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The top 10 climate commitments from COP26

Julia Pyper, host of the Political Climate podcast, on her key takeaways from the final days of the summit in Glasgow.

Chilean Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt (center) walks with delegates from Indigenous communities during COP26. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
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Editor’s note: Julia Pyper, host of the Political Climate podcast, attended the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. On the latest episode of the show, she discusses highlights and takeaways from the gathering. This piece is adapted from the podcast.

The COP26 climate summit was busy, inspiring, discouraging and tiring all at once. But despite the mix of emotions, I have to say I left Glasgow fulfilled.

The climate crisis looms large; I think we all know that. Still, I was heartened to be reminded that there are so many brilliant people around the world who have dedicated their lives to addressing this challenge. They bring expertise in so many different fields, from transportation to health, gender, food systems, energy, conservation and so much more. It is inspiring to see this collective come together.

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As I walked through a massive climate demonstration led by Greta Thunberg and others, there was a sense of outrage and frustration, but also energy and engagement. Not everyone in the climate community is on the same page, but there was a sense coming out of COP that attendees are at least working from the same book, if you will. And that’s a good thing.

News coverage throughout the U.N. climate summit framed the meeting as win or lose, with headlines like: Can COP26 Save the Planet?” The reality is that COP26 was a meeting, and it did its job in convening government leaders, civil society and the private sector and pressuring participants to raise their ambitions. It can be true that we’re both still losing the climate fight post-Glasgow and better off than we’ve ever been before.

The gatherings work. Unequivocally,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University and former CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, speaking at a COP26 side event. You put an ice axe above you, and that’s COP. Then everyone pulls themselves up.”

It must be noted that wealthy countries did not meet their target of providing $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing nations in dire need of assistance. Fulfilling that pledge is already long overdue, while negotiators from Africa and two dozen other developing nations have called for at least $1.3 trillion a year for climate mitigation and adaptation by 2030.

So again, there’s cause for outrage and frustration, but also optimism and inspiration. On the positive side, here are some of the notable commitments that came out of COP26 and its many side events:

  • Over 100 national governments, cities, states and major businesses signed a commitment to end the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 in leading markets and by 2040 worldwide.
  • More than 100 world leaders — including from Brazil, where the Amazon rainforest is under threat — pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.
  • While there are very real barriers for Indigenous communities hoping to influence the COP negotiations, we did see several governments and philanthropies announce $1.7 billion in forest protection and support for Indigenous peoples, specifically in protecting forests and lands under their stewardship, which is where 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity is located. 
  • Belize became the first country to do a debt conversion for ocean preservation.
  • The Ikea Foundation, Bezos Earth Fund and Rockefeller Foundation and partners pledged $10 billion to support the clean energy transition.
  • More than 40 countries including Poland, Vietnam and Chile pledged to phase out coal, although China, India and the U.S. are missing from that agreement. 
  • India committed to net-zero emissions by 2070, which was critiqued for being decades beyond the timeframe when nations need to decarbonize, but also commended for its honesty given what it will really take for India to meet that target. Plus, India’s new commitment to deploy 500 gigawatts of renewables by 2030 is nothing to sneer at.
  • While the rest of the world remains dubious, the Biden administration did make a compelling case that the U.S. is back on the scene. The U.S. and EU announced a global pledge to slash methane emissions, and the U.S. doubled its climate finance commitment to $11 billion per year.
  • America also joined 20 other countries committing to stop the financing of fossil fuels abroad.
  • U.N. Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney announced that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero — a consortium of the largest global financial institutions with $130 trillion in assets under management — are now aligned with net-zero emissions goals (although there’s more to this announcement and other climate finance targets, as we discuss on Political Climate).

A new analysis from the International Energy Agency suggests that commitments made at COP26 — if realized — could limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. While other assessments put the number higher, recent pledges show meaningful progress. In some ways, though, pledges are no longer the mark of success. While bolder commitments are needed, the focus must now shift to implementation.

Ice axes have been placed; now it’s time to pull ourselves up.

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Listen to the full episode, which includes interviews about climate finance with Justin Guay, director for global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project, and Benjamin Bartle, project director with RMI’s Climate Finance Access Network.

Political Climate is a biweekly podcast about the most pressing energy and climate issues of our time, hosted by Julia Pyper, Brandon Hurlbut and Shane Skelton. You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get podcasts. Follow the show on Twitter at @Poli_Climate. Political Climate is presented by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and Canary Media.