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UN Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP 26)

The end of the fossil fuel era has begun

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) has achieved what many believed to have been impossible: the joint final declaration from all 197 countries that includes an agreement to accelerate the global energy transition away from coal and to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels. A new aspect introduced by this global agreement on the transformation of energy supplies worldwide is the definition of specific measures to achieve the goal of 1.5 °C.

As a result, international climate policy is now formulating a new economic model: improved and accelerated action on climate, better adaptation to impacts as well as greater solidarity with those countries severely affected by climate change. For these and other reasons, nations are being asked to revisit their existing climate targets for 2030 over the next 12 months and – if not yet completed – to submit their long-term targets and update these at regular intervals. This presents an opportunity for many countries to achieve consistency between their ambitious long-term targets (LTSs) and mid-term targets (NDCs), a consistency that to date has often been lacking.

The aid budget for adaptation to the impacts of climate change is to be doubled by 2025. Moreover, the gap between progress towards and the achievement of the 1.5 °C goal will now be assessed annually and not just every five years.

A global coal phase-out

Germany negotiated for a global coal phase-out on behalf of the European Union for the COP26 final declaration. It also worked with partners on establishing an environment where emerging countries felt able to take this important step. A new collaboration that supports a socially equitable coal phase-out in South Africa has been described by the United Nations as a blueprint for further partnerships in other countries.

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is an active partner in this alliance through its International Climate Initiative (IKI) projects. The IKI will be working with other countries to further promote this approach, with the NDC Partnership as a key partner.

New commitments: a rulebook and COP26 outcomes

Another milestone was also achieved this year: the finalisation of the rulebook for the global implementation of the Paris Agreement. One, is the rule that sets a period of five years for future climate targets, for example, with uniform standards and formats defined for reporting. Rules on the future trading of emission reductions between countries were also agreed upon, with nations further approving to close loopholes in emission reductions accounting.

COP26 produced a total of 14 declarations and statements, including:

  • Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement
  • Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition
  • Global Forest Finance Pledge
  • Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use
  • Glasgow Breakthroughs for greater climate change mitigation in the power, road transport, steel and hydrogen sectors

Germany is a signatory to 13 of these agreements and has also signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce emissions of methane by at least 30 percent by 2030 (baseline: 2020).

Key signals from many nations and IKI priority countries

Even before COP26, the EU had significantly strengthened its climate targets for 2030 – which will require greater efforts from Germany and other member states.

Many other large national economies have also now updated their NDCs. In response to conference proceedings, China also signalled it would be strengthening its climate targets, while India announced its very first climate goal: to achieve neutrality by 2070. All of this will require significant progress in international climate change mitigation during the 2020s.

While countries such as Costa Rica, Peru and Columbia had already submitted ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in advance of the conference, Thailand and Vietnam communicated their goal of climate neutrality by 2050 during COP26. This sends an important signal, especially for the further development of the NDCs for the two countries.

Joint financing of key transition activities

Climate finance had long been considered a potential stumbling block for this conference. Although pledged for 2020, the USD 100 billion budget that was promised is probably not achievable until 2023. However, the Climate Finance Delivery Plan produced by Canada and Germany has given this USD 100 billion pledge some much-needed transparency. According to the plan, developed countries will mobilise an average of USD 100 billion annually between 2021 and 2025.

Finance for forest protection and forest landscape restoration was another issue addressed at COP26. Support for adaptation to the impacts of climate change was prioritised at the conference as never before, particularly, a call to double adaptation finance included in the final declaration.

Implications for the International Climate Initiative

For the BMU, the IKI is a dynamic instrument that can respond quickly to key climate findings whether from global conferences or scientific research.

To ensure the results of COP26 and CBD COP15 are properly addressed, the IKI postponed the thematic call originally planned for November 2021, which is now likely to be held in May or June 2022.

The IKI is also reviewing the goals set by the new COP26 alliances, agreements and declarations to determine which of these should form part of IKI’s funding calls, funding contributions and strategy. The overall aim is to maximise their impact on the most urgent tasks facing the IKI in terms of its four funding pillars. Two aspects certain to be prioritised here include assistance for LTS/NDC development and support for strategy alignment.