COP26: It was messy, far from good enough, but it was an agreement that keeps 1.5C in reach – just

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COP26 is over. Two weeks. 40,000 delegates. 

And a hard fought international agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact.

So which bits of it really matter? And why?

The answers to those questions differ depending on which country you speak to, but here’s my assessment.

Follow COP26 reaction live after deal is finally reached

World leaders agree COP26 deal despite 'deep disappointment' on fossil fuels

World leaders agree COP26 deal despite 'deep disappointment' on fossil fuels

From the UK negotiating team’s perspective, the most critical element of the agreement was the request for nations to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emission reduction targets by the end of next year.

The previous arrangement was for this to happen every five years.

It is this ratcheting up of the schedule for increased ambition that many believe will eventually close the gap between what has been promised and what is needed on an ongoing basis to keep 1.5C of warming within sight.

This is particularly the case for the coming “decisive decade”, as it is often referred to, by the end of which scientists say the planet needs to reduce emissions by 45% to stay on track.


The other bit of the climate pact that got all the attention, and in the case of COP26 president Alok Sharma, actual tears, was the fossil fuel section.

For the first time ever, a COP agreement contains a commitment to reduce fossil fuels, specifically to accelerate efforts to “phase down” unabated coal use and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

Until the very last moment the language was “phase out”, but a final intervention from India and China meant it was changed just before the gavel came down.

As a symbol, this paragraph was vital, and there was widespread frustration that it was weakened as climate vulnerable nations held their noses to get the deal done.

The key agreements from Glasgow's climate summit

The key agreements from Glasgow's climate summit

But it was always the view that this text probably wouldn’t survive a bruising negotiation at all, and that if it disappeared, COP could still claim to have met its overarching goal of keeping 1.5C within reach.

The logic for this is that the world is clearly moving away from coal anyway, and as the cost of cleaner options falls it is becoming an increasingly uneconomic way to generate power.

The market, the UK and others hope, will do the work.

Finance too was a difficult one, and was always going to be the most challenging aspect of the negotiations behind closed doors.

There was real progress in some areas; a commitment to at least double funding for adaptation finance, which is the amount of money available to protect people and communities from the ongoing effects of climate change.


Small island nations fought tooth and nail for this bit of the agreement.

But there was dismay too, that discussions around a funding mechanism to compensate countries for climate disasters – often referred to as “loss and damage” – did not advance any further than committing to a dialogue.

The US and the EU were implacably opposed to going any further, afraid of opening the door to a colossal liability problem.

Additionally a framework for a global carbon market emerged, although again there was disappointment that developing nations did not secure an agreement to take a share of the proceeds generated to help fund their fight against climate change.


The money really matters.

If developing nations feel properly supported they are much more able, not only to survive and thrive in the face of a changing world, but they will also be much more likely to be able to deliver on more ambitious carbon reduction targets.

In the end, climate vulnerable countries said they were willing to accept an imperfect deal rather than no deal.

That was the sentiment of the entire summit.

If countries don't deliver on climate commitments by 2022 - Glasgow will have been a flop

If countries don't deliver on climate commitments by 2022 – Glasgow will have been a flop

It was messy, it was far from good enough, but it was an agreement, and it kept 1.5C of warming within reach. Just.

Now what matters is that nations keep their word, and keep increasing ambition.

Reflecting on progress since the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015, US special envoy John Kerry summed it up as he delivered final remarks.

He said: “Paris built the arena. Glasgow starts the race. Tonight, the starting gun was fired.”


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