COP26 What to Expect

Por Gerard De Winter 


COP26 has just finished, but what was it and how will it impact us.

What was COP26?
COP26 was the 26th annual United Nations ‘Conference of the Parties’ with the focus on countering the impact of global climate change, and was held in Glasgow, Scotland.  The relevance of COP26 was that it was the major follow up to COP21 (Paris 2015).  In 2015, for the first time ever, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’.  Importantly they agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.  Add one year for the COVID pandemic disruptions and we arrive at 2021, hence the importance of COP26 and an event where many believed it to be the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.

Was it a success?
In part no because agreements made won’t limit global warning to 1.5 degrees.  But in part yes because the importance of global warming has been raised even further and it is abundantly clear to all countries what they need to do to control it.  Success really depends on what happens next.  Perhaps one of the most significant changes in Glasgow was an article that requests countries to come to COP27 next year in Egypt with updated plans to slash emissions. Under the Paris Agreement, they would only have been obliged to do that by 2025. So, this brings things forward much faster and retains a chance of success.


How will COP26 impact our lives?
Agreements were many and very detailed, but in summary here are some ways in which COP26 could change things.


Electric vehicles: More electric cars will be on our roads.  Predictions are that new electric vehicles could cost the same as new gasoline cars within the next five years.  Also, many countries, regions and car companies have agreed to increase the use of electric vehicles and bring in new zero-emission buses and trucks.  This all is in tandem with increased up take of walking and cycling.

Greener power:  Over 40 countries signed up to phasing out coal and a similar number committed to ensuring that clean energy is the most reliable and affordable option for powering homes and businesses.  This means a continuing move towards renewable sources such as wind and solar energy - and possibly more reliance on nuclear energy.  Unfortunately, COP26 lacked a breakthrough announcement committing the world's biggest coal-users such as India and China to ending its use.  However, it's hoped the announcements made will send a signal to the market that it is worth investing in renewable energy.

Greener homes:  Solar panels and heat pumps could become standard in homes and new houses using low-carbon alternatives to cement and concrete will become more common.  Also, buildings will be constructed to be able to withstand the current and future impact of climate change.

Paying directly for carbon:   We may see the cost of a product's carbon emissions being added to the price we pay.  So if a business doesn't try and reduce the emissions of the goods it's selling, its prices may have to go up. It's hoped that will make consumers and businesses think again about consumption and where they spend money.  The likes of Amazon, Unilever and Ikea have now said they're looking to ensure the cargo ships they use to deliver goods will run on cleaner fuels.

Nature:  Recognizing nature's role in fighting climate change and the need to restore the natural world - from forests to peatland - was high on the agenda at Glasgow, and we may see the benefits in greener spaces around our towns and cities.  

More expensive food: The argument is that deforestation will never be stopped if sustainability concerns are always out-competed by the price people pay for food.  In Glasgow more than 100 countries signed up to halt deforestation and this could end the era of cheap food.  Consumers will inevitably have to pay more and consume less.

Pension and investments could be changing: Over 400 financial institutions - controlling an estimated $130tn of private finance - agreed at COP26 to provide more money for green technology.  It means that many major pension providers are going to be looking to invest money in more environmentally friendly sectors.  This might also include helping clients to identify ways to improve the energy efficiency and other sustainable ways of living and working, thereby accelerating change.

A change in thinking: We may also witness a shift in the way people think.  The goal of sticking to 1.5 degrees - above which scientists say climate impacts will become more dangerous and unpredictable - could stimulate community action.  This is most likely to be led by youth activists who will apply sustained and intense pressure to scrutinize all governance decisions - from local transport to national energy - through a climate perspective.

Additionally, the drive to net zero is likely to yield benefits such as cleaner air, quieter streets and better mental and physical health.  This should then lead to a mentality change, from “What am I losing”, to “What am I gaining”.

COP26 may have finished but the worlds response to combat climate change is just starting.  Expect things to change fast.