The Glasgow Climate Pact was the centrepiece of the evening, setting out plans for countries to cut emissions further and faster in the next decade.
Crucial other decisions were also reached, on accelerating the shift to clean power, on how international carbon trading should work, and on how much money rich nations should funnel to poorer countries to support their efforts to deal with climate change.
Under current climate plans presented ahead of Glasgow emissions in 2030 will put the world on track for 2.4°C of warming, an outcome scientists say would be catastrophic. To chart a safer course, the Glasgow Climate Pact admitted more action to cut emissions this decade would be needed.
After much wrangling, the pact sets a challenge for nations to come back next year with improved 2030 targets that are in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping warming well below 2°C and closer to 1.5 °C .
That means countries with weaker climate plans, such as China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the US will be under pressure to produce bolder plans by the end of next year. But expect battles over this: Australia has already suggested it will ignore calls to update its target.
The UN is also directed to assess climate plans every year, turning every COP into a pressure point for nations to commit more.
A last-minute row over coal use threatened to derail the summit on Saturday evening. But eventually delegates agreed to “accelerate efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power” and accelerate the phase-out of “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.
It might not sound like much, but it marks the first time fossil fuels have been explicitly included in a UN climate agreement.
The reference to “unabated” coal refers to power plants which do not have carbon capture and storage technology fitted, which applies to the vast majority of plants in operation.
It follows other promises made at the summit to phase out coal use and stop financing for new fossil fuel projects overseas. Campaigners say taken together the promises mark the beginning of the end for fossil fuels.
The failure of rich countries to meet a long-standing promise to mobilise $100bn a year in climate finance by 2020 dogged the Glasgow summit. The final pact notes with “deep regret” the failure to meet the target on time and commits nations to deliver on their promises every year through to 2025. Glasgow also saw nations start work on agreeing a new goal for financing post-2025.
For decades climate vulnerable countries, battered by rising seas, wildfires and fiercer storms, have been calling compensation for the damage caused by historical emissions of rich nations.
COP26 marks the first time action has been officially taken to respond to that request, establishing a dedicated agency to work out a path forward.
But the pact stopped short of establishing a dedicated fund for loss and damage, which was a key ask of poor nations.
Arguably the hidden victory of Glasgow was the agreement of new rules on transparency and emissions reporting, which will make it much easier for experts to compare climate progress across countries over the coming years – and spot the laggards.
Nations agreed to submit climate plans to a common five-year timeframe, rather than the current hodge-podge of five and 10 year plans starting on different dates and using different baselines.
Nations also agreed to follow standardised emissions reporting practices from 2024, providing the public with regular and more robust information on the state of greenhouse gas emissions and progress made towards implementing climate plans.
A Guest Editorial