December 2, 2021
World leaders at the Conference of the Parties (COP26) ended two weeks of meetings in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, still divided over how to address climate change and global warming. Major coal, oil and gas producing countries resisted language on fossil fuels that smaller, climate-vulnerable nations wanted, and developing countries called for more financial support. In the end, the wealthiest nations, including the United States, pushed back on how much they would be willing to pay to offset their carbon footprints.
Nearly 200 countries endorsed the final agreement, dubbed the Glasgow Climate Pact, which presents a set of principles and goals for action on climate change. While there is no enforcement mechanism, the agreement serves as a lever for international political pressure.
According to projections by the Climate Action Tracker, the world needs to cut the rate of greenhouse gas emissions by almost 27 billion metric tons per year in order to limit global warming to 1.5 °C by 2030. But current pledges, including those worked out at COP26 this year, only get about one-quarter of the way to the goal.
Continuing rifts over how to finance carbon reduction
Key sticking points among COP26 attendees included disagreements on financing and accountability, and tensions between developing countries suffering the most severe consequences from the climate crisis and the most industrialized countries that produce most of the world’s greenhouse gases. Notably absent from the global summit were China and Russia, two of the world’s largest emitters.
Progress on how to reduce fossil fuel
For the first time, United Nations climate negotiators specifically called to draw down the use of fossil fuels, which scientists say is necessary to meet climate targets. Many countries and corporations have fiercely resisted ending their reliance on oil, gas and coal — the dominant sources of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Coal is the biggest contributor to the climate crisis and remains a significant source of emissions in the U.S. John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, has said that the country would phase out burning coal by the end of the decade.
Accelerated goals for Egypt COP27 could make a difference
Perhaps the most significant outcome of this year’s summit was an article that requests countries to come to COP27 next year in Egypt with updated plans to slash emissions. Under the Paris Agreement of 2015, they would only have been obliged to do that by 2025, so this move accelerates action by three years.