Notable progress at Cop26 but not ‘job done’, warns John Kerry

Humanity confronted with race to reduce global warming, says US climate envoy

Fresh analysis indicates that containing global temperatures to within 1.8 degrees is achievable if the latest pledges by countries at the Cop26 conference are delivered in full.

However, US climate envoy John Kerry has insisted that while this is tangible progress, it does not mean "job done".

At the UN summit in Glasgow, many countries, including some major emitters such as India, promised to increase their "national determined contributions" required under the Paris climate agreement in the form of revised emission reduction targets, with a view to achieving net-zero emissions.

Up to now, climate projections predicted the world was facing a 2.7-degree rise driven by rising carbon emissions, which would make vast areas of the planet uninhabitable. The main target of the Paris agreement is containing global temperature averages to 1.5 degrees this century, while the UK government – as Cop26 hosts – have “keeping 1.5 degrees alive” a key priority at the summit.


Speaking on Friday concerning progress so far at the two-week long Cop26, Mr Kerry said that while the latest modelling indicating the world is on a trajectory to limit temperature rise to below 2 degrees for the first time was welcome, humanity is facing a race to reduce warming.

“Let me emphasise as strongly as I can: job not done. The first part of the job of codifying the urgency will hopefully be done. But that’s just the beginning. This is a decade-long race,” he said. “We do know that we could have a critical mass of countries moving in a way that keeps [1.5 degrees] alive. This was never going to be done in one week.”

Three separate analyses this week – most notably by the International Energy Agency – indicate if these revised ambitions are realised, global warming will be limited to below 2 degrees, and possibly to as low as 1.8 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“This is a global first and a significant win arising from Cop26,” UCC energy expert Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir told The Irish Times.

Analysis previewed by the Energy Transition Commission suggests, if delivered in full, commitments made by the close of the first week could deliver 9 gigatonnes of the further 22 gigatonne reduction in emissions required to achieve 1.5 degrees.

Meanwhile, coinciding with the day's youth climate theme, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg led more than 25,000 mostly young people – including many from Ireland – through the streets of Glasgow. She told a rally in George's Square: "The leaders are not doing nothing, they are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system."

Young climate leaders

At Cop26 itself, views of more than 40,000 young climate leaders were presented to ministers, negotiators and officials including a call for their their voices to be heard and demanding “action to prevent catastrophic climate change in our lifetimes”.

The week has also secured tangible progress on climate finance with the long-awaited $100 billion a year promised by rich nations to poor nations set to be delivered in 2022, a year earlier than previously thought.

Delivery of the money to fund emission cuts in developing countries is considered a critical test of Cop26 in building trust between wealthy and poor nations. It is to assist collaboration in addressing the climate emergency and transitioning developing countries from using fossil fuels to use of renewable energy.

On Thursday evening Mr Kerry said Japan’s promise to pay $2 billion a year would unlock another $8 billion a year of private sector money. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on October 25th said developing countries would have access to $97 billion in public and private funds in 2022 and $106 billion in 2023.

“That means for 2022 we now have the full $100 billion we wanted to have . . . so we take that issue off the table and that changes the dynamics,” he said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times