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expert reaction to final COP26 agreement

COP26 concluded today in Glasgow with nearly 200 countries agreeing the Glasgow Climate Pact to keep 1.5C alive and finalise the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement.


Dr Chris Huntingford of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said:

“Most COP meetings to date have been concerned with setting aspirational temperature targets, such as avoiding warming greater than 1.5 degrees. But there was always going to be a shift towards then answering “how we achieve those targets?”. That question involves focusing on quite specific causes of emissions, opening the debate on their reductions and as has happened in Glasgow. Climate science will then translate such reductions back to the global warming expected for any remaining fossil fuel use”.


Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum, said:

“A major breakthrough from this agreement is the importance of conserving biodiversity, and the vital role healthy ecosystems can play in helping communities to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. This is crucial, because there is a huge risk to global biodiversity and local people from, for example, the massive expansion of bioenergy crops such as oil palm in high-biodiversity areas. This is especially prescient given some of the issues surrounding the offsetting of carbon emissions. 

“Nature-based solutions have massive contributions to make to the climate fight over coming decades, but they have to be nature-positive as well as carbon-negative.”


Prof Richard Allan, Professor of Climate Science, University of Reading, said:

“Less than 10 years ago the solid science of human-caused climate change was still disputed by agenda-driven individuals and organisations who should be made accountable for their damaging delaying tactics. Based on the clear scientific evidence, COP26 has made progress towards a net zero CO2 emissions world but continued expansion of ambition is crucial in limiting the growing severity of climate extremes and to avoid rendering some regions uninhabitable for future generations.

“Given the glacial pace of progress on climate action, in part due to the blatant short term self-interest of powerful individuals and organisations, it’s almost tempting – like Gulliver at the end of his travels – to feel a sense of loathing for the human species. But there is also a sense of guarded optimism that a spark of the universe came alive, wondered at the beauty of our world, eventually noticed we were soiling it terribly before imperfectly yet doggedly and collectively began digging ourselves out of our mess.”


Prof John Remedios, Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation, said:

“A difficult political statement but one that provides encouragement to strengthen mitigation efforts. The National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)  will support these pathways towards reduced greenhouse gases through our measurements and models. For the first time, nations have agreed to reduce coal power and we should not underestimate the value of this step. We also see and agree with the emphasis on protecting and restoring forests, terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Our global satellite data will help inform decisions and will be incredibly important to assess and incentivise progress regularly by observing carbon budgets. Each COP will be vital this decade so the world must make full use of the global stocktakes foreseen in the COP process.”


Prof Jeffrey Kargel, Senior Scientist, Planetary Research Institute, Tucson, Arizona, said:

“The COP26 agreement recognizes a big difference in outcome between 2 degrees of warming and 1.5 degrees. COP26 reaffirms the Paris agreement’s goal of holding global average temperature to “well below 2 degrees” warming and supports a goal to limit it to 1.5 degrees.

“I am pessimistic that a 1.5 degree threshold will hold, as warming already exceeds 1.1 degrees, and much future warming is locked in due to the heat capacity of the oceans. More so, the global geopolitical situation and the internal politics of many countries might not be responsive to the urgent need. Media reports indicate that the final COP26 agreement calls for a “phase-down” of coal production and use, rather than earlier draft text calling for a “phase-out.” That’s half a word’s change forced by India, but it signals that India might not view climate change as an existential threat. In fact, there is probably no large country that is being worse hit by climate change than India. Transformation of much of India into an uninhabitable climate and further impacts from ever worse cyclones and other extreme weather will be extremely costly to India.

“However, India did sign onto the modified agreement. It is better for the COP26 agreement to be pressing the need for rapid mitigation of climate change than for it to have collapsed. This agreement does require large collective actions. Hopefully, the agreement may press laggard nations to improve, and leading nations to do even more. 

“The draft agreement recognizes that increasing extreme weather is linked to climate change. This was expected following the IPCC Sixth Assessment and the daily news accounts in recent years of the ravages caused by climate change. However, it is important that extreme weather was called out in the agreement, as this is where climate change bites hardest, and where mitigation of the effects of climate change and adaptation has to take place. This agreement provides a framework for nations to undertake the needed preparations for a natural hazard environment that already is beyond its historic envelope and is getting worse each year.”


Prof Michael Jacobs, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sheffield, said:

“There was always a mismatch between public and media expectations of COP26 and what was actually on the agenda. Countries did not come to Glasgow to improve their emissions reduction pledges. The most they could do was acknowledge that in aggregate their commitments are nowhere near enough to put the world on a pathway to limit global heating to 1.5C. They did this, and agreed they had to come back next year with strengthened pledges for 2030. That is a big deal. The money for poorer countries is still not enough, but doubling finance for adaptation will help the most vulnerable. Not a perfect outcome, but much better than it could have been. The work starts now.”


Dr Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research and Lecturer in Climate Change and the Environment at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said:

“COP26 has delivered a historic achievement, while at the same time falling short of what many hoped and expected. Reflecting as a scientist and citizen of this planet, I see reasons to be proud, to be hopeful, and to be deeply concerned. I’m proud because never before has science featured so strongly in the COP decisions. They frame and inform the urgency and requirements of the challenge ahead. I’m hopeful because many decisions make critical steps forward. The rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement have now been decided. Renewed and strengthened pledges now set the temperature dial markedly lower than what scientists estimated just a year ago – with a best estimate of slightly below 2°C. This is a massive achievement, but insufficient as of yet for 1.5°C, and pledges still need to be translated in plans and policies. Finally, I’m deeply concerned, because climate change is raging and is worsening each year we wait. The progress at COP26 was the best the world was willing to do at this stage – kudos to the UK COP26 team – but it is not enough, not by far.

“We are looking in the right direction, but we need to start moving and global emissions need to decline, immediately, rapidly, and extremely urgently.”


Prof Corinne Le Quéré FRS, Royal Society Professor of Climate Change Science, University of East Anglia, said:

“The Glasgow Climate Pact takes us a big step forward in tackling climate change. It sets an accelerated time frame to strengthen ambition for emissions cuts by 2030 and a path to put substance behind Net Zero promises. It came with backup from ad hoc coalitions. It cannot be said enough that action is now urgently needed, at scale, and that this is the critical decade.”


Dr Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London, said:

“COP26 desperately needed to close the rulebook on the Paris Agreement which they have done, the least communicable topic of this year’s negotiations but arguably the most crucial to keep 1.5 a possibility. In that sense the Glasgow pact is real progress. With respect to climate justice it is a failure though, with the 100bn from the developed countries still not committed and no real financial support for loss and damage.”


Prof Dann Mitchell, Met Office Chair in Climate Hazards, University of Bristol, said:

“The Glasgow Climate Pact is more than we expected, but less than we hoped. While it is clearly disappointed that at the eleventh hour India challenged the phrase “phasing out of coal”, their entire infrastructure is highly dependent on coal, something the richest countries used to become the global superpowers they are today. India’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are an order of magnitude lower than the highest emitting countries, and clearly India felt that not enough was done to support their transition to green energy.”


Prof Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, said:

“If the success of an international agreement can be measured in its ability to disappoint everyone equally, the Glasgow accord could be seen as a triumph.

“From a scientific point of view, we are back in the position where the science is ever clearer but the politics is still worryingly murky.

“On adaptation, we should see the promise to increase funding as a positive step, which if implemented should help to keep more people protected from impacts of climate change. But the lack of a firm target is another indicator that countries are unwilling to commit to schemes that they are unable to see as good investments in the future, despite strong evidence of the value of spending on adaptation. Budgets and economies everywhere have been hit by the pandemic, but when the UK government is cutting real spending on overseas aid, including on climate adaptation projects, it is understandable that talk around COP is criticised as ‘blah, blah, blah’.”


Dr Colin Summerhayes, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University, said:

“Obviously it would have been better if it had been possible to get agreement on cuts that would have led soon to global average temperature not exceeding 1.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial baseline of 1850-1900. However, the net zero concept means that we can continue burning fossil fuel as long as we capture and store our carbon emissions to stabilise CO2 at a level that keeps us from overshooting the 1.5C guardrail. Inevitably this means maintaining warming at the 1.5C level indefinitely. What the bureaucrats seem to forget is that a 1.5C average global temperature means a temperature at least double that and probably as much as three times that in the Arctic. Under those conditions, Arctic ice will go on melting, and the sea level will go on rising. The only way to prevent that rise is to go for ‘negative emissions’, which means sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere to bring its concentration down from its current 414 ppm CO2 to something like the 350 ppm favoured by the Global Climate Observing System partners. That’s the CO2 level from 1988, when global average temperature was about 0.6C above the baseline. To restore the Arctic sea ice, which forms a critical part of Earth’s refrigerator and helps to keep our climate cool, we need to go further and reduce CO2 to 300ppm, which it was in about 1930, when the average global temperature was about 0.1C above the preindustrial levels (1850-1900).”


Dr David Reiner, Associate Professor in Technology Policy and Assistant Director of the Energy Policy Research Group, University of Cambridge, said:

“There have been many false analogies at work over the last few weeks. We are NOT at ‘one minute to midnight’ nor are we ‘down 5-1 at half-time’.  As the number 26 would indicate, we are deep in the midst of the hard slog of a multi-decadal effort and any single event can only ever be expected to have modest impact on global emissions. That said, Glasgow has played a valuable role as the first real chance to assess progress since the Paris Agreement.

“Glasgow as an event has been far more important than Glasgow as a negotiation.  The outcome of Glasgow is, overall, quite positive but that is primarily because COP26 has served as a useful focusing event rather than because of the detailed negotiations themselves.  To expect great progress in the final communique is to ignore the reality of a 190+ country negotiations involving countries at vastly different levels of development and divergent resource endowments.  It is deeply unfair, for example, to describe India as having ‘watered down’ the language on coal given its development needs or to expect countries wholly dependent on oil and gas to accept eliminating fossil fuels. 

“Instead, we should look for hope in the simple fact that a dazzling number of countries from Saudi Arabia to India to Australia have accepted the fundamental need for net-zero.  They have shifted from agreeing in a general sense that the world should be on such a path to making commitments that each of their countries should be on such a trajectory, which will be enormously challenging for many.  This is not a direct outcome of the Glasgow negotiations but would have been almost unimaginable even two years ago and Glasgow has helped catalyse these commitments. 

“However, it is not just about promises many decades hence but rather that many key countries have made commitments to take action in the coming decade. Moreover, too much focus has been on the Chinas and Indias of the world and it is important that some of the more encouraging announcements have come from countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, which are part of a tier of countries that have been expected to see the most rapid growth in emissions.

“We have also seen progress in sectors that have long been neglected such as international shipping, aviation, and heavy good vehicles.  Although each of these agreements are imperfect, they have brought together many leading countries, private sector firms and other key actors and are an important first step in making progress on some of the hardest sectors to decarbonise.”


Prof Mark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science, University College London, said:

“The gavel has gone down on the COP26 and the Glasgow Climate Pact has been agreed.  Could the pact have gone further?  Absolutely, there was so much more that could have been achieved.  But the pact has kept the Paris Agreement and the 1.5˚C target alive (just) and has made small incremental but necessary steps on the journey to decarbonize the world.

“Major disappointments as the Developed world let down the Developing world again – no agreement on loss and damage and that $100 billion still has not turned up despite being promised since 2009.  But there will be a call for new NDC in 2022 which will allow us to push for great ambition from all countries – so the pressure will be on COP27 in Egypt to deliver where Glasgow has not.”


Dr Michael Byrne, Lecturer in Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, said:

“The Glasgow Climate Pact is full of noble intentions: it ‘urges’, ‘calls upon’ and ‘requests’ countries to do more to tackle climate change. But does the Pact ‘keep 1.5C alive’, which was the goal of COP26? Yes, just; but the critical 1.5C warming target is on death’s door.

“According to Climate Action Tracker, the world is heading for catastrophic warming of 2.4C based on current carbon pledges. The Glasgow Climate Pact does little to change that trajectory. But the Pact does ‘request’ that countries strengthen their carbon-cutting targets by 2022. Without these strengthened targets, 1.5C will truly be dead.”


Prof Gabi Hegerl, Professor of Climate System Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“It is not as much commitment for reductions as I hoped, and some of the language is disappointing. Overall though, we have made a step further away from the abyss, and I am grateful for that. I hope we keep narrowing the gap between what we need to do, and what we are doing. I am grateful for all the hard work put in by the delegations to reach this point, and all the compromises that have been made to do so.”


Prof Daniela Schmidt, Professor at the School of Earth Sciences and the Cabot Institute, University of Bristol, said:

“The watering down of the statement about phasing out coal and oil makes me wonder if governments really understand the impacts climate change is already having with rising sea levels, crop failures and droughts. As one delegate said, warming of above 2C as currently projected will not help her country as countries are sinking and others are burning.

“Without designing a facility to pay for loss and damages there is still a lack of acknowledgement of the benefits for the developed world and the cost for the global south.  Lack of funds will lead to the inability to adapt for those hardest hit.

“But every increment matters so countries have to come together soon to work on reducing their emissions and keeping hope alive.

“The pledges to spot deforestation and to increase funding for adaptation will need to be more than promises to have a chance to reduce climate change, the impacts it already has and the growing risks for the future.”


Prof Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, said:

“Some good progress has been made over the past two weeks, with some success in areas such as methane and deforestation, but the overall progress is not enough to limit warning to 1.5C. The science is clear on the dangers that we are still facing.

“We need to accelerate solutions such as cleaner electricity, transport and agriculture and find ways to take carbon out of the air. That path will require greater political will, greater ambition and greater investment in research and innovation.

“The alliances formed during COP26, including between the US and China – the world’s biggest emitters – must now be built on. CoP26 must be seen as a launch pad for yet greater action over the year of the UK Presidency and beyond. This is a global problem and requires global collaboration between governments, scientists and businesses to tackle it.

“Greater investment in research and innovation is essential to delivering decarbonisation but today’s tech alone cannot deliver the agreed net zero targets. We need to go bigger, we need to go better and we need new ideas.”


Prof Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“The preparation for this COP session, and the summit itself, have brought very important advances that are not formally part of the negotiations. They have focused the world’s attention on the importance and urgency of limiting warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees, and achieving net zero emissions by the middle of this century. They have also drawn attention to the great opportunities arising from a different form of development, stronger, cleaner, more efficient, more resilient and more inclusive. The Glasgow breakthroughs on power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture have set ambitious targets for 2030 that, remarkably, include China, India, the European Union and the United States among the signatories. They seek to make clean and green production competitive in all these areas by 2030. Indeed, they already are in many of them. And the United States and China, the two biggest emitters, have also pledged to work together on climate, notwithstanding the deep and serious differences between them on other issues.

“There have also been major initiatives on deforestation and on controlling methane. We have seen some key countries, including India, South Africa and Vietnam, set out their commitment to a new form of development. In each case these countries are set to follow their own paths, but in each case they are charting a future that is much more sustainable than the past. In all these cases, and in many other countries, there is an understanding of the need to manage the dislocations arising from the zero-carbon transition in a just way, while also seizing the new opportunities offered by the industries of the future.

“The Glasgow Pact itself is a major step forward which charts a future for increasing finance from developed to developing countries, doubling of adaptation finance, and on finance in general for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development. It recognises the very severe pressure that many parts of the developing world are already under as a result of climate change impacts that already here and coming. It also acknowledges the great new opportunities for developing in a much more attractive way, including greater resource productivity and natural capital. It also draws in the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity into the discussions on climate change.

“Crucially, the Glasgow Pact explicitly includes for the first time in a decision from a COP the importance of phasing down of unabated coal power and phasing out inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels in order to accelerate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The last-minute watering down of this statement is unfortunate but is unlikely to slow down a strong momentum past coal, a dirty fuel of an earlier era.

“Over the next 12 months there is critical and urgent work to be done to unleash key sources of finance: bilateral, multilateral, multilateral development banks, private sector, and innovative sources, including philanthropy, Special Drawing Rights from the International Monetary Fund, and voluntary carbon markets.

“Overall, COP26 has been a major step along the way, but it has still left us far short of the target of limiting warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees. That it is why it is so important that countries agree to put forward by the end of next year more ambitious pledges for emissions cuts by 2030. COP26 in Glasgow embodied a shared understanding of just how dangerous our current path is, and indeed the dangers of warming beyond 1.5 Celsius degrees. It is this understanding, together with a recognition of the tremendous opportunities now on offer from doing things differently and creating a new sustainable, inclusive and resilient economic path. There is so much work to do over the next 12 months ahead of COP27 in Egypt. The work on finance will be crucial to raising ambition. If we are slow to unlock the finance, we will be slow to raise the ambition.”


Dr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“Sadly, getting 196 countries to agree to strengthen efforts to avoid dangerous climate change was always going to be tough. In this context, COP26 has delivered more than I expected it to. Current long-term pledges add up to a below 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise for the first time, and key operational aspects such as carbon trading have been agreed. It’s by no means a perfect deal, but the Glasgow Climate Pact sets up the 2020s for increasing ambition, and the Paris Agreement lives to fight another day. It’s progress, but the Pact will remain no more than another piece of paper until we start to see rapid and sustained emissions reductions. That remains the real and so-far elusive measure of Paris’s success – actual, sustained emissions reductions.”


Prof Piers Forster, Professor of Climate Physics and Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, said:

“Climate scientists have worked all over the world over the last 10 years to monitor and predict the impacts of global warming. This research tells us that there is no safe limit on the degree of global warming we can live with.  The new Glasgow Climate Pact clearly recognises this and uses this evidence to shift the long-term temperature goal from ‘well below 2 degrees’ to 1.5 degrees.”

1.5 degrees is down but not out. The Glasgow climate pact is not perfect but it is a good progression and strengthens the Paris Agreement.

“1.5 degrees rather than ‘well below 2 degrees’ is clearly recognised as the main aim following the latest science from the IPCC.

“It requests strengthened national commitments next year, which just about keeps 1.5 degrees on life support.

“It only phases down coal but at least it calls it out explicitly as a danger.

“Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on international carbon credits is finally agreed after years of wrangling.

“There is forward momentum on finance, loss and damage and the role of non-state actors including franchising the young and indigenous populations.”


Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, said:

“Despite the pact’s breakthroughs, it is – exactly as expected – far too little, far too late.

“As private jets were flown into and out of Scotland for the negotiations, environmentalists were being murdered for defending their rights. World leaders could have protected and learned from these local environmentalists while withholding over $150 billion of fossil fuel subsidies given out during the two weeks of COP26 – compared to the $100 billion per year requested to help poor countries address climate change.

“With many climate change activists younger than the COP process, it is unsurprising that yet another agreement from these meetings fails to address fundamental concerns.”


Prof Dave Reay, Director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh, said:

“COP26 was always going to be a spaghetti junction on the road towards realising the Paris Climate Goals. That the negotiators have managed to successfully navigate so many political jams and drafting dead ends is a triumph in itself.

“From multilateral action on deforestation and methane emissions, through consensus on the urgency of adaptation finance and addressing ‘loss & damage’, to a sharper ratchet for national emissions cuts: there has been some real progress over the last 2 weeks.

“Make no mistake, we are still on the road to hell, but Glasgow has at least created an exit lane.”


Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science, University College London, said:

“1.5C is on life support, but it is barely alive.  The Glasgow Climate Pact is certainly progress, but more incremental rather than the major step forward needed to limit warming to 1.5C.  Countries will need to do a lot more on both cutting emissions and rich countries providing more finance to developing countries next year in Egypt at COP27.”


Dr Shaun Fitzgerald OBE FREng, Director, Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, said:

“For me there are multiple factors which are very concerning. Firstly, the nations who don’t like the deal’s reference to phasing out coal. We have to transition away from this rapidly. Most of the objections can be overcome with agreements on appropriate financial support – so it is also about the nations, and especially the developed ones, who are committed already. This is a collective issue, and ultimately it is about justice. Secondly, the requirement for countries to return next year with stronger climate commitments. This requirement is positive so that we can continue to move the agenda forward. This requirement is also extremely disappointing, in the fact that we need it at all. The commitments made thus far are so far away from what we need in order to safeguard our future and that of 1.5C. What would our school report read? ‘Must do better’?”



Declared interests

Prof Richard Betts: “I am employed by the Met Office, funded by the UK government via BEIS, Defra and FCDO, and by the University of Exeter through which I was contracted by the Climate Change Committee to lead the CCRA3 Technical Report which informs the National Adaptation Plan.”

Prof Corinne Le Quéré: “I am in the group Friends of COP that has advised the UK Government ahead of the conference. “

No others received.

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