Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

Work together to deliver: How to achieve success at COP26

Forward Thinking series
Ellie Macmillan-Fox

MSc Climate Change: Environment, Science And Policy

03 November 2021

The need to address the climate emergency has never been more urgent than it is today. With the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, labelling the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report a “code red for humanity”, the scientific case for immediate action is irrefutable. So, the question is, what needs to be achieved at COP26 in order to tackle this emergency? Ellie Macmillan-Fox of the Department of Geography assesses the summit’s goals and considers how they can be achieved.

The COP26 organisers have published four key goals. The first of the four goals is to: “secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach”. To do this, they propose countries must “accelerate the phase-out of coal; curtail deforestation; speed up the switch to electric vehicles; encourage investment in renewables.” In other words, step up mitigation efforts.

Secondly, the COP hosts aim to “adapt to protect communities and natural habitats”, through “protecting and restoring ecosystems” as well as “building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives”.

The third goal of the hosts is to "mobilise finance”. They propose to do this by ensuring that developed countries “make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020”.

Finally, the fourth goal is to “work together to deliver”. This stipulates collaboration between “governments, businesses and civil society”.

The first and second goals: mitigation, adaptation and conservation

Although adaptation and conservation measures have been slower to be implemented, the mitigation goals are fairly standard and are already being pursued by a number of developed countries. Even so, getting some of the major polluters, such as the US and China, to agree to start implementing the policies needed to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees of warming, will remain a challenge. Key to overcoming this at COP21 in Paris, was skilled diplomacy on the part of the hosts and ambitious Parties. Similar tactics should be utilised at COP26.

However, measures such as switching to electric vehicles, investing in renewables and building defences, will be impossible for many developing countries if the third goal is not achieved.

The third goal: finance

The pledge by developed countries to mobilise $100bn in climate finance per year was first made at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, but was reiterated within the Paris Agreement in 2015, and played a large part in developing nations agreeing to changes to differentiation at Paris.

Previously in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol the burden to reduce emissions had been solely on developed nations, due to their historical responsibility. However, in Paris developing states agreed to a system of “self-differentiation”, wherein each Party makes a contribution but determines its own level of ambition. Despite developing nations making this major concession, this $100bn per year was not met in 2020. Although it is difficult to assess exactly how much climate finance was provided by developed to developing countries, it was clear in a report by the UN at the end of 2020 that the provision of finance was still inadequate. Developing nations will be eager to hold major powers to account for this at COP26 and a serious increase in finance will be needed for the other goals to be achieved.

The fourth goal: inclusivity

Collaboration between different actors can of course be a great catalyst towards success. However, progress can only be made if the those inside the negotiations, namely the governments, can reach agreement among themselves.

One of the reasons that the Paris Agreement was successfully adopted in 2015 was the effort the hosts put in to ensure that every Party felt they had contributed to the outcome. Developing nations are often at an inherent disadvantage during climate negotiations due to barriers caused by language and smaller delegations. In addition, the majority of progress tends to be made in negotiations through private bi-lateral meetings between states. Taken together, these factors can lead to developing countries feeling overlooked and left out, which is largely what caused the collapse of negotiations at COP15 in Copenhagen. Therefore, to “work together to deliver”, the COP26 hosts must go out of their way to ensure that developing nations are able to meaningfully contribute to the outcome.

Yet, the complications of conducting a global conference during a pandemic has made this significantly more difficult. With unequal access to vaccines across the globe, particularly impacting developing nations, accessibility to the climate conference favours the developed Western powers more than ever. There were serious debates about whether the conference should go ahead in-person, but attempts at online negotiations earlier this year were found to put developing nations at even more of a disadvantage due to technological issues.

In response the COP26 hosts have organised a programme to provide COVID-19 vaccines to delegates who would otherwise not have access. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, inclusivity should be prioritised throughout the COP negotiations, not just in getting there.

There are several measures already in place in UNFCCC negotiation structure to mitigate inequalities, but these are often overlooked in practice in order to maintain momentum. Perhaps most important is the relationship the hosts cultivate with the developing country Parties. The Paris hosts built trust with every Party, listening to all who had an opinion to express and informing all Parties of decisions from negotiations at the same time. To achieve the progress in mitigation, adaptation and finance outlined in the other goals, it is essential that the COP26 hosts do the same.

There are many challenges that the hosts and delegates will need to overcome in the next couple of weeks, but they cannot afford to fail. Paris was a solid first step, now maintaining the atmosphere of inclusion and collaboration at COP26 will be vital to turning this momentum into tangible results.

COP26 Flag Resized

Latest news