1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

COP26: 'Two realities' for climate delegates

November 9, 2021

Major deals struck — including on coal — at the UN climate conference have been met with mixed reactions. But can they lay the groundwork for a comprehensive strategy to meet climate targets?

Activists holding signs at a protest
Activists and protesters have assembled outside the COP26 venue in GlasgowImage: Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo/picture alliance

Monday was a typical day at the  COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Hundreds of journalists jostled for space in the large hall, as former US President Barack Obama gave his speech. It seemed like this could be a pivotal moment in the meeting of around 190 countries.

But Obama did not go much further than making an appeal to not forget about countries in the Global South.

"The world has to move — and now," he proclaimed.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks at COP26
Barack Obama drew crowds in Glasgow — but some say his speech lacked real contentImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Greenpeace: 'A lot of hot air'

The COP26 has already seen many announcements, promises and reminders. But in reality, there has been little movement at the core of the conference: its arduous climate negotiations. 

Just over a week ago at the beginning of the conference, major heads of state and government, including US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spoke in Glasgow. And under the leadership of Britain as COP president, states agreed a slew of promises. One such pledge is to completely drop coal as an energy source between 2030 and 2050 at the latest.

"The end of coal power is now within sight," declared COP26 president Alok Sharma on Wednesday after a coalition of 190 countries, regions and organizations agreed to phase out coal energy. But it later emerged that far fewer countries were on the list than previously thought.  

Some environmental activists were critical. 

"I think this is a bit dangerous because quite a lot of hot air has been produced in the process," Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of environment group Greenpeace International, told DW. "The British presidency is trying to sell this as a great success."

Greenpeace head Jennifer Morgan
Greenpeace head Jennifer MorganImage: Greenpeace/Bas Beentjes

'The coal phase-out is a big signal'

But others reacted positively to the coal pledge. 

"I find this surprisingly encouraging. From the G20 group, which met right before the climate summit, there have been clear signals that there is now more willingness to phase out coal," Klaus Milke from German environment NGO Germanwatch told DW.

"This goes for industrialized countries by 2030, and the major emerging economies by 2040. And that could turn into a major signal here from the climate summit in Glasgow," he added.

Some 100 countries also agreed deals to stop deforestation and cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, although its life span in the atmosphere is short compared to other greenhouse gases. 

German negotiator welcomes initiatives

Meanwhile, as the second week of the climate conference gets underway, negotiators from some 190 countries are discussing the nitty-gritty of actual climate resolutions. German State Secretary at the Ministry for Environment Jochen Flasbarth told DW there is a lot to like about many of the first week's pledges, including steel industry cooperation, forest protection and methane reduction. 

"I think that's all good. It's not a substitute for negotiations, but it means we're now in a pretty good position. And it will change the reality for many countries," said Flasbarth. 

Details of Paris Agreement need work

The outstanding issues that states have to settle by Friday date back to then much-acclaimed 2015 Paris Agreement. Under the accord, countries vowed to keep global average temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), but left open important details on how this would be achieved.

In the years since Paris, all signatories have set their own climate goals for how much greenhouse gas should be cut by 2030. But because the goals are very different, it's difficult to compare and to see who is keeping up their end of the bargain. One of the questions is how they can be made transparent and reliable in the future. In any case, all the targets are in need of improvement. The promises made back in Paris are not good enough to meet 1.5-degree limit. 

"Right now, I'm very concerned," said Greenpeace chief Jennifer Morgan. "There's a first draft decision text for the end that doesn't provide clarity on how to reach the 1.5-degree target. And we see countries like Saudi Arabia, Australia and Brazil being very successful in blocking important texts."

$100 billion for poor countries?

Many developing countries are also unhappy with the lack of movement on climate financing commitments. Even before the conference, it was clear that a previous pledge to raise $100 billion (€86 billion) a year by 2020 for climate change adaptation in the Global South was falling short. Now countries are promising to raise the money by 2023.

Plans outlining how states should cooperate on climate protection in the future are also highly complex. For instance, who will be able to take credit for greenhouse gas reductions achieved, for example, by a forest project in the Global South? The rich country in the north providing funding? Or the low-income country where the new forest is being established? Will there even be double counting, as many environmental groups fear?

All of these issues that are at the very core of the COP26 climate negotiations are unresolved. And it remains to be seen whether any concrete agreements will be reached. 

'PR bubble' 

Mohamed Adow, head of the Nairobi-based climate think tank Power Shift Africa, spoke of "two realities" at the climate conference.

"One is the world of press statements from the British government," he said. These statements suggest that "all is well and we have all but defeated the climate crisis.'" But there is another world "outside that PR bubble," Adow adds. He describes this as "the climate in cold hard facts."

The head of the Greenpeace delegation in Glasgow, Pablo Osornio, drew attention to the use of phrasing in the conference's texts.  

"It is beyond me that in the 26 years that climate conferences have been around, the phrase fossil energy sources has never appeared in the texts," said Osornio. 

"It's like writing a book about losing weight but not talking about food in it," he added.

States could still make up for that omission by Friday. Starting Thursday, environment ministers from the 190 nations present will weigh in on the negotiations. 

This article was translated from German.

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App
Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau