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COP26: 5 Key Takeaways From The First Week

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COP26: 5 Key Takeaways From The First Week

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After the first week of COP26 pebble team look at five key outcomes, plus why they're important and how to hold people accountable for their pledges.

Francesca Brooking

Thu 4 Nov 2021

Apparently the 2030s will be a golden decade when all environmentally damaging practices from deforestation to coal-fired power will grind to a halt, and the world will be much cleaner and greener.

But will it happen?

The pebble team have analysed five key outcomes from the first week of COP26 to help you cut through it all and start holding people accountable for their pledges.

Painted sign of earth with words - one world

There have been plenty of climate pledges, but will they be enough?

COP26: 5 Key Takeaways From The First Week

1. Deforestation

More than 100 countries have pledged to stop deforestation by 2030.

Key countries supporting this pledge include Canada and Russia spanning the northern forests and Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo spanning the tropical rainforests.

Together, these countries make up 85% of the world’s forests.

The pledge is backed by a commitment to provide £8.75bn of public finance from 12 countries including the UK from 2021-2025.

This will go towards supporting activities in developing countries such as protecting the rights of Indigenous communities, tackling wildfires and restoring degraded land.

A further £5.3bn of private sector funding from over 30 financial institutions is pledged to eliminate investments in activities linked to deforestation.

Why is stopping deforestation important?

Forests are the ‘lungs of the world’ as they absorb about a third of global CO2 - not to mention, they’re a vital habitat for wildlife and prevent soil erosion.

Sadly, an area of forest the size of 27 football pitches is lost every minute.

pebble’s analysis

The good news: Key countries like Russia and Brazil that were absent in a 2014 forest deal have signed the pledge. This goes alongside almost £14bn of funding and the recognition of the rights of Indigenous people.

The bad news: The deal isn’t binding and allows another decade of deforestation to continue. Forests like the Amazon can’t afford to lose anymore.

Plus, the deal doesn’t address the meat and dairy industries which are the primary causes of deforestation.

What can you do?

As well as planting trees to offset any personal or work related carbon emissions, educate yourself about the variety of tree planting out there (it doesn't all have the same impact) and look out for petitions via charities like TreeSisters and Trees For Cities.

Aerial view of a road going through trees

Trees are the lungs of the world and vital for reducing CO2

2. The Breakthrough Agenda

Over 40 world leaders have signed the Breakthrough Agenda, an international commitment to deliver clean and affordable technology everywhere by 2030.

Signatories include the US, EU, India, China developing economies and some of the countries most at risk of climate change.

Together, they make up more than 70% of the world’s economy and span every region.

Modelled in the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, the Breakthrough Agenda will see governments and businesses collaborate to speed up clean technologies and make them more accessible and affordable.

The first five breakthroughs will be deployed to drive down the emissions of some of the most polluting industries such as power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.

Why is reducing carbon emissions important?

Carbon emissions are the leading contributor to global warming.

Investing in clean technologies will help phase out the global dependence on fossil fuels, halve emissions by 2030 and keep the temperature increase to no more than 1.5C within reach.

pebble’s analysis

The good news: The Breakthrough Agenda could create more than 20 million new jobs globally and add $16 trillion across emerging and advanced economies.

Most importantly, it could halve more than 50% of global emissions. Vital in the fight against global warming.

The bad news: Although hopeful, if these Breakthroughs are to be successful, governments need to work out how to scale up clean energy dramatically while reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and meet the growing energy demands of billions of people in developing economies.

In 2020, the UK spent 32 times more on fossil fuels than renewables so it’s clear we have a long way to go...

What can you do?

Reduce your own reliance on the industrial meat and dairy complex. Learn about the eco impact of the food you eat and make a plan for what you can eat that's local as well as seasonal.

Check out What's Your Carbon Footprint? Dine Differently For The Planet.

What other services, apps and so on can you change to companies that rely on clean tech or are carbon neutral.

Think about your pensions and bank accounts, savings, cloud hosting, data servers or anything else digital.

Start with Ethical Investing: Your Green Money Guide

View of solar panels in a field from above

The Breakthrough Agenda is a goal to make clean technologies more accessible and affordable

3. Methane emissions

More than 100 countries have joined the US and EU pledge to slash methane emissions by 2030. The pledge aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% compared with 2020 levels.

Methane is released into the atmosphere through leaking gas and oil infrastructure, coal mines, agriculture and landfills.

Since 2008, there’s been a huge spike in methane which has been linked to the growth in fracking in parts of the US. In 2019, methane in the atmosphere reached a record high.

Most attention will be focusing on curbing methane emissions in the fossil fuels industry which can be achieved at little or no cost.

Why is reducing methane important?

Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

In fact, it’s responsible for a third of current global warming from human activities.

However, methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas which means it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2.

pebble’s analysis

The good news: Cutting methane by 30% by 2030 could help the world avoid 0.3C of warming by 2040. Every fraction of a degree counts when keeping temperatures below 1.5C.

The bad news: Key countries missing from the pledge include China and India. Russia was also absent which is concerning as its methane plumes rose 40% in 2020.

Another notable absence was Australia where major methane plumes from coal mines have been identified. The pledge is also voluntary so there’s nothing in place to hold these countries accountable.

What can you do?

Educate yourself on what causes methane (much of it is released in landfill when items can't biodegrade properly).

Reduce the amount of food, clothing and anything else you throw away that might end up in landfill.

What’s Wrong With Fast Fashion?

Flames and smoke coming out of a metal chimney

Methane is a short-lived gas that's many times more potent than carbon dioxide

4. Sustainable agriculture and land use

For Nature and Land Use Day of COP26, 45 governments pledged urgent action and an investment of over £3 billion to protect nature and switch to a more sustainable way of farming.

Joining them are 95 high profile businesses from a range of sectors that have agreed to work towards halting and reversing the decline of nature by 2030.

Within the pledge, 26 nations have made commitments to change their agricultural policies to make them more sustainable and less polluting.

In a series of ‘Action Agendas’, they also agree to invest in the science needed to make agriculture more sustainable and to also protect food supplies from climate change.

All continents were represented, with countries including Colombia, Brazil, Germany, Australia, Ghana and Vietnam.

Why is sustainable agriculture important?

According to the IPCC, agriculture, forestry and the change of land use are responsible for as much as 25% of human-induced greenhouse emissions.

Agriculture is also one of the main sources of methane and nitrous oxide.

Not to mention monocultures, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers have been linked to biodiversity loss and damage to aquatic ecosystems.

pebble’s analysis

The good news: £65 million will support a ‘Just Rural Transition’ to help developing countries switch to more sustainable farming practices and food production.

This will be vital in helping small-holder farmers and sustainable businesses around the world.

The commitments also recognise the central role of Indigenous communities in developing effective nature-based solutions to climate change.

The bad news: Some argue that these commitments are still not enough. There are still no plans to reduce the demand for products like meat and dairy that are one of the root causes of deforestation.

Although there’s recognition that commodities such as beef, soy and palm oil put pressure on land use, there’s no mention of reducing demand - only developing more sustainable supply chains.

What can you do?

Do you want to stop using products that contain palm oil? This app can help you find them.

Can you support food brands that promote biodiversity and sustainable farming? Here are our favourite ethical coffee, chocolate and spirits brands.

Aerial view of tractor harvesting a crop

The sustainable agriculture and land use pledge aims to protect food sources and farmers

5. Coal-fired power

More than 40 countries have agreed to phase out coal-fired power, the dirtiest fuel source.

Among those making the pledge are some of the most coal-using countries, including Canada, Ukraine, Poland, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Bigger economies have agreed to phase out coal use by the 2030s. Smaller economies will be doing so in the 2040s.

What’s more, a further 100 financial institutions and other organisations have agreed to stop financing coal development.

Although key countries like South Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia didn’t sign the pledge, they’ve agreed on separate deals resulting in the early retirement of many of their coal-fired power plants.

Why is it important?

According to the International Energy Agency, coal is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions.

The burning of coal is responsible for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

Phasing out coal use is essential to keeping global temperature rises within 1.5C.

pebble’s analysis

The good news: Coal is already expensive compared with renewable energy which makes phasing out investment in it easier.

In fact, more than 20 countries, including the US, UK and Denmark have agreed to stop funding any fossil fuel development overseas by 2022. The estimated £5.85 billion will be invested in clean energy instead.

The bad news: Some of the world’s most coal-dependent countries including China, the US, India and Australia are missing from the pledge.

The IEA says all new development of fossil fuels must cease today if we are to keep global temperature rises within 1.5C. Simply put, phasing out coal by the 2030s and 2040s is far too late.

What can you do?

Keep up the pressure on your local councils, MPs and through petitions to remind your government that we want to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and not fund more coal mines.

Chimneys with pollution going into the atmosphere

Coal is the dirtiest fuel source and needs to be phased out before 2030

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