faculty & experts
12 November 2021

COP26: The Road after Glasgow

In looking at the COP26 outcomes, Joëlle Noailly, Head of Research of the Centre for International Environmental Studies (CIES) and Lecturer in the International Economics Department, argues that proposals for environmental change still leave the world off-target and in need of more concrete actions.

In 2015, the Paris Agreement on climate change set out the goals of limiting the global temperature increase to two degrees by the end of the century – with a recommendation to work towards a stricter goal of 1.5ºC. At the start of the academic year, a group of students from the Graduate Institute played the World Climate Game, a highly simplified but realistic simulation of the UNFCCC climate negotiations, in an event co-organised by the Centre for International Environmental Studies (CIES) and the students’ Environmental Committee. The students’ ambitious pledges led to an agreement of 2.1ºC. The role-playing game was a stark lesson for them on the necessary speed and level of action that nations must take to address climate change. 

Fiction met reality when negotiators from more than 190 countries met in Glasgow for the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) aiming to halt climate change. The event saw many important announcements to keep the world on track to 2ºC. India, the world’s fourth largest emitter, promised to join the club of net zero countries by 2070. New coalitions of countries announced efforts to phase out coal-fired power, halt deforestation, cut down methane emissions by 30% by 2030, and develop global carbon-trading markets. Making good on promises, the world could head toward 1.8ºC by century’s end, according to a report from the International Energy Agency. 

Activists, NGOs and scientists rightly pointed out the gap between long-term commitments and short-term goals. Most pledges for 2030 are still not worked out and a recent assessment from the Climate Action Tracker science group found that nationally determined targets for 2030 currently set the world on track for 2.4ºC. On the road after Glasgow, we still need to see how the promised deep emission reductions will be successfully implemented in domestic climate policies, which are likely to face political opposition at home – as the challenges of passing Joe Biden’s Build Back Better’s plan in the Senate showed. 

Countries will also face no repercussions if they withdraw or fail their commitments. Specific policies such as the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism may be more effective in triggering actionable plans. As of 2025, non-EU companies that want to sell carbon-intensive goods in the EU will need to buy certificates based on EU carbon prices. Hence, countries without effective climate policies in place will run the risk of being financially penalised when entering the EU market. This could encourage the US and China to clean their export production and adopt more stringent policies at home. There are nonetheless obvious concerns on how such carbon border measures will impact the least developed countries without important financial and technological support from advanced economies.

This article was published in Globe #29, the Graduate Institute Review.