Edging toward the endgame

The COP26 venue seemed less crowded today, with shorter lines through security and slightly more elbow room in the halls. But the conference had a far more frenzied feel, with deadlines looming for the negotiations – and progress reports still showing little progress. “There is still much work ahead of us” is the line often heard. Notably, more countries held press conferences to explain their broad positions than at any other time during the talks.

Almost everyone not involved in the deliberations appeared to descend on the marquis event of the day, the “UN High-Level Event for Global Climate Action – Racing to a Better World.” The High-Level Climate Champions Gonzalo Muñoz and Nigel Topping provided a summary of climate action commitments by non-state actors such as businesses and cities. The focus is now on driving implementation. 


Credibility counts

COP26 has been the launching pad for many announcements, pledges and commitments. Maybe too many, if that’s possible, with the result that no one is quite sure about what is real and what is not. Suspicions of “greenwash” abound. “We do not believe you,” climate activist Vanessa Nakate said about bankers and finance institutions. “Prove us wrong. I beg you to prove us wrong. If you don’t, God help us all.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the announcements and agreements made in Glasgow but commented, “promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies.” To address the deep and real credibility gap, he said, we must “zoom in on the quality and implementation of plans”. 

Guterres announced the creation of a High-Level Expert Group to propose clear standards to measure and analyze net-zero commitments from non-state actors.  

Shifting the focus to oil and gas

There has been a major focus on coal, which is by far the dirtiest fossil fuel. But burning oil and gas also causes significant greenhouse gases. Today, Costa Rica and Denmark launched an initiative, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, to phase out all fossil fuels. “This is the beginning of the end of oil and gas,” said Danish Environment Minister Dan Jorgensen. “We need bold and tangible action, not talk.” 

Denmark, one of the European Union’s largest oil producers, will end production by 2050 and cancel all further licensing agreements to get to net zero by 2050. Also joining the Alliance are France, Greenland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Wales, California and Quebec.  

Some civil society organizations welcomed the announcement. Romain Loualalen from Oil Change International described it as “long overdue” and a sign that the conversation is evolving. "The level of ambition that this initiative has is a floor, not a ceiling. They're committing to ending exploration, but what the science says – no new oil and gas projects anywhere – that's what's needed to limit warming to 1.5 C.”

He added “It’s a good first step, we congratulate you, but you need to go further and convince more countries and regions to do the same.” 

Cities in the race to net zero

COP26 concluded a series of theme days with a focus on cities. Home to 68 per cent of the world’s population, they play a major role in the race to net zero. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu hopes the city’s green projects will allow it to serve as an inspiration to other cities. “Our target is to take every step to make Istanbul a carbon-neutral city resilient to the climate crisis by 2050,” he said. 

The city of Turku, on the southwest coast of Finland, has cut its emissions by half compared to 1990 levels due to investments in renewable energy, decarbonizing heating and low-carbon transport. “We are well on our way to achieving our ambitious goal to become carbon neutral by 2029,” said Turku Mayor Minna Arve.  

Science for local action

Several of the world’s leading climate scientists came together with city and business leaders, NGOs and governments to announce a new series of reports to inform action in cities. The IPCC’s Summary for Urban Policymakers reports will provide cities and businesses with clear and accessible findings from the IPCC’s main assessments. This will help ensure that the most up-to-date science is translated in a meaningful way to support informed action at the local level. 

“This collaboration between IPCC authors and practitioners from all regions of the world demonstrates how science and practice can in combination provide solid evidence to support climate action,” said IPCC authors Panmao Zhai, Debra Roberts, Jim Skea and Aromar Revi.

A people’s plenary

NGOs – or observers in COP parlance – will hold a “people’s plenary” tomorrow to let negotiators know how they feel about new draft agreements put forward on the last official day of the Conference. When the talks will end is a subject of endless discussion, as no COP has ever finished on time.