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COP26 and its outcomes – why are they important?

November 30, 2021 | Charles Lin

Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

The recently concluded international UN climate change conference COP26 (26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties) was held in Glasgow, UK from October 31 to November 13, 2021. Canada was one of the 197 participating country members. We summarize the key outcomes of the conference and Canada’s commitments.

Why are COP26 and its outcomes important?

COP is the only forum where countries around the world, represented by heads of state, ministers and diplomats, come together to discuss ways and set goals and targets to combat climate change. COP26 is seen as the conference to address the gaps in reaching the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Current emission targets and policies, if continued, will fall short of meeting these goals. COP26 put in place new procedures that keep alive the possibility of reaching the Paris goals. Countries will now have to act decisively to implement the necessary measures.

The main outcomes of the conference are the Glasgow Climate Pact endorsed by all countries, and a number of agreements targeted at specific sectors that are supported by selected countries.

The conference has put a greater emphasis on an approach involving “coalitions of the willing”, where groups of countries, companies or cities come together to develop their own climate targets and actions in specific sectors. Canada has contributed actively in this aspect, being signatories to several sector agreements. These coalitions could also help to spur other countries to join to help meet the Paris goals.

What are the goals of COP26?

A major goal is for countries to set more aggressive targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions to attain net zero by mid-century, and keep within reach the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Other goals are to develop adaptation measures to protect communities and ecosystems, mobilize climate financing from developed countries, and promote collaboration among governments, businesses and societies to combat climate change.

Glasgow Climate Pact – What was agreed by all

The Pact calls for countries to do the following.

  • Accelerate mitigation measures to reduce emissions and a scale up of mitigation targets in the coming decade, in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The goals of the latter are to limit global temperature increase to 2oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to keep the increase to 1.5oC to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Global temperature increase has already reached 1.1oC, and the need for immediate action is thus urgent.
  • Accelerate development of clean technologies and policies to transition to low-emission energy systems, and “phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support of a just transition”. This is the first time fossil fuels have been stated explicitly in COP agreements, albeit with qualifiers like “unabated” and “inefficient” in the text; “unabated” means without the use of carbon capture and storage.
  • In the case of developed countries, to fully deliver on the annual financing of USD 100 billion to support mitigation and adaption in developing countries, increase adaptation financing, and provide additional support for “loss and damage” due to adverse effects of climate change. The developed countries had committed to provide $100 billion annually by 2020, but have provided only $80 billion to date.

What are Canada’s commitments?

Canada supported a number of pledges and statements aimed at specific sectors.

  • Canada is among 30 countries to agree to “end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with a 1.5oC warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement”. Countries have previously committed to cutting support for coal, and this is the first time stating public support for oil and gas needs to end as well.
  • Canada is one of more than 130 countries to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”. This declaration covers more than 90% of forests around the world, 3.6 billion hectares by area. What is not precisely defined is whether clearcutting of primary or old-growth forests with replacement by single-species seedlings is included. This is relevant for Canada as the logging of old growth forests and their conservation have been a recent issue in British Columbia.
  • Led by the US and EU, Canada agreed to support the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to cut methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Canada had earlier committed to reducing Canadian methane emissions from oil and gas to 75% below 2012 levels by 2030.
  • 15 countries, including Canada, signed a memorandum of understanding to work toward zero-emission new trucks and bus sales to reach 30% by 2030, and 100% by 2040. The Liberal government had announced the 2040 target during the 2021 federal election.
  • Canada agreed to a declaration for sales of new cars and vans to be zero-emission globally by 2040, and no later than 2035 in leading markets. This is consistent with a commitment made by the Liberal government in the summer of 2021.

Looking beyond COP26

Many countries, including Canada, have pledged to reach net zero emissions by mid-century. COP26 is one step, a necessary but nowhere near sufficient one, in this long journey. COP26 has delivered a strong message of ambition, and countries now have to be held accountable to deliver on that ambition. The next important milestone is COP27, scheduled to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November, 7-18, 2022.

In Canada, the Senate passed the Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act in June 2021; the Act enshrines in law the country’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050. It is an important step in Canada’s own journey to reach net zero; how Canada fares remains to be seen.

Stay tuned!

References and Resource material

The Glasgow Climate Pact can be found here. CBC has summarized Canada’s commitment to the sector agreements, with links provided to relevant documents. Additional coverage of COP26 can be found at Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Economist, and New York Times.


Charles Lin

Charles is a retired atmospheric scientist based in Toronto. He stays busy as founder and lead of ImpactNetZero, keeping healthy in mind and body, and reading stories to his two grandchildren.

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