COP26 is Over, Here are Key Takeaways from International and State-Level Action

The UNFCCC’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) wrapped up last Friday. What was accomplished over the two weeks of negotiations? Below we outline key takeaways for the future of state-level and international climate action.

State-Level Takeaways

By Noa Dalzell, State Climate Policy Network Director

As negotiations unfolded, governors and state legislators from across the country shared they were leading the way in passing climate policies. 

State Legislators Actively Engaged at COP 

Ahead of COP26, over 500 state legislators called for federal climate commitments to achieve full decarbonization and limit warming to 1.5 degrees or lower by 2050. 

Additionally, for the first time ever, a National Caucus for Environmental Legislators (NCEL) delegation participated in COP26. Participating state legislators included Maine Representative Lydia Blume, Colorado Representative Dominique Jackson, Rhode Island Senator Dawn Euer, Hawaii Senator Chris Lee, Massachusetts Senator Mike Barrett, Washington Senator Reuver Carlyle, California Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, among others. 

On Saturday, November 6, NCEL held an event titled “Global Issues, Subnational Solutions: How U.S. States Are Leading on Climate Action.” Senator Lee moderated that event and began with a commonly held sentiment among state-level actors: that states like his have been able to set a powerful precedent on a number of policies. 

“What happens at the state level are things that the federal government has not been able to do,” Lee said. “We [Hawaii] have been able to influence what kinds of policies our nation as a whole adopts.” 

Similarly, Senator Euer shared that she’s found small states like Rhode Island have an outsized ability to influence market share.

“We have the ability to try things out that other states are a little bit less agile about,” Euer said. “We also look at other states — what works well, what doesn’t work well, how we can adapt it, and how it can work locally.”

Representative Jackson shared how in Colorado, she made a deliberate effort to ensure that true community-engagement takes place. 

“We passed an environmental justice bill that gave true power and true voice, a community driven type of legislation,” Jackson said. “We put together a task force of disproportionately impacted (DI) communities by the state that will come together with a definition of what a DI community actually is.”

Jackson also explained the importance of codifying the involvement of community members so that “it’s not just attorneys sitting in a dark room.”

“You have to make community involvement accessible in every way, shape, and form,” Jackson said. “And you codify those exact things.” 

Senator Carlyle shared how Washington State has passed cap-and-trade, clean fuel standards, appliance efficiency standards, and other policies that had not yet been adopted nationwide. “Washington State has a very close relationship with the Nordic countries,” Carlyle said. “We are fiercely focused on evidence-based best practices.” 

In a post-COP 26 statement, Senator Barrett emphasized the role of state-level advocates in the next phase of climate action. He called on Climate XChange and other organizations in the MA advocacy community to push for a new climate bill in 2022, noting how much he appreciates CXC and the role it plays. 

“If we can get new legislation moving, everything else becomes possible, from carbon pricing to the truly urgent task of picking up the pieces on transportation emissions after the collapse of Gov. Baker’s TCI,” Barrett said. 

Governors Emphasize State Leadership 

Later in the week, some of the nation’s most climate-focused governors gathered for a panel on the role of states in enacting ambitious climate policy. 

The event, “‘All In’ This Together: A Clean Energy Transition Through Municipal, State, and Federal Partnerships,” featured Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, Hawaii Governor David Ige, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, and Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk, among others. 

Inslee reflected on how at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, he and Governor Brown broke up a press conference to assure the world America would be back in the Paris Agreement, and how important the US Climate Alliance was in mobilizing states throughout the Trump Administration. Similarly, Ige expressed:

“For the first time in many years, we have an administration that shares our values and commitments to tackling climate change. In an island state, we get that what we do impacts our friends and neighbors. We are committed to saving the planet because we all know that we will always be successful together, and when we work together we can accomplish great things.” 

International Takeaways

By Diana Gastelum, Communications Intern 

After being delayed due to the pandemic — and with various countries experiencing highly impactful climate disasters — there were high expectations for the two-week conference. However, similar to previous years, COP26 ended with  mixed results, and induced a degree of  disappointment.. Greenpeace International’s executive director, Jennifer Morgan, states that the conference was “meek, it’s weak, and the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters.”

For many activists and environmentalists, there were notable improvements, such as giving indigenous people a direct voice for the first time in history, placing agriculture center stage, and more. However, the conference also failed to address many critical issues, such as ocean acidification, elevating youth voices,  and more.

The takeaways from COP26 discussions span three major areas: international pledges, predominant topics revolving around finance, and what the conference means in the context of international climate action. 

Global Methane Pledge

Created by the U.S. and E.U., over 100 countries signed on to the joint pledge towards reducing 30 percent of methane emissions by 2030. The Biden administration played a major role in pushing for the pledge as the EPA works to limit domestic methane emissions. 

Provide aid to South Africa for Decarbonization

The U.S., U.K., Germany, and E.U. stated that they would help fund South Africa’s energy transition from coal to clean energy. An initial aid package of $8.5 billion is said to help the country, however, they are continuing to work out the details in the coming months.

End public finance of overseas fossil fuel projects

Twenty-five countries pledged to work towards ending public financing of overseas oil, gas, and coal projects by the end of 2022. Notable countries consist of the U.S., U.K, Denmark, Italy, and Canada.

Commitment to phase out new and existing investments in coal

A commitment created by the U.K., with 23 countries signed on, aims to to stop investments and construction  of  new coal power. Notable countries consisted of South Korea, Chile, Indonesia, Poland, and Vietnam. Asa result, this became a major milestone in the conference. 

Predominant Topics of Discussion in COP26

Climate Finances Gap

A major point of discussion was addressing the growing climate finance gap between developing and developed countries. Prior to COP26, developing countries had been promised to receive $100 billion per year from developed nations to aid in climate change mitigation and a transition to clean energy. However, this has yet to be honored in full. The conference allowed for further discussion about plans to have countries chart a faster path towards that goal. Among these plans, Japan and Scotland pledged to address this finance gap, with Japan pledging an additional $10 billion towards overseas climate financing and Scotland making the first contribution towards funding countries affected by climate disasters.

In addition, many developing countries are demanding that the funding: (1) be more evenly split between adaptation  and mitigation , and (2) have developed countries at least double their contributions. The United Nations notes that there are growing costs in adapting to climate change. In their 2020 report, they cite that “the costs of adapting to climate change in developing countries has already reached approximately $70 billion per year.”

However, while developing countries are suffering and their demands for adaptation and mitigation funding  are vital, it rests on developed nations to follow through with meeting these needs.

Loss and Damage 

 For many people around the world, climate change has already caused devastation. Whether through the loss of land or livelihood, various communities are rapidly being wiped out and many forced to migrate as a result. Called “Loss and Damage,” the issue is different from providing financial support for developing countries in order to adapt to climate change. The New York Times cites that “Loss and Damage” is “a matter of historic responsibility, its proponents say, and would pay for irreparable losses, such as the disappearance of national territory, culture and ecosystems.”

 During COP26, many advocates and developing countries pleaded that a new finance facility be created to address loss and damage, however, they received pushback from the United States and other developed countries. Instead, there were discussions held on creating arrangements towards funding loss and damage. While the talks were held, many considered it to be insufficient. Guinea, the representative of the developing-nation group, stated that there was “extreme disappointment at the decision to initiate only a dialogue to talk about arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage.” However, the initial step did allow for a space to develop a more solidified plan to address loss and damage. In addition, it can be predicted that loss and damage will be a large topic of discussion in COP27. 

Carbon Markets

 A major point of discussion was the development of the Article 6 “rulebook” noted to be a “rollercoaster ride” by Carbon Brief. COP26 allowed countries to finalize drafts for Articles 6.2 trading, Article 6.4 markets, and Article 6.8 non-market cooperation. Kelly Kizzier, EDF Vice President for Global Climate States, noted “The agreed Article 6 rules, while not perfect, give countries the tools they need for environmental integrity, to avoid double counting and ultimately to clear a path to get private capital flowing to developing countries.”

In COP25, there had been major advancements in the Article 6 drafts, however, there had failed to be a consensus. Jonah Faber from Climate XChange, highlights that in the previous conference there had been three major flaws, the discussion of double counting, Carry-over of Kyoto carbon units, and funding adaptation with market proceeds remains non-binding.

Under the new revisions, Article 6. 2 adjustments were made in relations towards bilateral trade between countries. Carbon Brief notes that one of the grey areas that still failed to be address is double counting, “Article 6.2 rules offer various ways to account for these issues, one of which – known as “averaging” – creates a risk of “double counting” and increased emissions,” discusses Lambert Schneider from Oeko-Institut. The other grey area consists of “other international mitigation purposes” in which businesses would buy offsets towards their own corporate goals. Schneider notes that ultimately governments will need to start regulating “what claims companies can truthfully make in association to carbon credits.”

While these were some of the more evident topics of discussion, this isn’t exhaustive of all that came out of COP26, here are more resources to learn more about key takeaways and other issues discussed: