What is it about?

This briefing reviews progress that was made at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow, Scotland, UK over 1 – 12 November 2021. The context of the global climate change challenge is outlined, along with the aspirations of the major participating international groups. An overall balance sheet is provided that gives an assessment of the achievements and disappointments in the outcomes of COP26. This assessment sets a backdrop to what needs to be achieved when the Parties next meet at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in 2022 to address both immediate and longer-term climate change mitigation, adaptation and climate finance.

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Why is it important?

The 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow over 1 – 12 November 2021 was seen as a critically important staging post on the transition pathway towards stabilising the Earth’s warming climate (Ares, 2021; Cohen, 2021; Hammond and Newborough, 2022). Organised by the UK Government in partnership with Italy (the UK-Italy Presidency), COP26 brought together governments from around the world to agree co-ordinated actions to tackle climate change. The summit sought to build on the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change agreed at COP21. That climate accord aimed to keep temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. Otherwise, climate modellers believe that humanity will be subject to a greater frequency of extreme weather events: life-threatening heatwaves and forest fires, more intense storms, devastating floods, and serious droughts. In addition, further looming threats include sea level rise due to melting ice sheets and glaciers, ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption, and food shortages due to desertification.

Perspectives

Did COP26 ‘keep 1.5°C alive’? The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by the end of the meeting (according to the respected Climate Action Tracker website), would result in a 2.4°C global warming by the end of the century; obviously some way short of the 1.5°C aspiration. However, if further pledges, for example, by India (of achieving net-zero emissions by 2070) were fully achieved, then global warming would peak at 1.9°C before falling to 1.8°C by 2100. As the Climate Summit ‘caravan’ moves on to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt; scheduled for late 2022, it will need to encourage the ratcheting up of GHG emissions reduction by ending use of coal, and minimising methane emissions, from big emitter nations and regional blocks (particularly China, USA, EU-27, India, and the Russian Federation). Only then will the GHG emissions gap be eliminated. Countries will also have to deliver their various pledges made at COP26 on mitigation, adaptation and climate finance as these remain urgent priorities.

Professor Emeritus Geoffrey P Hammond
University of Bath

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This page is a summary of: Briefing: The 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact: steps on the transition pathway towards a low carbon world, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Energy, April 2022, ICE Publishing, DOI: 10.1680/jener.22.00011.
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