There is a cold drizzle outside all day in Glasgow, but inside the convention center, the COP26 negotiations are hot and hectic. Political celebrities like Nancy Pelosi and AOC stroll down the hallway with entourages in tow, negotiators huddle in back rooms away from the gaggle of press and NGO observers to discuss strategy, and the slow process of working out piecemeal progress on climate change rumbles along.
COP26 was never going to be a breakthrough moment for international climate policy. Most new pledges by countries to cut emissions were made well before the conference – such as China’s 2060 net-zero target announced in late 2020 and various updates to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) over the course of the year. But there have been some meaningful developments here in Glasgow.
Perhaps the biggest news came out of India. Long concerned that cutting emissions might come at the cost of lifting people out of poverty, India made a big commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2070, and significantly increase its deployment of clean energy in the near term. Over 100 countries representing 70% of the global economy have joined together to pledge to cut methane emissions at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. Twenty-three countries – including Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, South Korea – have new pledges to phase out coal, and countries have made additional commitments to end coal financing. New commitments have also been made to slow the rate of deforestation globally.
None of these steps will make a huge difference to the climate by themselves, but when added on top of falling clean energy costs and policy put in place over the last decade it represents real, tangible progress on combating climate change. A decade ago it seemed plausible that the world was headed towards a 21st century dominated by coal and with 4C or more warming. Today current policies put us on track for around 2.6C warming; if countries meet their 2030 commitments this falls down to 2.4C. There have also been a plethora of new net-zero commitments made by countries over the past two years, with countries pledging to get emissions down to net-zero by mid-century. While promises to do things in 30 to 50 years should be taken with a proverbial boulder of salt, if they were all met they would limit warming to 1.8C in 2100, arguably meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well-below-2C.