COP26 Pledges Fall Short—More Progress Is Needed

Activists took to the streets of Glasgow over the weekend calling for transformative policies and denouncing “greenwashing.”

Demonstrators walk through the city during the Fridays For Future march on November 5, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Several agreements at the ongoing 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) will likely help the world reduce carbon emissions in the long run but won’t be enough to avert catastrophic climate change, research shows.

Last week, over 40 countries pledged to stop building new coal-fired power generation plants and phase out the use of coal, an agreement that comes with several caveats—chiefly that China, India, and the U.S., which together account for around 70% of worldwide coal consumption, have not joined the pledge. 

The fact that wealthier nations have failed to meet an earlier commitment to provide at least $100 billion in annual funding to help low-income countries adapt to climate change further undermines this pledge.

The International Energy Agency said that COP26 announcements (which also include India’s new 2070 net-zero target, as well as efforts to cut methane emissions, end deforestation, and decarbonize the fashion industry) set the world on track to hold the global temperature increase at 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century, meaning that we have made some progress but "much more is needed." 

Activists and researchers argue that ultimately many of these pledges amount to greenwashing because they are insufficient and by and large world leaders have failed to meet carbon reduction targets in the past. Negotiations will continue until Friday but hopes are dwindling.

“Folks, I've seen enough, and this COP, #COP26, is not significantly different than the preceding 25,” tweeted Peter Kalmus, a NASA climate scientist.

“​​I was not optimistic that it would be different, but there was the ‘catastrophic climate summer of 2021 in the Global North’ factor in play so I had a little hope. Apparently these climate disasters were NOT enough to break through ‘business as usual.’”

Data shows that emissions are likely to continue increasing until at least 2025, which would put the world on track for a temperature increase of at least 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) since pre-industrial levels by around 2030, leading to more frequent and destructive extreme weather events such as droughts, flooding, and heatwaves.

That’s because many of the pledges set vague 2050 targets, whereas climate activists and scientists argue that unless we implement transformative policies over the next few years, carbon dioxide concentrations will continue increasing rapidly.

An analysis of COP26 pledges by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) reveals the world is on track for a 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) increase by 2100 because countries have not unveiled short-term policies to meet their long-term net-zero targets.

CAT warming projections graphic of global temperature increase by 2100.


“Now, at the midpoint of Glasgow, it is clear there is a massive credibility, action, and commitment gap that casts a long and dark shadow of doubt over the net zero goals put forward by more than 140 countries, covering 90% of global emissions,” the report says.

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) chastised world leaders on Tuesday for failing to put forward concrete “near-term targets and actions” to prevent runaway climate change.

“The reality is that the sum total of our #climate efforts thus far is like an elephant giving birth to a mouse,” tweeted UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.

But in light of a groundbreaking Washington Post investigation released this week, things could be much worse than previously thought. 

After analyzing reports from 196 nations, Post journalists found that scores of countries have been misreporting their annual greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that every year humans might be putting about 23% more planet-warming gases into the atmosphere than previously estimated. The Post describes the undercount as “big enough to move the needle on how much the Earth will warm.”

“Cop26 sets course for disastrous heating of more than 2.4C. And that’s based on numbers that are “underreported” and “flawed” according to Washington Post’s investigation. And also IF leaders stick to their words. Their track record suggests otherwise,” tweeted Greta Thunberg.

The Swedish climate activist, who was among tens of thousands of protesters marching through the streets of Glasgow on Friday, accused wealthier nations of failing to take urgent climate actions and described COP26 as a “global greenwash festival” that has excluded activists and indigenous leaders.

In an impassionate speech at the conference, Australian climate activist Clover Hogan, 22, said that young people were protesting because they have been barred from the conference rooms where policymakers are meeting.

“We’ve seen tokenism, we’ve seen an incremental approach, we’ve seen sustainability treated as box-ticking activity, and when we express our anxiety, when we express the feelings that keep us up at night we’re kept out of the room.”

“The rise of eco-anxiety does not stem exclusively from the enormity and complexity of these crises but from perceived inaction in the face of them. And yet, I find courage and hope in young people who in spite of being excluded from historic corridors of power have chosen to take agency and power back upon ourselves.”

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View Article Sources
  1. "Report Extract Demand." International Energy Agency, 2020.

  2. "Addressing Global Warming." Climate Action Tracker.

  3. "Glasgow's 2030 Credibility Gap: Net Zero's Lip Service to Climate Action." Climate Action Tracker, 2021.

  4. "Addendum to the Emissions Gap Report 2021." United Nations.