External Publication

COP26: Much Achieved, Huge Opportunities Missed

Published on 18 November 2021


World Leaders Loath to Quit Fossil Fuels

Prior to COP26, a slew of reports were released to warn governments of the consequences of failure to slash emissions. Fortunately, the Glasgow climate deal directly referenced coal and fossil fuels, pledged new targets to end deforestation, and urged countries to speed up the submission of their carbon reduction plans. These actions show a stronger determination to close the existing emissions gap, which will if not addressed raise temperatures a devastating 2.4oC by the end of the century.

Given the fast-closing window to reach the Paris Agreement target, developed countries’ promising to double adaptation funding to developing countries implies an acknowledgment of increasingly worsening climate-induced disasters, preparing for which can no longer be delayed.

Although setting higher targets reflects progress, it does little to ensure that failures to deliver on pledges will not be repeated. Developed countries have not fulfilled their decade-old promise to deliver $100 billion to developing countries annually. Deforestation initiatives have failed to meet expectations. Ending the use of coal and fossil fuels has been slow despite fierce calls in recent years to do so.

At the heart of these failures are the global economic system and national economic agendas. Developed countries seek to maintain certain levels of resource-intensive lifestyles. On the other hand, developing countries aspire to lift their populations out of poverty and increase their standards of living, possibly emulating developed countries. Continuous exploitation of natural resources is inevitable to supporting such economic models. Measures such as deforestation are thus inherently difficult to carry out.

Further, cheap energy is critical to keeping overall production costs low. It is not surprising that watered-down language such as “unfiltered” coal “phase-down” and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies phase-out made it into the final deal. As long as they make economic sense, coal and fossil fuels are here to stay.

Countries may forge ahead with more ambitious climate targets, but unless efforts are made to address problems related to resource-intensive consumerism and accompanying economic system, the goal of meeting the 1.5oC target is likely to remain on life support.