What happened at COP26?

November 16, 2021

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. The COP is the decision-making body for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This was the first COP since the United States rejoined the Paris Agreement, which President Biden reinstated on his first day as president. World leaders and representatives from more than 190 countries from around the world gathered – with notable absences from Xi Jinping from China and Vladimir Putin from Russia – to work toward an agreement on bold emissions cutting plans and climate commitments. During the COP26 negotiations, the UN Environment Program released a preliminary assessment that unless actions are taken now, the Earth may be on track to warm 2.5°C by the end of the century.   

Recognizing the urgency for action, nations built on the commitments in the Paris Agreement, to develop the COP26 goals to:  

  • Secure a worldwide commitment to reach net-zero by 2050 (this is needed to ensure that temperatures rise by 1.5°C);  
  • Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats;  
  • Mobilize finance to no less than $100 billion a year from developed countries which will ensure that the first two goals are achievable; and  
  • Work together to deliver on the stated goals.  

Notable takeaways and commitments from COP26 included:  

  • A joint agreement between the United States and China, the world’s biggest emitters of CO2, to increase cooperation to reduce emissions this decade;  
  • The establishment of rules for global carbon markets;  
  • A global promise to limit deforestation;  
  • Numerous countries pledging to reduce methane emissions; and  
  • A coal phase down pledge (not phase out).  

Not all topics reached consensus or agreement. Key topics that failed to reach agreement included establishing a compensation mechanism for climate vulnerable countries and delivering on the target for investing $100 billion in climate financing for developing countries to combat climate change, which was pushed to next year. As well as, strong language for phasing out fossil fuel and coal subsidies which was ultimately weakened.  

What would these commitments do to limit the impacts of climate change? The International Energy Agency projected that if the COP26 commitments are implemented this decade, that the Earth would be on a trajectory for a 1.8°C degrees of warming. Failing to reach the 1.5°C degree pledge, but falling below the catastrophic warming of 2°C.  

President Biden made an appearance to show the US’s commitment to working with countries around the world and to promote domestic climate efforts contained in the Build Back Better framework and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Biden announced the US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan., which targets curbing methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) emissions through new and existing oil and gas operations. Biden also announced two new rules – an EPA rule for new and existing oil and gas pipelines and a DOT rule to target natural gas pipeline leaks. In addition, Biden announced efforts to create climate smart agriculture practices for farms, ranches, and agricultural lands to reduce methane emission; these efforts could be significant to achieving the US commitments for reducing emissions. Similarly, more than 100 countries set commitments for reducing methane emissions   

The White House also released the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaption and Resilience (PREPARE). The plan outlines the US approach for financially supporting developing countries as they address and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The president will work with Congress to secure $3 billion to support adaptation practices across the globe – the largest US commitment to international climate adaptation to-date.  

As world leaders left Glasgow, many counted some wins in the fight against climate change but others left with questions. Many are asking: How will implementation roll out? Will countries adhere to these aggressive commitments? What does accountability look like? The next 12 months leading up to COP27 in Egypt will be critical as countries determine how to turn commitments into action, and pressure for countries like the United States to act will only increase. ITS America believes it has a role in helping to address the causes of climate change through transformative transportation technologies can make our world greener and more sustainable. 

Morgan Ellis

Morgan Ellis is the Vice President, Sustainable Transportation at ITS America.
Contact her at mellis@itsa.org