100 days to COP26: five issues to watch out for

As of 23rd July, there are only 100 days to the UN climate summit in Glasgow. Five important steps to watch out for in those 100 days.

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By Gareth Redmond-King


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As of Friday 23rd July, we have just 100 days until the opening day of the UN climate summit in Glasgow – COP26. That means 100 days left for the UK Presidency to marshal the elements of a political deal that can ‘keep 1.5 alive’.

Keeping 1.5 alive

1.5°C is the level at which the Paris Agreement seeks to halt global temperature rises. It’s ambitious and deemed a ‘safe’ average level of warming. It’s not actually safe; we know that because we can already see deadly impacts all over the world at just 1°C of warming – fires and lethal heat in North America, and severe flooding in Northern Europe, in just the last few days and weeks.

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But 1.5° is a level beyond which things get considerably more dangerous, as well as more difficult to predict, threatening even greater harm to people in low-lying and coastal areas of the world, and potentially extinction for a million species of animals and plants. So that is why the focus of COP26 is about delivering action and momentum to keep 1.5 alive.

Here, then, are five key things to watch out for over the next 100 days that can help keep that goal of 1.5° within reach.

1. Climate finance

Wealthy nations promised, in 2009, to provide $100bn a year in climate finance by 2020. Mid-way through 2021, that goal is still estimated to be some $17bn short.

There are two important reasons experts are clear it needs to be delivered before COP26:

  • Firstly, poorer nations need to pay for their own climate action, for adaptation to the impacts that already threaten lives and livelihoods, and to pay for the costs of damage done by extreme weather, flooding, drought etc that warming is causing; and

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  • Secondly, trust is very important to any negotiation. Wealthy countries made a promise to poorer ones; a failure to deliver on that promise would make it harder to trust further pledges and commitments made in negotiations in Glasgow.

$100bn a year will not be enough on its own. But money from governments and international finance institutions is critical to unlocking the trillions of private funding also needed, particularly in developing nations which currently struggle to secure financing.

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2. Climate ambition

On current global plans for climate action, we are heading for somewhere between 2° and 3°C of warming. Nearly four fifths of global emissions come from the G20 group of nations – but only half of those emissions are subject to ambitious plans to cut them in line with the Paris Agreement. This map shows where the biggest gaps are:

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China is the biggest global emitter, accounting for around a quarter of global emissions, and whilst they have pledged to be net-zero by 2060, and to start reducing reliance on coal from 2025, they have not yet offered an enhanced emissions pledge to the UN.

Australia stands out in this group, though, having one of the highest levels of per capita emissions of any country, and being the world’s leading coal exporter, they are yet to commit to a date for becoming net-zero, and have only weak existing emissions pledges.

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3. Climate action in the real world

The UK presidency has said it wants to focus on real-world action to deliver on ambitious climate pledges, specifically speeding up the global phase-out of coal, and of fossil-fuelled vehicles, ending deforestation, and cutting methane emissions. The UK has, itself, recently stepped up action on decarbonising transport, and has a strong story on cutting its reliance on coal. But we have yet to see what political deals at COP26 could look like to galvanise collective action on deforestation. As new evidence has just emerged showing that parts of the Amazon may now be emitting more carbon than they store, this feels urgent.

4. Climate rules

COP26 President Designate, Alok Sharma, convenes Ministers from 51 countries in London on 25th/26th July to discuss progress ahead of the summit. One of the things on the agenda is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, about trading emissions cuts between nations – and companies. This is one of the remaining elements of what is known as the ‘Paris rulebook’ that has to be negotiated and agreed, and it had been hoped that it would have been resolved at one of the last two COPs. However, it is contentious and there are nations that seek to block progress, or water down rules. Progress on this, at and after the July Ministerial meeting in London, will also offer an important measure of the prospects for a successful outcome in Glasgow.

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5. Climate diplomacy

All of which means that there is a lot to be done by the UN and the COP hosts – the UK Presidency – in the next 100 days. And there are still substantial hurdles, not least the logistics of hosting a COP in the time of Covid. The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) COP, due to be held in October has now been shortened and moved online. Civil society groups have also recently been deeply critical of the UK Government in relation to its leadership on global vaccine distribution to poorer nations, in the context of its offer to vaccinate delegates to COP26.

There are important opportunities to move things along in the next few months: G20 Ministerial meetings in July, a UN General Assembly meeting in September, and G20 leaders’ meeting in October.

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But there is a sense from some experts that this needs more attention from the UK government – that the job is currently being left almost solely to Alok Sharma. Negotiations of this scale need leadership from the most senior leaders.

Unless the UK plans to leave this to President Biden and European Union leaders, that means that PM Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are expected to step rather more into the breach than has been evidence to-date.

And with only 100 days to go, there’s really no more time to waste.

See the full panel discussions that the clips in this piece are drawn from. The panel on climate vulnerable nations, and the one discussing how to avoid blocks and delays, and tackle outliers.

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