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COP26 closes with ‘compromise’ deal on climate, but it’s not enough, says UN chief

“It is an important step but is not enough. We must accelerate climate action to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees”, said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in a video statement released at the close of the two-week meeting.

Mr. Guterres also had a message to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, and all those leading the charge on climate action.

“I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there. We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward”.

A snapshot of the agreement

The outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition next year, at COP27, set to take place in Egypt.

However, a last-minute change to the pact, by China and India, softened language circulated in an earlier draft from “the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. to “phase down” coal use.

Other key COP26 achievements

The conference heard many encouraging announcements. One of the biggest was that leaders from over 120 countries, representing about 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, the date by which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to curb poverty and secure the planet’s future are supposed to have been achieved.

There was also a methane pledge, led by the United States and the European Union, by which more than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of this greenhouse gas by 2030.

Meanwhile, more than 40 countries – including major coal-users such as Poland, Viet Nam and Chile – agreed to shift away from coal, one of the biggest generators of CO2 emissions.

The private sector also showed strong engagement with nearly 500 global financial services firms agreeing to align $130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Also, in a surprise for many, the United States and China pledged to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. In a joint declaration they said they had agreed to take steps on a range of issues, including methane emissions, transition to clean energy and decarbonization. They also reiterated their commitment to keep the 1.5C goal alive.

Regarding green transport, more than 100 national governments, cities, states and major car companies signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets, and by 2040 worldwide.  At least 13 nations also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

“2021 is a make-or-break year to confront the global climate emergency.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres

COVID-19 has not stopped the climate crisis. Emissions continue to rise. This is an emergency. We are seeing a fast-growing coalition of countries, cities, regions, businesses and investors committing to net zero emissions by 2050. We need action NOW, on mitigation, adaptation and finance.

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will take place in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021.

By COP26 countries need to:

  • Join the growing global coalition for net zero by 2050;
  • Deliver concrete, more ambitious action plans (Nationally determined contributions known as NDCs)
  • Invest in green recovery, increase financing for adaptation, phase out coal, leave no one behind B

Transition to climate stability and clean energy

As the climate emergency intensifies, the transition towards climate stability is becoming increasingly urgent. States need to fulfil their commitments under the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and keep the rise of the global average temperature below 2°C. To achieve this, we need to cut emissions from transport and industry and invest in renewable energy sources.

“Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5-degree goal” - U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (2021)

The Secretary-General has highlighted the importance of ending the use of coal as the “single most important step” the world can take to ensure climate stability. Solar technologies are a sustainable alternative to coal that help save the planet and cut energy costs.

The United Nations equips hundreds of health facilities in some of the poorest parts of the world with solar power – from solar rooftops to batteries. It has given them access to clean, affordable and reliable electricity, while saving money which can be re-invested in health services.

What else is the United Nations doing about climate change?

The UN family is in the forefront of the effort to save our planet.Through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations provides policymakers with scientific data on climate change, its impacts and future risks, as well as options for adaptation, resilience and mitigation.

The UN also provides a forum for bringing the world together to take collective action on climate change, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Around the world, the UN works to assist countries transition to climate-resilient and low emissions strategies while also helping those especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change to adapt to a more unstable climate.

Why is combating climate change important?

There is alarming evidence from the IPCC's report that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations.

Global agreements and cooperation

The 1992 "Earth Summit" led to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a first step in addressing the climate change problem. Today, it has near-universal membership with 197 countries having ratified the Convention. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, legally binds developed country Parties to emission reduction targets.

Paris Agreement

In 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Paris, a landmark agreement was reached to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and - for the first time - brings all nations into a common cause to undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.

The Paris Agreement's central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

On Earth Day, 22 April 2016, 175 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement at United Nations Headquarters in New York. This was by far the largest number of countries ever to sign an international agreement on a single day.

Countering climate change at the UN in Vienna

Commitment to Climate Action, which is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 13, is the responsibility of governments, organizations, cities, regions, businesses and investors. Many of the Vienna-based UN organizations are actively involved in achieving goal 13.

For example, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) shares its expertise in green and innovative technology to help, amongst others, Mexico protect the Earth's ozone layer. In Myanmar and China, UNIDO has implemented a project to foster the usage of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices and methods.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) uses space technologies to monitor greenhouse gases related to deforestation and industrial processes, the changing of ice in polar caps and glaciers, sea-level rise and temperature.

The UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) provides support in the vulnerable mountain areas of the Western Balkans, South Caucasus, Central Asia, East Africa, and the Tropical Andes to adapt to the effect of climate change. For example, UN Environment makes roads more resilient to flooding and builds water reservoirs to help mitigate flooding from melting glaciers.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-test-ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) supports research into icebergs and movements of glaciers, hurricanes and tornadoes, landslides and avalanches, seasonal and yearly variations of specific radionuclides, ocean processes and marine life through the data it collects.

Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provides a platform for scientists to use nuclear techniques to study how agricultural practices can be optimized to protect resources while reducing emissions.