Here’s What’s Happening at COP26
The 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) has been called our “last, best chance” at keeping warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and avoiding climate catastrophe. Beginning this week, thousands of government and climate leaders, business reps, and activists are converging in Glasgow for a two-week conference that’s intended to up the ante on climate action in the eleventh hour. (ICYMI: Here’s a refresher on why COP26 is a make-or-break moment.)
We’ll watch as world leaders announce emissions reduction commitments that (hopefully) go above and beyond what was promised in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and we'll give you the details in real time, below.
A Delayed (and Disappointing) Deal
November 13: With negotiations going into overtime, COP26 failed to meet most of the summit’s goals, like ending fossil fuel subsidies, completely phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, and nailing down a delivery date for the $100 billion in climate funding to low-income nations. In the final hour, China and India asked to weaken draft language from a “phaseout” to a “phase down” of “unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.The COP26 agreement now calls on nearly 200 countries to increase their climate funding for emerging economies and to come back next year with stronger plans for reducing emissions. Follow-through on the requests, however, remains up to individual nations. Many left the summit disappointed, seeing the end deal as just more kicking of the can down the road.
More Countries Put an End to Oil and Gas
November 11: On Thursday, five countries—France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, and Wales—and the Canadian province of Quebec agreed to stop approving new exploration and production of oil and gas. As new core members of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, they also set an end date for existing activity. Noticeably, major fossil fuel producers like the United States and Canada opted out, despite the fact that ditching fossil fuels completely this decade remains critical to keeping warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.
United States Joins India-led Solar Effort
November 10: The United States became the 101st country to join the International Solar Alliance, an initiative started in 2015 by India at COP21 in Paris. The effort aims to scale up the renewable resource in sunny countries around the world while phasing out fossil fuels. For the United States, this is a good deal: The country could expand its solar capacity fortyfold over the next 30 years, eliminate carbon emissions from the power grid, and see $1.7 trillion in net economic and health benefits.
Six Major Carmakers Agree to Go All Electric. Others Hang Back.
November 10: More than 30 countries and 6 major auto manufacturers, including Ford, General Motors, and Volvo, agreed to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040. The pledge, which, if fulfilled, would represent a quarter of all global auto sales, is a sign of swelling momentum toward a clean car future. However, some of the biggest automakers, such as Toyota and Volkswagen, did not sign on, and neither did some of the nations with the largest car markets, including Japan, China, and the United States (though some U.S. cities and states, including New York City and California, joined the pledge). With transportation being the single biggest slice of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, getting gas-guzzling cars off the road is a climate priority.
U.S. and China Working Together on Climate
November 10: In a surprise announcement made today, leaders from the United States and China, the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, released a statement saying that they plan to improve their coordination on climate efforts within this “decisive decade” to meet their Paris Agreement goals—which both countries acknowledge they are far from reaching. The deal has been in the works for months, says U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry, and aims to address sticking points like methane pollution and coal consumption, though it falls short of committing China to an earlier date for peak fossil fuel emissions. Fingers crossed that the plan ushers in a new era of collaboration, as the nations’ strained relationship on climate has hamstrung past negotiations.
Latin American Countries Establish Vast Ocean Sanctuary
November 9: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama announced plans to join portions of their territories at sea to create a single 200,000-square-mile Marine Protected Area. Across the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, industrial fishing will be off-limits. By connecting the waters around the Galapagos, Malpelo, Cocos, and Coiba islands and safeguarding a critical migration route for whales, sea turtles, sharks, and rays, the corridor will protect one of the world’s most important areas for marine biodiversity. Healthy marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support provide food, jobs, and cultural sustenance to billions of people around the world. The conservation effort also supports the global goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030.
More Money to Go to Climate Adaptation Projects
November 9: Building on yesterday’s adaptation funding pledges, more than a dozen wealthy nations have offered a total of $413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund, a pot of money managed by the Global Environment Facility, which helps low-income countries respond to costly and deadly climate impacts, from sea level rise to extreme heat waves. Since its establishment in 2001, the fund has approved $1.7 billion for projects in frontline countries, such as training of marine meteorologists on storm surge modeling and protecting farmland against soil erosion.
The U.N.’s Adaptation Fund for Frontline Countries Gets a Boost
November 8: Just how much do historically high-emitting countries owe the rest of the world for causing the climate crisis? That’s the question delegates are tackling today at the start of the conference’s second week. Research suggests that by 2030, the figure in question could be somewhere between $290 billion and $580 billion each year. While existing funding commitments don’t come near what is needed, more than a dozen countries have pledged to provide an additional $232 million to the United Nation’s Adaptation Fund, which channels funds to projects in low-income countries on the frontlines of climate change. The financial commitment marks the single-largest increase to the Adaptation Fund in its 20-year history.
Young Activists Take to the Streets
November 5: Today marks Youth and Public Empowerment Day at COP26—but a large contingent of young climate leaders are speaking their minds on the streets outside of the conference. Tens of thousands of activists marched Friday in a protest organized by Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement. Throughout the week, protestors have staged demonstrations and criticized some delegates for not taking action at a scale and pace necessary to match the urgency of the climate crisis. They have good reason to be skeptical: Despite dozens of past COP conferences, global emissions have continued to rise. In the name of their own futures, these activists are calling for systemic change, and an even bigger march is expected in Glasgow on Saturday.
A Move to Shrink the Footprints of Heavy-hitting Industries
November 4: The First Movers Coalition—a group of more than 25 global companies that includes Amazon, Apple, and Salesforce—says it will harness its purchasing power and supply chains to reduce emissions from high-polluting sectors like shipping, aviation, chemical production, and steel and aluminum manufacturing, as well as help advance carbon capture technologies, which are not yet commercially available. The companies plan to kick off their commitments by buying more climate-friendly products, such as zero-emission steel, electric fleets of heavy-duty trucks, or more sustainable jet fuel.
Three More Countries Join Coal Transition Program
November 4: India, Indonesia, and the Philippines announced they are joining South Africa as beneficiaries of the Accelerating Coal Transition Program, which will help them phase out coal with billions in funding from high-income nations. Indonesia indicated that with enough financial support, it could say goodbye to coal by 2040—a significant step for the world’s seventh-biggest coal producer. Together, the four nations are responsible for 15 percent of the world’s coal emissions.
All Eyes on Coal
November 4: The Powering Past Coal Alliance—a coalition of countries, cities, and organizations committed to phasing out dirty fossil fuels both domestically and abroad—added another 28 national signatories today, including Poland, Europe’s biggest producer of coal. Notably, the United States, China, and India—the world’s top three carbon emitters—have not yet signed on. However, the United States, alongside 19 other countries, did announce its intention to end public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year and to direct that spending toward overseas clean energy projects instead.
United States Offers Up Its Research Hubs to the World, for the World
November 4: The United States says it’s opening up its national laboratories, which have served as hubs for U.S. scientific research and innovation since World War II, to nations around the world that are aiming to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Providing access to the laboratories’ expertise, the Net Zero World Initiative will help partner nations improve their emissions reduction technologies and figure out the best ways to implement and pay for the rollout in their countries. Led by the U.S. Department of Energy and as part of the Build Back Better World initiative, the partnership already includes Argentina, Chile, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Ukraine, as well as a number of philanthropies, think tanks, businesses, and universities, that will help attract the billions of dollars in private capital needed to bring about a clean energy future.
A Reckoning of Funding Regrets
November 4: More than 20 countries and financial institutions, including the United States, Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom, have committed to end overseas public financing for fossil fuel projects by the end of next year. They will instead steer that spending toward clean energy. The news marks a major shift away from dirty fuels. For instance, from 2017 to 2019, gas projects received an average of $15.9 billion in international public finance each year (that’s four times as much as wind or solar). Coal and oil projects followed close behind, with overseas public financial support that is incompatible with holding warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A Flurry of Funding Promises
November 3: Today, COP26 conversations turned toward a critical sticking point: money. From the United States, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced a plan to issue bonds and use the proceeds to invest in clean energy in low-emitting countries, to the tune of $500 million annually. And the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the country’s largest financial regulators, said it would include climate in its banking oversight. But the private sector will need to step up, too. The Global Energy Alliance, a group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks, announced a $10.5 billion fund that draws from heavy-hitting donors like the Bezos Earth Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation to help emerging economies transition to clean energy.
A Seismic Shift in the Financial Sector
November 3: In perhaps the biggest news of COP26’s day of finance: The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero—a group of the world’s biggest investors, banks, and insurers—announced a plan to leverage its $130 trillion in assets to achieve net-zero emissions targets in its investments by 2050. While the commitment is being hailed as a “transformation of the global financial system,” careful oversight of its implementation and a complete abandonment of fossil fuel financing will be necessary for the plan to hit its mark.
Growing Green Bank Network
November 3: Two new financial institutions—the Minas Gerais Development Bank (BDMG) of Brazil and the D.C. Green Bank of the United States—announced that they are joining the Green Bank Network. The network is a growing green financing movement managed by NRDC and the Coalition for Green Capital that uses small pools of public funds to attract substantially larger private funds to invest in a clean energy future.
India Invests in Solar and Infrastructure for Island Nations
November 2: India announced two international climate initiatives today. The first intends to help small island nations climate-proof their infrastructure in the face of dire climate disasters, from rising sea levels to more frequent cyclones. The second looks to substantially boost solar capacity by establishing a common green energy grid across more than 100 countries. This would allow countries with a surplus of renewable energy to send it, via cross-border transmission lines, to other nations still dependent on fossil fuels.
South Africa Enlists Help to Ditch Coal
November 2: South Africa announced a plan to phase out coal with the help of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. Currently, the country generates about 90 percent of its electricity from coal, but if successful, the $8.5 billion deal could serve as a model for helping low-income nations transition away from the dirty fossil fuel.
Teaming up to Tackle Methane Pollution
November 2: In an effort led by the United States and the European Union, more than 100 countries pledged to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane by 30 percent by 2030. Not skipping a beat, the Biden administration today proposed a comprehensive federal plan that would slash methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 41 million tons through 2035.
The Global Pledge to Save Forests
November 2: More than 100 countries, which contain about 85 percent of what’s left of the planet’s forests, said they would halt and begin reversing deforestation and land degradation by 2030. The world’s forests store vast amounts of carbon and absorb about a third of all carbon dioxide emissions—and they do so while sustaining economies, food supplies, biodiversity, and Indigenous ways of life. President Biden plans to work with Congress to contribute up to $9 billion to the fund, and together, governments and private companies have so far pledged $19 billion toward the effort, which includes funds for Indigenous Peoples and vows from financial institutions to cease investing in companies that participate in deforestation. While the global plan recognizes conservation as a vital climate solution, it doesn’t set binding commitments and strong domestic actions from countries, particularly in the Global North, that are needed to address what’s driving the loss of their climate-critical forests. Further, some of the nations signing the pledge, such as the United Kingdom, currently subsidize the burning of forest biomass for industrial-scale energy production, a practice both destructive and counterproductive.
New Funds for Indigenous Communities to Protect Forests
November 1: Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States joined 18 philanthropic donors in a pledge to support the roles that Indigenous and other local communities play in protecting tropical forests, mitigating climate change, and safeguarding intact ecosystems and the many resources they provide, such as shelter, water, and food. So far, $1.7 billion—to be given between now and 2025—has been promised to support these communities’ forest tenure rights and advance their roles as guardians of nature.
India Sets Sights on Net-Zero
November 1: At the COP26 kickoff, India set a net-zero target for 2070. To reach that goal, India (currently the world’s fourth-highest carbon emitter) promised to get 500 gigawatts of renewable energy online and generate half of its energy from sources other than fossil fuels by 2030. In his speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also made clear that “India expects developed countries to make $1 trillion in climate finance available as soon as possible” to help low-income countries transition to clean energy and adapt to the growing impacts of climate change.
G20 Nations Halt Overseas Coal Financing
October 31: In the lead-up to COP26, the world’s 20 biggest economies agreed to cease financing of new coal power plants overseas. The commitment is a significant step toward ditching one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, but still falls short of both addressing the G20 nations’ domestic coal operations and committing to help emerging economies transition to renewable energy sources.
United States and European Union Reach Global Deal on “Green Steel”
October 31: At the G20 meeting in Rome over the weekend, the European Union and the United States committed to partially lifting tariffs on steel and aluminum trade between Europe and the States and to addressing the enormous environmental impacts of the two metals. Together, production of steel and aluminum account for a hefty 20 percent of all global emissions and, if left unchecked, could alone blow half of the world’s remaining carbon budget. The 28 countries involved plan to place trade restrictions on dirty steel and aluminum from other countries in order to spur a global shift toward more climate-friendly production techniques.
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