COP26 roundup: world leaders’ key commitments on climate change

By on 03/11/2021 | Updated on 03/11/2021
Protesters outside COP26 in Glasgow tell world leaders to “stop playing games” with the climate. Photo by Jessica Kleczka

We outline the major pledges to have been announced in the first days of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, UK, including commitments to cut methane emissions, address deforestation, and drive the development of clean technologies. Plus, India’s ambitious new targets.

Biden leads global pledge to slash methane emissions

The US is to introduce rules to cut methane emissions from energy and agriculture as part of a global initiative to slash emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) by 30% by 2030.

Speaking at the UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, UK, president Joe Biden announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will introduce national limits on methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas operations.

The Department for Transport will be tasked with reducing wasteful and potentially dangerous leaks from natural gas pipelines. The US government will also introduce climate-smart agriculture practices to reduce methane emissions from farms. Livestock is a major source of methane, accounting for roughly 32% of human-caused methane emissions worldwide.

A drive to cut methane emissions internationally was originally announced at the UN General Assembly in September, at which point nine countries had signed up. The pledge now has more than 100 signatories, covering almost half of global methane production.

Methane has more than 80 times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide in the first two decades after it enters the atmosphere. However, it breaks down far more quickly, meaning that reducing emissions now will have a big impact in the near term, according to the UN Environment Programme.

Methane is also the primary contributor to ground-level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas, exposure to which causes 1m premature deaths every year.

Cutting methane emissions will improve health, reduce asthma, and cut crop losses, while boosting the economy and saving companies money, Biden said.

The drive to cut methane will also create new jobs, he told COP26 delegates in Glasgow. “We’re talking jobs to manufacture new technologies for methane detection; jobs for union pipefitters and welders to go out and cap abandoned oil wells and plug leaking pipelines – there’s thousands of miles of those.”

Other signatories of the pledge include the EU, US and Indonesia. However, China, Russia, India and Australia – some of the world’s top coal mine methane emitters – have not yet signed. 

Commitment to halt deforestation

At the world leaders’ summit at COP26, more than 100 global leaders – including those from Canada, Russia and Brazil – committed to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The pledge is backed by US$12bn public and US$7.2bn private funding.

Heads of more than 30 financial institutions with over US$8.7 trillion of global assets – including Aviva, Schroders and Axa – also committed to eliminate investment in activities linked to deforestation. 

The initiative covers 85% of the world’s forests, an area of over 13m square miles which absorbs around one third of global CO2 released from burning fossil fuels each year.

The pledge goes further than a similar one made in New York in 2014, which involved only 37 governments and has been judged a failure by an independent assessment.

Actions leaders of signatory countries said they will take to implement the pledge include conserving and restoring forests; using trade and development policies to promote commodity production and consumption that does not drive deforestation; and redesigning agricultural policies and programmes to incentivise sustainable agriculture.

Clean technology development drive

Separately, more than 35 world leaders signed up to scale and speed the development and deployment of clean technologies and drive down costs this decade.

Signatories include the US, India, the EU, Kenya and Nigeria – collectively representing more than 50% of the world’s economy.

The aim is to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice in the most polluting sectors by 2030, and to support the developing world to access innovation and technology they need.

The work will focus on five key sectors – power, road transport, hydrogen, steel and agriculture – which together represent more than half of total global emissions. Countries will need to report progress annually from next year.

The UK, US, France, Germany and the EU have agreed to provide US$8.5bn to South Africa over the next three to five years to support the clean energy transition in the country, which is the world’s most carbon-intensive electricity producer.

India sets ambitious targets

Meanwhile, new commitments revealed by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi have been widely seen as the most significant of individual country commitments made this week at COP26.

As well as announcing a new target for net zero emissions by 2070, Modi said that India will generate 50% of its energy from renewable sources, and reduce the carbon intensity of the economy by 45%. 

These targets are significantly more ambitious than the country’s earlier climate commitments, according to Ulka Kelfar, climate director for think tank the World Resources Institute in India. “These will take India on a low-carbon development pathway and give strong signals to every sector of industry and society,” she said.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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