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expert reaction to latest COP26 draft agreement

The latest draft COP decision has been proposed by the President.


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

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

“Personally, 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 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 to have collapsed. This agreement does require large collective actions. A hope is that the agreement may help to 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 Meredith, head of polar oceans team at British Antarctic Survey, said:

“CoP26 has produced many new measures and commitments to deal with the overheating of our planet, its causes and impacts. All the progress that has been made is welcomed, especially in relation to important issues such as deforestation, methane emissions and the phasing out of coal. But the agreements reached are not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, and to keep global warming below levels at which the most damaging impacts are realised. More is needed, and rapidly, in particular the very rapid slashing of greenhouse gas emissions globally, which need to be halved this decade if the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius is to remain viable.

“The acknowledgement of the parties of the critical importance of the ocean and cryosphere is welcomed. Research from BAS and partner organisations has shown how vulnerable the polar regions are to climate change – they will feel global warming much more severely than the planet as a whole, with profound impacts for ecosystems, the ice sheets, and the way of life of Indigenous and local populations. Changes in polar regions impact the whole planet, acting to govern ongoing climate change and sea level rise. We must continue to focus effort and attention on understanding changes in these regions, if we are to protect the future of the planet as a whole”.


Prof Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, University of Oxford, said:

“It’s remarkable that it has taken 26 COPs to mention fossil fuels at all – if that paragraph survives. But we don’t just need to end “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. We need to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming before the world stops using fossil fuels. It’s still not clear that most COP participants, and certainly those demonstrating outside, have fully grasped what that means. A durable net zero means one tonne of CO2 safely and permanently disposed of for every tonne generated by any ongoing fossil fuel use. It is great to see some countries, notably the US and China in their joint declaration, starting to acknowledge this – but we could do with more.


Bob Ward, Director of Policy and Communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said:

“This text is still pretty good and one I hope that all countries can embrace.

“It continues to request countries to deliver more ambitious pledges next year. Countries will leave Glasgow painfully aware that collectively current pledges for emissions cuts by 2030 are not ambitious enough. They are not aligned with the goal of the Paris Agreement of holding the rise in warming to well below 2 Celsius degrees, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 Celsius degrees.

“The draft text also still calls on all countries to accelerate efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Importantly, the UK Presidency has now published draft text that outlines a good process for agreeing a significant increase in investment in developing countries to help them make their economies zero-carbon and climate-resilient.

“It is time for countries to stop arguing over the text and to start taking the action that has been promised, particularly to increase the flows of financial support to developing countries.”


Prof Euan Nisbet, Greenhouse Gas Group, Royal Holloway, said:

“I’m dismayed that Paragraph 37 on methane simply begins ‘Invites’ rather than using stronger language. This is a very weak way to respond to the urgency of acting on methane. UN Under Secretary-General Inger Andersen said in her introduction to the Global Methane Assessment that it ‘highlights one of the greatest opportunities available today to simultaneously address our interlinked planetary crises and make peace with nature’.  It is sad that her words have not brought stronger action.”


Prof Richard Betts MBE, University of Exeter and Met Office Hadley Centre, and director of the Technical Report for the 3rd UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3), said:

“We’re now in damage-limitation mode. Despite some progress on promises to cut emissions and protect forests, we’re still not yet on track to limit global warming to low levels, so adaptation to current and locked-in climate change is now even more urgent. We’ve already made some kinds of extreme weather more likely or more severe, and we’ve now committed the world to some level of long-term rises in sea level, so we will need to deal with these consequences. We could still avoid further increases in these impacts with greater ambition on emissions cuts, but until we completely stop building up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we will still continue the heating of the climate and causing ever-more severe risks and impacts.”



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.”

None others received.

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