels. However, India and China made an objection to stopping the subsidization of fossil fuels. India’s climate and environment minister, Bhupender Yadav, noted that low-income households in developing countries still rely on fossil fuels to keep their energy bills affordable. The conference agreed to change the promise in an earlier draft from “phase out” coal to “phase down” coal.

What’s missing?

Many developing countries are frustrated that OECD, or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, countries didn’t pledge more financial support. At the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, developed countries had agreed to provide 100 billion in funding per year by 2020, a target they have yet to achieve. This funding is critical as developing countries are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change, while also being less prepared to adapt to it on their own due to a variety of factors. 

Moreover, COP26 yielded few of the explicit policies necessary to meet the emissions targets set, including firm reductions in coal. It remains to be seen if global leaders will follow through on these agreements and meet the goals laid out in COP26. 

What’s next for the US?

Coming out of COP26, the United States made commitments both to reduce its own emissions and work with other countries to address the climate crisis. Now, the question is whether the US will achieve these goals swiftly and effectively.

New programs, like the Plan to Conserve Global Forests announced at Glasgow, increase global funding for deforestation efforts without depending on legislative approval. While the Biden administration was able to pass their infrastructure bill in November, they have not been able to pass their “Build Back Better” bill, one of the main policy mechanisms through which they hoped to reduce emissions. This bill included over half a trillion dollars in clean energy and climate change related funding. Many US states continue to push for aggressive emissions reductions on their own. The US Climate Alliance, a group formed by several governors during the Trump administration, now includes 27 states and Puerto Rico. These states, including California, are pushing innovative climate policy at the state and regional level, with hopes that their work will spillover into more widespread measures. 



Ken: The COP is intended to be a review after the Paris agreement, to get nations, to renew their commitments and to really increase ambition in light of the fact that we’re not getting to the Paris goals.

Ethan: The latest Conference of the Parties ended on November 12, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. It is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. I sat down with Ken Alex, Executive Producer of Climate Break, to talk about it.

Ken: The world agreed to limit warming to two degrees and to aim, to try to limit it to 1.5 degrees. The big set of issues this year really grows out of what’s called the Paris of rule book. Paris had a number of focuses and agreements, but there were no details associated with quite a few of them. Some of the bigger ones include mechanisms to set up an international carbon trading market. There is a lot of discussion about money for loss and damage for countries that have already been impacted and will be impacted further, and a hundred billion dollar annual fund that was agreed to in Paris, but has not, come to fruition.

Ethan: Coming out of the conference, the US and the EU developed a methane pledge that was signed by over 105 nations to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2050. Advocates have also committed to working to retire the 2500 remaining coal fired power plants around the world.

Ethan: For more information on COP26, please visit climatebreak.org, or wherever you get your podcast. I’m Ethan Elkind, and this was Climate Break.

What You Need to Know About COP26