Evaluation of the COP26 Glasgow Climate Conference – meeting and not meeting expectations at the same time
Author: Tibor Schaffhauser

The COP26 in Glasgow did almost everything it could, but in the same time it didn’t. This is a short summary of the outcome of the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the COP26 in short. We at the Green Policy Center have evaluated the results of the conference shortly below, while the most important topics are explained in more detail in the following article. At the end you can also find a gallery of our personal impressions of the COP26.

I. The main results of COP26 in brief


  • after a year’s gap, amid extremely heightened expectations and a tense mood, the world has been reunited, both physically and diplomatically to discuss climate change;
  • despite the many contradictions and challenges, a joint declaration (which is not a new Paris Agreement) has been adopted and the implementing rules of the Paris Agreement have been completed and finalized. Thus, there is no longer any regulatory ambiguity ahead of implementation;
  • some vague hope remained to stay below 1.5 ° C of global warming;
  • it should be emphasized that both India (2070) and China (2060) and the rapidly growing Nigeria (2060) have committed themselves to a climate neutrality target and with this around 90% of countries already have such a target;
  • if the Nationally Determined Contributions now announced are fully complied with, global average temperature increase could be kept as high as 1.8 ° C until 2100 according to the IEA, but 2.4 ° C is more likely, as the Climate Action Tracker estimates. For comparison, this figure before COP26 was around 2.7 ° C;
  • for the first time, the issue of fossil fuels has been included in a legal text, as so far Saudi Arabia or the United States were blocking its inclusion;
  • the challenging series of negotiations on market and non-market approaches on carbon emissions trading described in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement have finally been closed. The worst and biggest shortcomings have been addressed, but countries and companies still have the opportunity to maintain their current levels of emissions;
  • the two current biggest emitters, the US and China have issued a joint statement, which can be seen as a hopeful and strong signal to the whole world about the “seriousness” of the process;
  • a significant part of the world’s countries, including Brazil, have agreed to end deforestation by 2030, bringing a total of 85% of the world’s forests under protection;
  • it is also an important step that more than 100 countries around the world have committed to reduce their methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. As methane is the second main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change after carbon dioxide, this step is absolutely important to avoid the climate catastrophe.


  • no real breakthroughs have taken place in the process, practically it has been only agreed that much remains to be done;
  • the “Glasgow Climate Pact” has been weakened at the last minute. The final text only provides for a phasing down unabated coal use and not phasing it out due to a last-minute intervention by India, who has just now been forced to impose a 2-day curfew because of poor air quality in the country. There are already astonishing misunderstandings because of this amendment, for example, some interpret it as giving coal-fired power plants a green light to continue operations;
  • global carbon dioxide concentrations have been rising sharply for 200 years. As David Attenborough has pointed out, this is the most important metric and if it doesn’t start to stagnate and then to go down, the whole process will definitely not be a success. Each commitment will be worth as much as it can positively effect this number;
  • according to the International Energy Agency, the IEA, only 20% of the commitments needed by 2030 to keep 2050 net zero goal (i.e. 1.5 degrees) have been submitted so far. Again, much remains to be done;
  • although negotiations under Article 6 have been concluded, there are currently no strict and uniform rules for companies to offset emissions, so more and more ‘greenwashing’ is taking place because everyone feels that greening is expected. Processes could also fail, if they are not transparent enough both in the public and private sectors.

II. Detailed assessment of some important areas

1. Emission reduction and the future role of coal

It has been recorded that the commitments made by the countries so far are not sufficient to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. They should be re-examined by the Parties by 2022 and they have to return with new commitments. It was not realistic that this matter would be resolved during the COP, but the question remained as to who should do more and by how much. Raising emissions will be a challenge for players like China or India, but this may also cause difficulties within the EU (see the current debate on energy prices).

However, some, including the COP Bureau, assessed that the 1.5-degree target had been kept alive. At the same time, the hope will only live on if the processes will start to go in the right direction in the next 1-2 years. Without this beyond a point reaching our goals and not passing the tipping points will no longer be realistic. It is also an important in this matter what kind of emission curve the commitments will draw up to 2030 in order to reach the 2050 targets.

The inclusion of coal phase out was blocked at the last minute by China and India, so only a phasing down of unabated coal was included in the final document, plus with no time limit. It is definitely a disappointment not to adopt a measure that is so clearly needed. Surprisingly, however, this was the first time that fossil energy had appeared in an official, adopted COP document.

2. Financing

The US$ 100 billion annual target has not been met so far (of course, there has been and will be an eternal debate on what and how should be counted as climate finance) and no agreement has been reached to compensate for the part that has not been met so far. To address this, a “Climate Finance Delivery Plan” has been presented in order to deliver on the climate finance commitments of developed countries made back at the COP16 in Cancun to mobilise yearly US$ 100 billion by 2020 and thereafter. The Paris Agreement updated the target to 2025 and the Delivery Plan states that this goal will be already met in 2023 and then annually after 2025. On the positive side, the share of funding for adaptation has been raised to 50% of the total climate finance envelope, which is important for developing countries, especially those that have virtually no emissions and are only suffering from the negative effects of climate change.

3. Loss and damage

This brings us to the subject of loss and damage, which is a sensitive and particularly important issue of ‘climate justice’ for the smallest developing countries. However, the breakthrough they have hoped for has not been achieved. Developing countries are demanding compensation for the costs of loss and damage caused among others by cyclones and sea level rise. According to small island states and climate-sensitive countries, these effects have been caused by the historical emissions of industrialised countries, so their compensation is needed. Their goal is to create a dedicated financial instrument for this purpose. Developed countries however fear that the process will provide a basis for “pricing” historical responsibilities and possibly enforcing them in court so they have vetoed setting up a new tool at COP26.

At the same time, a dialogue is emerging, which will be certainly a basis of much debate in the future and may affect the achievement of the goals.

4. Paris Rule Book

It is certainly positive that the implementation framework of the Paris Agreement is now in place in all areas. This was a necessary but far from sufficient condition for the commitments to be implemented by the Parties in a regulated manner and to avoid any further delays in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

4.1. Article 6 – International Emissions Trading

After years of debate, the negotiations under Article 6 on the elements of an international emissions trading scheme have been agreed at COP26. The essence of the system is that countries can offset their emissions through financial support of emission reduction projects in other countries without reducing their own emissions. The basic idea of the system causes also the majority of criticism, as it does not provide incentives to reduce emissions for big emitters, in essence, rich countries can buy the right to continue to emit greenhouse gases. Pre-Paris regimes have also allowed for a number of abuses, such as double counting of allowances or the build-up of hot air. The latter has been a source of controversy even within the EU, as some Eastern European Member States have fought to allow previously unused allowances to be transferred to the Paris Agreement system to meet their increased emission reduction targets. Fortunately, this debate has gone in a positive direction, with the EU and its Member States finally committing themselves to meeting their 2030 targets without the use of international emissions trading.

The final agreement involved many compromises. No share of proceeds is levied on bilateral trade between states, but 5% of the value traded under the UN system will be spent on supporting developing countries. In addition, 2% of allowances are continuously withdrawn from the scheme, encouraging countries to further reduce emissions. The double-counting was ultimately resolved by Japan’s proposal that the seller decides whether to report the units to meet its targets, and if not, the buyer can deduct them. Unfortunately, hot air can still get into the system; all unused allowances after 2013 can be transferred to the Paris scheme, seriously reducing the real emission reduction potential of the national commitments. Adopting detailed rules is a fundamentally important step, but for green organizations, who see all such schemes as just carbon leakage, the system is generally disappointing because it leaves enough room for countries and companies to continue emitting greenhouse gases.

4.2. Transparency

The transparency framework is a key element of the Paris Regime, but also of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as a whole, as only continuous and high-quality reporting can monitor countries’ emissions and commitments. This is why it was important to standardize the previously highly fractionalized reporting system. So far, developed and developing countries have reported under different conditions, making it difficult to monitor and compare their emissions and implementation. COP26 also adopted common reporting tables for the compilation of national GHG inventories, common formats for reporting on NDC compliance, and monitoring of funding, technology transfer and grants, while providing reliefs and support for countries with limited capacities.

4.3. Common timeframes

Prior to the Paris climate conference, countries have already announced their intended nationally determined contributions. However, these have not yet been done on a uniform timeline; for example, the European Union and its Member States have submitted commitment up to 2030, while there have been countries that have a 2025 target. After many years of discussions, COP26 has agreed on a common timeframes for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The next set of targets to be submitted in 2025 should have targets up to 2035, while the following one to be submitted in 2030 should go up to 2040. This will also make it easier to monitor and compare commitments and coordinate the review every 5 years under the Global Assessment. This could lead to a change in legislation for the EU and its Member States, as the Governance Regulation governing the preparation of National Energy and Climate Plans sets a 10-year timeframe for Member States (in line with the original EU 2030 commitment) that could be reviewed by Member States once every 10 years.

5. The role of Central European Member States and the EU in the negotiations

On behalf of the Member States, a unified EU delegation negotiates at the climate conferences based on a previously agreed continuously updated common EU position. It should be emphasized here that Member States have no national international commitment under the UN system, they participate in the EU’s unified commitment (at least -55% emission reductions by 2030) and the related debates are taking place within the EU. Importantly, however, the EU has remained united throughout during the COP26 and internal climate policy debates have not weakened international positions, as has sometimes been the case in previous negotiations for example under Article 6 discussions.

The countries of the Visegrád group were all represented on the highest level during the COP; Andrej Babiš Prime Minister of Czechia, János Áder Persident of Hungary, Mateusz Morawiecki Prime Minister of Poland and Zuzana Caputova President of the Slovak Republic were present. Hungarian media and opposition have criticised Viktor Orbán not to be present, but international climate issues are usually left to Áder, while Orbán deals with EU internal topics. All leaders present at the COP have signaled the need of urgency to gear up the fight against climate change, however there were also some disappointments raised on EU policies. The countries have joined some initiatives during the COP, all of them signed the Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use committing to protect forests, while none of them joined the Global Methane Pledge.

However, as the EU, as a political organization has joined the latter one as well, we can be certain that the Visegrád group will be part of the implementation as well. However, once again, the EU has not really played a decisive role and has not been able to help the North-South rapprochement. At COP26, the “big players” were the US, China, and India. However, the big question for the future is whether the European Commission or some Member States will want to increase the common EU 2030 target again by 2022. If so, we can expect heated debates within the EU, since the eastern Member States are already debating the implementing rules for the current at least -55% pledge of the EU.

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This week, the 27th annual climate conference of the United Nations the COP27 begins under the presidency of Egypt. The “African COP”, as the developing countries refer to the conference, faces serious challenges: it must simultaneously increase the ambition to reduce emissions in order to maintain the climate goals and preserve a ray of hope for small island states of survival, as well as meet the developing countries’ huge financial expectations. Will the Egyptian presidency manage to reach agreements acceptable to all parties and what role will the European Union play in all of this?
Although we are currently mostly occupied with the energy price crisis, we must not forget the challenges caused by climate change. That is why it is worth paying attention to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where delegates from nearly 200 UN countries are expected to discuss the most burning issues of international climate policy in the next two weeks. And there are plenty of burning issues; this year we have all felt the negative effects of climate change on our own skins, just think of the summer droughts and forest fires, or the floods in Pakistan that claimed 1,500 lives and caused 30 billion dollars in damages.
One of the most controversial topics in the coming weeks will be related to these events; the so-called Loss and Damage negotiations. According to the IPCC, the climate change scientific advisory body of the UN, climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of 3.3-3.6 billion people in the future. Climate change strongly affects the poorest strata of the population, as they are much less able to adapt to its negative effects; developing countries are therefore demanding a new financial fund to compensate for the damage caused by climate change. Since developing countries generally emit less greenhouse gases and they are still affected by climate change, they are calling upon developed countries to finance this new fund due to climate justice and the “historical responsibility” of developed countries. However, opinions differ as to what amount would be sufficient; calculations are about expected damage between 1-1.8 trillion and 5.6 trillion dollars by 2050.
The United States, as well as the European Union and its member states, have so far opposed the establishment of a separate financial fund, fearing that, if it is created, there will be no limit to the financial claims of developing countries. During the negotiations, the EU has also underlined that there are already an existing fora for the topic under the UN umbrella, and that developed countries have undertook to mobilize 100 billion dollars yearly to support the climate protection efforts of developing countries. Since we have not yet succeeded in achieving this goal, the developing countries are distrustful of the developed countries for the time being.
In order to rebuild trust, several European member states have already offered resources to deal with Loss and Damage, and developed countries have pledged to double the resources offered for adaptation action. Furthermore, developed countries are also developing a delivery plan on reaching the 100 billion dollar per year goal, and started negotiations to define the new long-term climate financing goal as well. However, according to the position of the EU and its member states, public resources alone will not be sufficient to curb climate change, so we recommend starting negotiations on how to bring global financial processes in line with the 2050 climate neutrality goals. It is still an open question whether this topic will be on the agenda or whether developing countries will only see it as a distraction from the immediate mobilization of finance.
The chance of survival of small island states is an open question at the moment as well. If we cannot keep the rise of the global average temperature below 1.5°C, several of these countries may drown in the sea, so it is really a matter of life and death for them to reduce emissions as ambitiously as possible. Last week, the UN environment and climate change organizations both published their assessments on how we are doing in the fight against climate change. While we could be optimistic after last year’s climate conference because of the new commitments announced there. according to these latest analyses, we are no longer doing so well in terms of implementation. Among the major emitters, only the EU and the USA have reduced their emissions, while the global GHG emissions have reached new all-time record high levels. Another cause for concern is the fact that even if the current commitments are fully fulfilled, we can still expect a warming of around 2.8°C by the end of our century – not aligned with the 1,5°C pathway recommended by science and necessary for the survival of small island states.
For the EU and its member states, the progress under the mitigation work program up to 2030 during COP27 is therefore of outstanding importance, so that the countries of the world can formulate more ambitious climate policy steps as soon as possible. This is not only important for the survival of small island states, but if we can keep climate change under control, its negative effects will cause less loss and damage, and the we need to mobilize less resources to compensate for those. As we can see, everything is connected with everything, which is why the Egyptian COP presidency will be in a difficult situation in the next two weeks. We can hope for all of our sake that they manage to deliver on the expectations of all sides, both on ambition and finance.