COP26: Forget grand gestures, the devil is in the details

In just a few days the most important climate talks since 2015 will take place in Glasgow: COP26 – The 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Held against the backdrop of new challenges like the global energy shortage, COVID-19, and recent natural disasters, this time seemingly narrow thematic discussions hold more value than ever. The real decisions for positive change will come from implementing policy decisions and questions of definition, rather than from grand commitments by country governments.

More ambitious commitments

So far, the world is not on track with the commitments made in the Paris Agreement. While most governments have made their pledges to cut carbon emissions more ambitious in the run-up to COP26, the targets are not even close to sufficient enough to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels. Adjusting these national emission reduction strategies takes months of policy coordination, so countries are not likely to make any new commitments on this during the Glasgow conference.

So how will the needle be moved during COP26? Trying to move forward from lackluster targets, green interest groups and poorer countries are pushing for commitments on measures that help countries implement their existing climate strategies. They hope this will make it easier for national governments to ambitiously upgrade these strategies in the future. The most important debates to follow during the conference will therefore focus on four issues requiring countries to step up their game in different ways:

1)     Agreeing on the rules for international carbon markets.

Major players like China and the EU face challenges in effectively managing their emission trading systems, a problem which is further worsened by lack of a global level playing field. Coming to clear agreements on how to handle for example double counting of carbon offsets would therefore be a major step forward.

2)     Commitments on the concept of ‘loss and damage’.

Those nations that suffer most from climate change like island states and poor countries are hoping to refuel the debate on compensation. The Paris Agreement lacks real commitment on this, and now that richer countries have also not lived up to the funding and lending commitments in the Agreement, poorer countries hope to set more concrete goals.

3)     Signing up to sector-level pledges. 

Promising new pacts have emerged on the push of sectorial lobby groups and certain governments. For example, the U.S. and the E.U. already back the Global Methane Pledge which calls for cutting global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels to 2030. To further speed up the energy transition, the U.N. is backing several Energy Compacts in close collaboration with civil society. It is expected that new pledges and commitments will be announced in Glasgow.

4)     The 2.0 vs. 1.5 degrees Celsius discussion.

At the G20 as well as during the Paris Agreement negotiations, governments did not reach an agreement about exactly how much global warming should be reduced. The current compromise of keeping global warming ‘well below 2.0 degrees Celsius’ is not enough for green interest groups and several governments who are now asking for a 1.5 degree Celsius goal. This will be interesting, as countries like China and India ask for climate financing then to be renegotiated, too.

Our Dr2 Consultants New York team is closely following the COP26 discussions and side events on above topics and more. If you are interested to learn more about specific themes or debates, don’t hesitate to drop me a message here or via