First week evaluation: The glass is half-full – but with what?

Expectations are high on the COP26 in Glasgow, and after the first week we have several reasons for optimism. But not much of it is about the climate negotiations – so what do we celebrate and why? Here are the seven most important developments of the first week, in reverse order!

7. Queuing in vain. Many observers complain about long queues and then not getting access to the negotiations – only 36 NGO delegates were allowed to the core area and the Blue Zone reached its cap of 10 000 persons, stopping many from entering. Why is it at the bottom of the list? Because beyond the personal loss for the observers, most is available online and after all (easy to forget) this is about negotiations and the negotiators.

6. Greta-effect dwindling. Whilst a no-compromise attitude may be the right thing for the climate – after all, you can’t negotiate with nature – the “blab la bla” and using the f-word to describe what “our so-called leaders are doing in there” may not increase the influence of Greta Thunberg, Fridays For Future or the whole youth movement. Worse, it may reduce the much needed pressure on negotiators, since many will struggle to find concrete proposals from Ms Thunberg.

5. Biodiversity in. When Ecuador announced that it will largen the marine reserve around the Galápagos Islands, one might be forgiven to ask for the climate benefit. Instead, it was warmly applauded, showing how at this COP the separate negotiation streams for biodiversity and climate – biodiversity has its own COP15 in Kunming – may become a thing of the past.

4. Adaptation attention. The Paris Agreement is clear; mitigation and adaptation are of equal importance, but this is not often reflected at the COPs. This time, perhaps due to the fires, heatwaves, storms and floodings we’ve all seen, adaptation is finally right up there – both in terms of attention and funding.

3. Deals, deals, deals. Just outside of the formal negotiations, we see “coalitions of the willing” that don’t require everyone to agree. The most important from COP26 thus far are

– The Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement with many large coal producers and users – but not the biggest ones – pledging to stop using coal by the 2040s globally.

– The Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, aiming to end deforestation by 2030 with 110 signatory countries.

– The Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030, with almost 90 members

– The Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda to scale and speed up clean technologies, with more than half of the world economies and emissions represented including the US, India and EU.

2. Money up. Not reaching the promised USD 100 billion in international climate finance per year jeopardizes any further negotiations – developing countries rightfully ask why they should do more when we don’t keep our promised. So new pledges from Japan, Spain, the UK, the Nordic countries and others collectively mean that we may reach the magic 100 by 2022, it is a major dealbreaker for other issues at the COP.

1. NDC delivery. Every five years, the Paris Agreement’s Enhanced Actions kicks in, and this is the first time. And it largely worked. Almost all major emitters have sharpened their targets, most countries now have a year when they will become carbon neutral. Sweden 2045, EU 2050, US 2050, China 2060, Thailand 2050, India 2070… the last two are on the list of most positive surprises, since we didn’t expect to get new targets at all.

India furthermore promises 50% renewable energy by 2030 and reduction of carbon intensity by 45% for the same year – showing that laggards can become leaders almost overnight, especially since the US is still negotiating its concrete climate proposals in congress and China has decided to keep a low profile at COP.

Almost nothing of this directly relates to the formal COP26 negotiations. For the Paris Agreement rulebook and in particular Article 6 on market mechanisms, until now positions are as rigid as at the Pre-COP some weeks ago, and as they were at COP25, 24, 23… How bad is that? Not all that bad, firstly because when you’ve negotiated 26 times you don’t give in too early – a lot can still happen. And secondly, because even without a rule book, the Paris Agreement delivers. It is not ideal to make up the rules as you play, but it is better than not playing.

Last but not least: Let me be clear. THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. It won’t even limit global warming to two degrees, and the time to stop at 1.5 is running out, but it’s a step forward. Are we moving forward fast enough? No, but we may be building up momentum and speed. Or in a more positive way: There is still room for more initiatives, more leadership, more shining examples. What will YOU do?

Mattias Goldmann