What happened at COP26?

We look back at the last two weeks of the COP26 conference and what has come out of the negotiations. 
We look back at the last two weeks of the COP26 conference and what has come out of the negotiations. 

Click here to listen to our podcast ‘A breakdown of COP26.”

After a hectic two weeks of talks, pledges and negotiations, the COP26 conference has finally come to an end. So what came out of the conference? We will go through a day-by-day breakdown of the major announcements, pledges, and commitments.

1 and 2 November

On the 1st and 2nd of November, world leaders gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 conference, to focus the high-level ambition and action towards securing global net zero and keeping 1.5° Celsius in reach by adapting to protect communities and natural habitats and mobilizing finance

Nearly 120 world leaders gathered in Glasgow, however, there were some absences of note: Xi Jinping, President of the top carbon polluting nation China, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. China and Russia remain two of the top polluting nations. Turkish President also did not attend the conference.

Here is a breakdown from the first two days of the COP26 conference:

The first major commitment revolved around a landmark deal. More than 100 leaders, representing 85% of the world’s forests, agreed to end deforestation by 2030. Amongst the nations that have pledged to participate are Canada, Russia, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which holds some of the world’s most important and biggest carbon sinks.

Most importantly, Brazil also agreed to sign up. A deforestation catastrophe has devastated the Amazon in recent years, placing one of the world’s most important natural defences against climate change in danger.

Secondly, President Joe Biden apologized for his predecessor’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. “I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States — the last administration — pulled out of the Paris Accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball,” Biden said at the Glasgow event. As soon as Biden was sworn in, he re-entered the agreement and said that “we will demonstrate to the world that the United States is not only back at the table, but hopefully leading by the power of our example.” While Biden provided an impressive tone during his speech, democratic lawmakers have been debating, and so far, failing to agree on, an economic package that includes £414bn in climate change provisions.

The last major commitment that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced was that he pledged that India would become carbon neutral by 2070. This is big news because India had never put a date on their net zero goals. However, while this may be great news, the 2070 target is over a decade longer than China’s and two decades longer than the rest of the world’s goals to net zero emissions.

3 November

3 November revolved around finance, and all eyes were on how governments, central banks and private companies would coordinate across border funding to assist in cutting the number of greenhouse gases being released around the world. 

The first major commitment was that the UK has vowed to become the world’s first net zero aligned financial centre. Under the new rules, British financial institutions will be obliged to reveal their climate impacts. However, going net zero will not be compulsory. By not making net zero mandatory, campaigners have cautioned that chancellor Rishi Sunak “landmark” plan falls short of what is needed to beat the climate crisis and risks “greenwashing” for a sector that has benefited massively from decades of pollution.

Another major pledge that was announced included a “historic” climate commitment, with private companies pledging over £97trn of financial assets. This comes from over 450 firms based in 45 countries across six continents and from all parts of the financial industry known as the Glasgow Financial Alliance for net zero. Some of the companies involved are NatWest, Aviva, the London Stock Exchange and HSBC.

While the pledges provide a massive help to developing countries, poorer countries have voiced their concerns on becoming stuck in climate’ debt traps’. Developing countries have repeated that they want to contribute to the net-zero goals, but they have struggled to access funding over the years. Even though £97 trn of financial firepower to tackle the climate crisis has been promised, developing countries are sceptical about how accessible this funding will be. This comes off the back of the past pledges of £75bn a year from rich countries having not been met. As the UN’s trade and development arm, UNCTAD, noted last week, adaptation costs for developing countries have doubled in the past decade due to inaction. “These will only rise further as temperatures increase, reaching £224bn in 2030 and £373bn in 2050,” it said.

Sonam P Wangdi, chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, said that with climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, access to funding was a “huge issue” and took developing countries anywhere between four to five years to secure a loan. To address this issue, the process that developing countries need to go through needs to be simplified to be more easily accessed in an emergency.

4 November

On 4 November, the topic of discussion was all-around energy and accelerating the global transition to clean energy. During the day, there were some major announcements made on the end of coal and fossil fuel financing.

The major commitment made was that 23 countries have committed to phasing out coal power. The world’s largest alliance on phasing out coal gained 28 new members at COP26. 

“Securing a 190-strong coalition to phase out coal power and end support for new coal power plants and the Just Transition Declaration signed today show a real intentional commitment to not leave any nation behind,” said Alok Sharma, COP26 President. While this is a great achievement, there were still many big polluters missing from the major pledge to phase out coal. Although current global warming targets require countries to stop the use of coal, several major economies have set no date for ending its use.

5 November

On 5 November, the COP26 conference concentrated on elevating the voice of young people and demonstrating the critical role of public empowerment and education in climate action. 

Throughout the day, young activists poured into Glasgow for a Fridays for Future demonstration. Greta Thunberg led the event and called the COP26 summit a “global north green wash festival,” and said “it should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.” The younger generations also raised their voices inside the summit venue. The COP26 Presidency said over 40,000 young climate leaders were presented to ministers, negotiators, and officials during the day. However, the young participants said they were not sure they were being heard. “I feel like I’m being seen,” said Brianna Fruean, a 23-year-old activist from Samoa at the beginning of the conference. But – “I will know if I’ve been heard by the end of COP.”

6 November

With the first week coming to an end on Saturday, 6 November, the negotiations were underway. The one key item being discussed amongst the negotiators was the Paris Agreement, which was created in 2015. This agreement commits countries to limit global warming to between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius; however, some details still need to be finalized. Amongst various issues to be hashed out, the leaders are trying to create a set of rules that would lead to transparency on how carbon emissions are traded. Rules around how countries need to report on their development and prevent double-counting emissions cuts need to be set up to ensure the agreement is successful. 

On 6 November, the discussion revolved around ensuring the importance of nature and sustainable land use as part of global action on climate change and clean, green recovery.

From the start of the day, protesters worldwide took to the streets to urge world leaders to tackle the climate crisis. “We are taking to the streets across the world this weekend to push governments from climate inaction to climate justice,” said Asad Rehman, a spokesperson for the COP Coalition. 

With the protests happening in the streets, inside the conference, the discussion focused on land use and sustainable agriculture. British actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Idris Elba took to the stage to draw attention to the role of small-scale farmers, who produce 80% of the food consumed worldwide. “One day, we’ll go to Sainsbury’s or Marks & Spencer, and food will not be there,” he warned at a UN event on sustainable agriculture. “The supply chain is going to be damaged if we don’t figure out what to do.” Elba insisted. In support of what Elba said, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, 24, told the panel climate change was already causing hunger for millions worldwide, including in her own country.

During the day, 45 countries pledged “urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming,” the UK COP26 presidency has said. With a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture, forestry, and other land use, it is important to highlight the need to act for more sustainable food systems. The pledge will make use of £2bn public sector investment into agricultural innovation.

8 November

On 8 November, the COP26 conference concentrated on delivering the practical solutions needed to adapt to climate impacts and address loss and damage.

One of the major outcomes from the day was that cities, regions and businesses got access to a tool to measure their climate resilience. While the UN’s Race to Resilience campaign was launched in January, they announced the new set of metrics to help non-state actors measure their climate resilience and assess the strength of their improvement plans. The campaign is currently attracting non-state actors responsible for improving climate resilience for more than 2.3 billion people worldwide. By the end of the decade, they are hoping to increase that number to 4 billion people.

It was a good day for the Adaptation Fund with governments of the UK, USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Italy, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Quebec and Flanders collectively committing to £173mn of funding. Originally launched in 2010 and, before the day’s commitment, had allocated £635mn to projects across 100 countries, thanks to donations from governments and private finance. The pledge made on 8 November is the highest single mobilization to the Fund to date. 

9 November

On 9 November, the COP26 conference dove into science and innovation as well as gender. A demonstration of how science and innovation can deliver climate solutions to meet and accelerate, increased ambition throughout the day.

23 nations, including China, India, the UK and the US, announced plans to accelerate their cleantech investments. This comes under the platform’ Mission Innovation’, which was convened at COP21 in Paris and had financial backing from Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum. ‘Mission Innovation’ aims to make cleantech within the hard-to-abate sectors more affordable, easier to access, and more attractive than their higher-carbon equivalents. This agreement adds to the existing plans by; introducing new workstreams on low-carbon cities, decarbonizing heavy industrial sectors, scaling up renewable fuels, decarbonizing the chemicals sector, producing renewable materials, and scaling up man-made carbon capture technologies.

During the day, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (AI) was published to guide governments on implementing AI to deliver their net zero changes. With the very short timeline on which the world needs to change to address climate change, it has become essential to accelerate the deployment of new technology across various sectors. In the Global Partnership on AI Report, the authors have proposed that governments can take leadership in supporting the use of AI to address climate change by: Fostering the responsible development of and access to data and digital infrastructure — e.g., relevant data, simulation environments, testbeds, model libraries, and computational hardware — that can support the development and adoption of AI for-climate applications. They would also address climate change by targeting research and innovation funding to enable interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral work at the intersection of AI and climate change that is guided by climate impact. Finally, they will support deployment and systems integration of AI-for climate applications via targeted policy design and evaluation, market design, and business models, including within highly regulated sectors such as energy, transportation, agriculture, and heavy industry.

On 9 November, the conference also highlighted gender and the progression of gender equality and women and girls’ full and meaningful participation in climate action. “Climate change is sexist,” a US government official put it on Tuesday, and 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and children, according to UNFCC. “But women and girls are also leading efforts to tackle climate change in communities around the world,” said COP26 chairman Alok Sharma. One major pledge around gender was various countries pledging to gender-sensitive climate policies and funding. In addition, pledges for dedicated climate finance poured in, notably a £10mn commitment by the US to the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund and an additional £2mn investment to support women farmers in East Africa to adapt to climate impacts.

10 November

10 November revolved around transport and driving the global transition to zero emissions. On this day, the UK announced their plan to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040 at the latest; however, countries that produce a lot of the world’s vehicles have not committed to this pledge. The US, China, Germany and France have chosen not to become part of the list of signatories. In contrast, only 32 other countries, including India, Turkey and 12 generally high-ambition EU member countries, have agreed to the plan.

“The environment ministry, like the signatories of the Glasgow Accord on Zero Emissions Vehicles, does not consider e-fuelled passenger cars to be a viable option in terms of availability and efficiency,” the ministry wrote to journalists. However, German transport minister Andreas Scheuer added that combustion engine technology would be needed in the future. “We want to make it climate-neutral with synthetic fuels and preserve the advantages of the technology,” said Scheuer.

While having countries on board, it is also essential to have major car manufacturers as part of the signatories. From the car manufacturing industry, Volvo, Daimler, Ford and General Motors have agreed to the UK’s plan to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040. They commit to working “towards reaching 100% zero-emission new car and van sales in leading markets by 2035 or earlier, supported by a business strategy that is in line with achieving this ambition”.

Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler) is among the signatories as they are already planning on rapidly to switching to electric cars. “We have decided for Mercedes-Benz that speed is better as a business strategy,” Daimler CEO told the conference, adding all-new vehicle designs will be electric-only from 2025. “I see the chance that Mercedes-Benz will be fully electric in 2030, or at least 2030 plus X,” he said, adding the agreement reflected this strategy.

However, not all manufacturers agreed to sign up. Volkswagen, Renault, Stellantis, BMW and Nissan opted out. Volkswagen, Renault, Stellantis, BMW and Nissan have decided to opt-out of the agreement. Helen Clarkson, the head of the non-profit organization Climate Group, said companies that were “not at the table on ‘Transport Day’ are on the wrong side of history”.

Among other top companies and cities onboard are ride-hailing company Uber and food retailer Sainsbury’s. At the same time, the South Korean capital Seoul and Brazil’s Sao Paolo have also signed the agreement.

11 November

The final day of COP26 proceedings took place on 11 November and was dedicated to Cities, Regions and the Built Environment. 

One of the major announcements was the UK launching its Urban Action Programme. The UN has estimated that urban buildings account for over 40% of the yearly global emissions. They have also estimated that 1.6 billion people living in cities will be frequently subjected to extremely high temperatures. Over 800 million people will be susceptible to sea level rises and coastal flooding by 2050. The UK has responded to this information by introducing an Urban Climate Action Programme (UCAP), which will provide 27.5 million pounds to at least 15 cities in developing countries over three years. 

Another announcement from the UK came from the UK Green Building Council who revealed their much-anticipated Whole Life Carbon Roadmap. This tool aims to help businesses across the built environment sector assess and cut down on carbon from the materials, processes, and operations they conduct and use. The roadmap also contains several important calls to action for policymakers to deliver net zero by 2050 scenario for the sector. 


When producing this podcast, the near-final negotiation texts had gone out, and the final and official decision is scheduled to be published later on 12 November. If previous COPs are to go by, the final announcement will be delayed and completed over the weekend. 

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