The final Glasgow Climate Pact, was endorsed by nearly 200 countries and functions as a set of principles and goals for action on climate change. While there is no enforcement mechanism, the agreement serves as a lever for international political pressure.

For the first time, UN climate negotiators specifically called to draw down fossil fuels. Many countries and corporations have fiercely resisted ending their reliance on oil, gas, and coal — the dominant sources of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

More than 130 countries also said they will zero out their impact on the climate in the next half-century, and most countries strengthened their pledges to cut emissions. India announced a target of net-zero emissions by 2070. That means the world’s three largest greenhouse-gas emitters — China, the US, and India, accounting for nearly half of global emissions — are now aiming to stop contributing to climate change completely in the coming decades. India, however, weakened some of the language on ending coal power in the final hours of the meeting.

But other key topics like setting up a system to pay for damages wrought by climate change, a high priority for countries facing sea-level rise and more extreme disasters today, were still unsettled.

The true test of the negotiations will be the actions that countries take to make their pledges real — not just in terms of reducing emissions, but also restoring ecosystems, switching to clean energy, and addressing the historic injustices around climate change.


  1. Countries agreed to ramp up their commitments, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), over time. So far, 150 countries have agreed to step up their goals. More than 130 have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
  2. The Glasgow pact “resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C” and “recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.” It’s still not an official target, but the greater emphasis on it means that NDCs and other climate goals put forward by countries will be evaluated based on how close they hew to this goal.
  3. The Glasgow pact also calls for countries to come back to the table next year with stronger and more detailed plans for cutting their emissions by the end of the decade and by the middle of the century.
  4. The COP26 declaration for the first time calls for the end of fossil fuels, but some of the language was watered down at the last minute. Draft text called upon countries to accelerate “efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” India, however, asked for “phase-out” to be changed to “phase-down,” implying reduction, but not elimination. Historically, major coal, oil, and natural gas producers have opposed any mention of fossil fuels at all. The word “unabated” in front of coal implies that there is wiggle room for countries to use technologies like carbon capture to keep coal-fired power plants running, and “inefficient” before “subsidies” may allow some subsidies for dirty fuels to persist.
  5. Rules governing carbon markets were finally settled at COP26. The agreement on Article 6 in Glasgow created rules to prevent double-counting of emissions credits, closed loopholes, and added stronger language make credits being traded across borders represent real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Countries will also have to take a detailed inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2024, which will be used as the basis for future emissions cuts.
  6. Glasgow pact “[n]otes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met.” Wealthy countries are also failing in their promises to help the countries facing the worst effects of climate change to adapt to a warmer world. The text of the pact “[n]otes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country Parties.” There is no funding target mentioned, but developing countries said they want international climate adaptation finance to roughly double from 2019 levels to about $40 billion by 2025.
  7. The Glasgow agreement urges developed countries “to provide enhanced and additional support for activities addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” But there is no funding mechanism in place and contributions to loss and damage funds are voluntary and so far only one country — Scotland, which contributed $2.68 million — has chipped in at all. The US, the European Union, and the UK opposed language that would have created a more rigorous funding stream.

COP26 smaller climate agreements

  1. The US-China deal: The US and China emphasized their willingness to do more to cut fossil fuel pollution over the next 10 years. The statement doesn’t change either country’s goals and is light on details, but observers said it shows that the US and China are willing to separate their work on climate change from other diplomatic tensions.
  2. Ending deforestation by 2030: More than 100 countries, including Russia, Brazil, and the US, pledged to end deforestation by 2030. Between them, they cover 85 percent of the world’s forests. These countries also committed almost $20 billion in public and private funding to back efforts to curb deforestation. However, Indonesia, home to one-third of the world’s rainforests, has already begun to walk back its commitment, and past promises to save the Amazon have failed to save millions of acres from fires, illegal logging, and agriculture in Brazil.
  3. Cutting methane emissions: More than 100 countries, responsible for half of global methane emissions, signed the Global Methane Pledge to cut their methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Signatories include the US, the European Union, and Japan.
  4. Phasing out coal: More than 40 countries have committed to ending their domestic use of coal for electricity, and 25 countries agreed to stop financing coal power in developing countries. Coal-fired power plants produce one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. But China, India, the US, and Australia — comprising more than two-thirds of global coal consumption — did not agree to a domestic coal phase-out.
  5. Ending oil and gas production: The Beyond Poli and Gas Alliance, launched by Costa Rica and Denmark, commits country members to phasing out new licenses for oil and gas production. Members, which currently include France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden, and Wales, must also set a date for ending oil and gas production in line with the Paris agreement.

More long-term climate goals are in place, but near-term actions are still going in the wrong direction

The foundations for zeroing out global greenhouse gas emissions and staying below 1.5°C have to be laid now. But some countries are still moving in the wrong direction, even those that call climate change a “crisis” and an “existential threat,” and activists have decried the hypocrisy. Several countries that claim to have net-zero emissions targets are planning to invest in more fossil fuel production in the near future. A group of environmental groups and think tanks put out a report during COP26 highlighting how the US, Norwat, Australia, Canada, and the UK are still subsidizing and expanding fossil fuel production.

A bad way to tackle a global crisis

A big international meeting of 196 parties with their own prejudices, political constraints, rivalries, and economic interests is a terrible venue for tackling an urgent crisis like climate change.But the atmosphere doesn’t care under whose flag greenhouse gases are being emitted — the whole planet will warm the same. So every country has to be at the table, every country has to have a say, and every country has to agree on what to do. More than two and a half decades into these COP meetings, it’s clear that this makes for an agonizingly slow process as delegates hang on every word in an agreement.

At COP26, a simple change from “urges " to "requests" in a draft document left delegates, observers, and journalists scrambling to figure out which word was stronger as they parsed the language.

The next challenge will be to strengthen the commitments that are now on paper. At next year’s COP27 meeting in Egypt, the process will repeat again — and possibly end with another step forward. But another year will be lost, the planet will get hotter, and the window for action will close even further.

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