Here Are the Pledges Made at COP26 – And Why Not Everyone Is Impressed

What have – and haven’t – world leaders committed to at the UN’s climate crisis summit?
Activists wearing world leader play 'Squid Game' games outside the COP26 Summit. Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images
Activists wearing world leader play 'Squid Game' games outside the COP26 Summit. Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images

Cut methane emission levels by 30 percent by 2030

It was the first COP in recent history in which a major event on methane was held, and it delivered results; 105 countries, including big emitters like Brazil, Nigeria and Canada, signed the Global Methane Pledge. 

The worldwide partnership aims for each country to cut methane emission levels by 30 percent by 2030. The countries which have signed up are responsible for around 40 percent of methane emissions around the planet, whose molecules have a more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide.

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End deforestation by 2030

It was good news for forests too; 114 leaders committed to ending and reversing deforestation by 2030 – again including Brazil, where vast stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down. 

A £1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) fund will be established to protect the tropical rainforest in the Congo Basin – the second largest of its kind in the entire world. 

Scale-up climate finance for developing nations

Climate finance solutions have also been promised, including £1.25 billion ($1.7 billion) from the US, the UK and charities to support Indigenous people’s conservation of forests and strengthen their land rights, on top of an extra £7.3 billion ($10 billion) from Japan in climate finance over five years. Their contributions mean that countries could hit a £73 billion-a-year (£100 billion) target of climate finance one year sooner than expected.

Cut carbon emissions… within the next 50 years

There were notable absences, not only of leaders but of promises. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping did not attend the conference, labelled “a big mistake” by President Joe Biden. 

China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and together with Russia committed to a target of net zero by 2060 – ten years later than when the Paris Agreement in 2015 said countries should be reaching carbon neutrality, in 2050.

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Neither China nor Russia’s commitments are as slow as Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India’s pledge that his country would be net zero by 2070 – although scientists have said that this would be a more realistic map for India, which is still coal dependent and lacks the right technology to integrate all of its solar energy into powering the country.

Such targets will allow countries to continue depending on fossil fuel heavy industries like oil and gas as they start to transition. 

And while President Joe Biden criticised the absence of oil-intensive nations, his own government is in the middle of auctioning drilling rights in Alaskan waters and the Gulf of Mexico. 

China’s ambassador to the UN also pointed out on Twitter: “We are not the one who withdrew from the #ParisAgreement.”

Not everyone is impressed with the pledges

As the World Leaders Summit element of the conference closed yesterday evening, youth activists took a dim view of the commitments that world leaders had made and called them “climate betrayers”.

Dominika Lasota, a 19-year-old climate activist from Poland, said that her country is one of the most heavily dependent on coal in the EU. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said during his speech that climate policies should take account of Poland’s restricted development under communism. “We do not all start from the same starting point [and] should remember [that] transformation cannot take place at the expense of people.”

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But Lasota was unimpressed. “The Polish Prime Minister has flown in and out of Glasgow yesterday and has preached how our country is actually the leader of climate action and he has provided us with a bunch of sentences that sounded nice and were really pleasant to the media, but behind it was nothing that was close to climate justice.”

“It means new reductions in emissions, it means climate reparations and it means serious action that aligns with the science and is not climate cheating or running away, which is what the Prime Minister of Poland is currently doing.”

Avaaz activists in Glasgow. Photo: Avaaz / AP

Avaaz activists in Glasgow. Photo: Avaaz / AP

In an Instagram story, British activist Mikaela Loach wrote: “The hypocrisy at COP is actually really getting me down. Politicians are not doing enough at all – all talk and no real commitment to action. Billionaires giving speeches and pushing their greenwash. The oil and gas industry peddling greenwash. It sucks.”

Chris Venables, head of politics at the think tank Green Alliance, was a little more positive, clarifying: “I’m not used to being the positive one.”

“I’m buoyed by the real experts getting into the conference – there are real signs of progress. I think it’s a bit more than forests and methane – a net zero announcement out of India and pursuing renewables this decade is important and unexpected.”

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“It depends where you’re starting from. If you’re looking from very far away and say, ‘does this keep 1.5 on the table?’ The answer is always going to be ‘no’ to someone. It’s basically always ‘no’. But has it made genuine progress that we have to celebrate? The answer has to be ‘yes’, because why would any of us keep going? You need a bit of positivity.”

And not everyone is impressed with the summit itself

As well as criticisms that politicians have not done enough, the summit has been mired with chaos.

Mass train cancellations over the weekend due to adverse weather conditions and a queuing system seemingly unable to filter through the thousands of guests quickly has caused considerable delays. 

There have also been accessibility problems. Karine Elharrar, an Israeli minister, said she could not attend the COP26 summit on Monday because it was not wheelchair accessible.

After the Israeli delegation complained, the UK’s Environment Secretary George Eustice said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that: “What would normally happen in this situation is that Israel would have communicated that they had that particular need for their minister. 

“There was obviously something that went wrong in this instance and they weren’t aware of that, so they hadn’t made the right provisions at that particular entrance she was coming to.”

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His response was criticised by British peer, Sarah Ludford.

There might be more pledges in the coming days

Though several world leaders have now left the conference, their delegations remain negotiating further climate goals for the next week and a half. 

Today, countries are discussing financial solutions, and British Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced plans to make the UK “the world’s first net zero-aligned financial centre”, with companies managing £95 trillion ($130 trillion) of assets committing to the goal of holding global warming below 1.5C. 

But last week he said the UK government would be halving taxes on domestic flights.