A landmark agreement to stop deforestation and begin reversing it by the end of the decade; a treaty to cut methane emissions by a third by the same date; a pledge to end the financing of fossil fuel projects abroad as soon as next year. The achievements of the first week of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow are not to be sniffed at.
As the New Statesman‘s environment editor Philippa Nuttall explained on the World Review podcast, there are still nuances within the details of the pledges that may limit their effectiveness. Many are not summit-wide agreements – which by convention are taken by consensus – but rather pledges made by smaller coalitions of the willing.
In some cases, important countries are missing: Russia and China have not signed up to the agreement on methane emissions. Japan, Korea and China, the countries that provide the most funding to fossil fuel projects abroad, are not supporting the deal on financing.
Moreover, some countries do not seem to be on board with the pacts they have backed: Indonesia’s environment minister appeared last week to cast doubt on her country’s commitment to the deforestation deal, saying it should not impede economic growth.
In the second week of the summit, delegates will have to secure wider agreement for the pledges that truly have the potential to keep the world on track to limit global warming below 1.5-2°C pre-industrial levels, the goal set at the 2015 Cop21 in Paris. These might include the groundwork for a UN-sanctioned global carbon market, which would set a worldwide price on emissions and allow countries to trade carbon credits, or for emissions reductions schemes to be updated every year, rather than the current five.
“If commitments fall short by the end of the Cop, countries must revisit their national climate plans and policies. Not every five years. Every year, until keeping 1.5°C is assured,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on the opening day of the talks.
Moreover, new modelling by Imperial College London suggests that the latest climate pledges make avoiding the worst of global warming significantly more likely. The picture for the planet is looking better than it did a week ago – but delegates at Cop26 will still have their work cut out in the summit’s second week.