COP26 lessons from the road

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After two weeks of photo ops, discussions, and negotiations, the COP26 summit in Glasgow has come to a close. Now that the dust has settled, what was achieved and what promises have world leaders made to tackle climate change and ensure global warming stays below 1.5°C?

There were high hopes that COP26 would rouse the global community and elicit a robust collaborative response to climate change. Several significant pledges were made, with most countries agreeing to focus on critical areas to reduce emissions and counter the effects of climate change. Here are some of the highlights from the summit.

Emissions reduction pact 

While there was much-heated discussion, nations agreed to a pact that challenges them to come back next year with improved 2030 targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping warming well below 2 °C (and closer to 1.5°C). Countries with weaker climate plans, such as China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the US, will be under pressure to produce concrete strategies for improvement by the end of next year. The UN is also directed to assess climate plans every year, turning every COP into a pressure point for nations to commit more and ensure they live up to their promises.

Global methane pledge

More than 100 countries signed up to a global methane pledge early in the summit, including major emitters like Brazil, Nigeria and Canada. Countries pledged to take voluntary actions at the domestic level to collectively cut methane emissions at least 30 per cent by 2030. The pledge is a significant step in reducing global warming as methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the heating power of carbon dioxide. A large amount of methane produced globally is from the agriculture industry.

China and US collaborate 

The world’s two largest polluters promised to work together on methane cuts, arranging to meet in the first half of 2022 to focus on fossil fuels, waste and agricultural sectors. While the pledge lacked detail on how the two superpowers would be working together to lower their emissions, it marked a positive step in global commitments, despite geopolitical tensions between the two nations. Moreover, the proposed talks in 2022 can accelerate emissions reductions, as the rest of the world keeps a close eye on leaders Xi Jinping and Joe Biden.

Moving away from oil and gas

A small alliance of countries pledged to forge a path away from new oil and gas investment to give the world a better chance of keeping global temperatures at 1.5°C. The new alliance includes France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand, among others, and signals the willingness of many countries to make bold decisions on their future energy mix.

“When I talk to scientists, citizens and activists, they all want one thing more than anything else: bold and tangible action. Not talk, action,” said Danish climate minister Dan Jorgensen, who is leading the new alliance alongside Costa Rica.

Transparency and emissions reporting

One of the bigger wins of COP26 was the agreement of new rules on transparency and emissions reporting. The agreement makes it much easier for experts to compare climate progress across countries and identify those lagging behind agreed targets. Under the arrangement, nations will submit climate plans to a standard five-year timeframe, rather than the current mix of plans starting on different dates and using different baselines and overall timescales.

Nations also agreed to follow standardised emissions reporting practices from 2024, providing the public with regular and more robust information on the state of greenhouse gas emissions and progress toward implementing climate plans.

COP26 saw big strides forward in some areas of climate change. It also highlighted resistance. The real test for the world will be what nations do after the talks. Maintaining focus and clarity will be essential to global change and addressing the climate crisis.

Getting rid of these emissions won’t be easy. It will take significant capital investment, skills, education and change at all levels of society including business.

Governments should not forget the important role of the private sector in aiding their success. Companies can, and should, play a decisive role in accelerating climate action. There are many ways in which this can be done – for example, understanding our operations and seeking internal improvement. For Verdant, our focus lies in developing and producing the next generation of technologies that can help prevent ongoing greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our overall reliance on fossil fuels.

The New Year holds incredible potential. With pledges being signed, the policies, partnerships and investments countries make today have the power to ensure we all meet our climate obligations and keep global warming below 1.5°C.

We’ll be watching…

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