“Hope delivered but hope delayed” – UK Outcomes from COP26

The 26th annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) drew to a close amidst much scrutiny last week. Whilst positive inroads were made, reactions have been muted – with Prime Minister Boris Johnson claiming success “tinged with disappointment”. Similarly, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford described the conference as “hope delivered but hope delayed”. Despite this, COP26 saw promises made and agreements signed, all with different outcomes for the four UK Administrations.

In Scotland, a number of assurances were made by Nicola Sturgeon in response to negotiations at the summit. She confirmed that the Scottish Government will increase its Climate Justice Fund by a further 50% in order to assist developing countries. This brings the total commitment to £36 million since the fund was established in 2012. A five-year plan for hydrogen strategy was also announced. This has the ambition of providing nearly a sixth of Scottish energy by 2030 and has now been backed by over £100 million in funding. The fund will focus on supporting renewable production centres and projects, as well as reducing costs for cutting-edge innovation. Sturgeon noted that this will be established alongside a Nature Restoration Fund to the tune of £55 million per year for the next five years. Funding will be used for projects that tackle the climate crisis by aiding the recovery of impacted local species, nature reserves and seas.

Arguably the highlight of COP26 for the Welsh Government was helping form the ‘Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance’, united in the aim of phasing out oil and gas usage. Dr Jen Allan of Cardiff University said that this “put Wales on the map” as one of the leading nations to seriously commit to moving beyond the use of fossil fuels. Alongside nine other regional and national administrations from around the world, the Welsh Government has pledged to stop licensing oil and gas production across the country. Welsh Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, stated that this would be achieved through revised “planning frameworks, licensing powers and our policy frameworks.” The Welsh Government has furthermore pledged to set a date for ending fossil fuel production, a date confirmed as helping to keep the Paris climate goal of below 2C alive.

Traditionally, the stance of the Northern Irish Executive regarding climate change has made progress difficult. As the last nation within the United Kingdom to introduce any climate legislation, disagreements over emissions targets and timeframes have slowed down decisions. Despite that, positive outcomes arose at COP26. The Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA, launched the digital climate action campaign earlier this year. His commitment of playing an active role on the global stage which was reaffirmed at the conference. Last week, Poots launched a consultation document for the nation’s first ever Environment Strategy. This sets out specific environmental priorities for the coming decades, such as phasing in Low Emission Slurry Spreading requirements on farms.

Advancement was also made on the wider UK level. The UK presidency of COP paved the way for the “Glasgow Climate Pact” that emerged from the negotiations, committing to doubling adaptation finance and putting pressure on high polluting countries to present ambitious pledges at the COP27 event next year. Another key outcome was the agreement by 40 world leaders on a UK-led plan to speed up clean technology across the world by 2030, covering 50% of the world’s emissions. However, a great deal of attention has been brought to the root of disappointment at COP26. This was due to China and India succeeding in watering down the final agreement, shifting the pledge from the “phasing out” coal to “phasing down” coal. However this is still in itself a considerable achievement: previous global climate deals have never explicitly set out a plan to reduce coal usage by any amount.

Clearly all four Governments within the United Kingdom have seen a positive outcome from the COP26 summit, albeit with differing levels impact on the global crisis. Despite the disappointment, foundations have been laid which have the potential of being successful in the long term – but only if accompanied with further action over the coming months and years. As Drakeford noted, there is still hope, yet it will only last if policymakers urgently throw their weight into tackling this crisis.