World leaders from more than 100 countries attended the United Nationals annual climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow this week, to discuss climate change and how to tackle it.
The “Conference of the Parties” has already had its fair share of questionable moments, including Australia seemingly missing the purpose of a climate summit, by using it as an opportunity to promote fossil fuels. Thankfully, the conference has also had some encouraging, planet-positive moments in its first week. Here are just five of them to give you hope.
1. More than 40 countries pledged to quit coal.
During the conference, major coal-using countries, including Poland, Vietnam and Chile made, a pledge to shift away from their dependence on coal, the biggest contributor to climate change
The pledge involves a commitment to end all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally, and to phase out coal power in the 2030s for major economies, and 2040s for poorer countries.
In addition to the countries that signed up, several major banks also agreed to stop financing the coal industry, while dozens of organisations committed to phasing out coal power in the 2030s.
Although progress has been made in reducing coal use globally, it still produced around 37 percent of the world’s electricity in 2019.
The countries that failed to make this commitment included some of the biggest coal-dependent countries around the world, including Australia, China, India and the US. This lack of action might not just be an environmental mistake, but also an economical one – as Jennifer Granholm from the US Department of Energy pointed out, the 2030 market for clean energy will be worth $23tn.
“That’s what’s on the other side of this transition. Truly sustainable economic growth that will keep growing as other countries jump into this market,” said Jennifer.
2. More than 100 leaders made a landmark pledge to end deforestation.
Leaders representing over 85 percent of the world’s forests committed to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030 at COP26, in a pledge backed by almost £14 billion (AU $2.6 billion) in public and private funding.
The countries that made the commitment included Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, representing a collective area of forest that spans 13 million square miles.
The funding to back the pledge will be financed by 12 countries, including the UK, from 2021 – 2025 and will support activities in developing countries, including restoring degraded land, tackling wildfires and supporting the rights of indigenous communities.
Currently almost a quarter (23 percent) of global emissions come from land use activity, such as logging, deforestation and farming. Protecting forests and ending damaging land use is one of the most important things the world can do to limit catastrophic global warming, while also protecting the lives and futures of the 1.6 billion people worldwide – nearly 25 percent of the world’s population – who rely on forests for their livelihoods.
Iván Duque, the President of Colombia, said: “Never before have so many leaders, from all regions, representing all types of forests, joined forces in this way and Colombia is committed to playing its part. We will enshrine in law a commitment to net-zero deforestation by 2030 – one of the most ambitious commitments in Latin America – and to protecting 30% of our land and ocean resources by 2030.”
3. UK firms will be forced to show how they will hit net zero by 2023.
Most major UK firms and financial institutions will be forced to set out detailed plans for how they will move to a low-carbon future, in line with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, by 2023. Net zero is when a business or a country achieves an overall balance between the amount of carbon it is emitting and the carbon that it’s removing from the atmosphere.
To ensure the targets are not just a marketing exercise, an expert panel will set the standards the plans need to meet. Firms and their shareholders will be left to decide how their businesses adapt to this transition, including how they intend to decarbonise.
The plans will need to be published, however the commitment to achieve net-zero will not be mandatory, with the aim of the move to “increase transparency and accountability”.
David Barmes, senior economist at the campaign group Positive Money, said the intention was positive, but that financial firms were still “pouring billions into environmentally harmful projects.”
4. The UK, US, India and China amongst world leaders that agreed to the Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda.
The Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda is a plan to coordinate the introduction of clean technologies, including clean electricity and electric vehicles, in order to rapidly drive down their cost. More than 40 world leaders backed and signed up to the new Breakthrough Agenda at COP26, representing every region and 70 percent of the world’s economy.
The aim of the Breakthrough Agenda is to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice for all globally in each of the most polluting sectors by 2030, particularly supporting the developing world to access the innovation and tools needed to transition to net zero.
The new plans unveiled at the conference included a global electricity initiative launched by the UK and India and endorsed by 80 nations. The Green Grids Initiative aims to create international ‘supergrids’ on every continent, and to link up sunny deserts and windy coasts with population centres, to provide reliable electricity from renewable energy, which locally may be intermittent.
5. Research suggests the pledges made at COP26 may, in fact, work to limit global heating to below 2’C.
Thanks in part to the plans made by India, the world’s third biggest CO2 emitter, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, the pledges laid on the table at the conference could be successful in limiting global temperature rises to below 2’C, according to research from the University of Melbourne.
If every nation who has made a commitment at COP26 fulfils those promises, the research has found that global temperatures would probably rise by about 1.9’C above pre-industrial levels, which is lower than the 2’C upper limit, but higher than the 1.5’C lower limit set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Alok Sharma, the president of Cop26, said the new commitments represented important progress, with the national pledges now representing 90 percent of global GDP. However, more would have to be done to bring the 1.5’C goal within reach and that the near-term target of halving global emissions by 2030 was still lacking.