Can COP26 reach ambitious outcomes for LDCs?

Ambitious, inclusive and equitable outcomes at COP26 are vital. Will major emitters commit to significant carbon cuts? Will countries honour their climate finance pledges? And how will finance reach those most in need? Anna Schulz sets out four outcomes for COP26 to be labelled a success for the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

Anna Schulz's picture
Insight by 
Anna Schulz
Anna Schulz is head of global climate law policy and governance in IIED's Climate Change research group
22 October 2021
UN climate change conference (COP26)
A series of pages related to IIED's activities at the 2021 UNFCCC climate change summit in Glasgow
Rising water levels submerge trees and encroach on land

Rising water levels at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, submerge sections of acacia forest and reduce the salinity of the water, endangering the habitat for flamingoes (Photo: Pablo Necochea, via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The drumbeat for rapidly scaling up ambitious action at the UN climate summit (COP26) is growing louder by the day. Several new reports make starkly clear the gap between what is required (in terms of both science and equity) and the lacklustre efforts to address climate change so far.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I (WG1) report on the physical basis of climate change emphasises the rapidly shrinking window within which we need to shift to 1.5°C pathways.

A new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) synthesis report finds that current NDCs are still failing to put the globe on track to meet the 1.5°C temperature goal. And recent reports from the OECD and from IIED demonstrate that vital climate finance (particularly for adaptation) is often overcounted and fails to reach the local level where it is needed most.

Ambitions for climate justice

According to the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, representing the 46 poorest countries in the world, a successful COP26 requires four key outcomes:

  1. Agreeing the basis for negotiations: Key issues must be resolved relating to agreements on climate finance, addressing loss and damage, and finalising the Paris Agreement rulebook on how to operationalise commitments. Parties will rapidly need to agree the basis for negotiations so that vital decisions can be made
  2. Reaffirming ambitions for 1.5°C: Major emitters must significantly increase their ambition to meet the 1.5°C goal by clarifying plans, acknowledging the IPCC WG1 and NDC synthesis report findings, and extending the 2020 mandate for long-term strategies to encourage planning towards net zero targets
  3. Commitments to climate finance: Developed countries must honour their US$100 billion per year climate finance commitment. The process for the new post-2025 goal must also be set, based on the needs of developing nations, favouring grants over loans, prioritising adaptation over mitigation, and covering the costs of unavoidable loss and damage already experienced by countries vulnerable to climate change, and
  4. Ensuring an inclusive COP: The outcomes of COP26 must be shaped by the priorities of developing nations. For COP26 to be successful, all voices must be included and able to participate. Outcomes will only be credible and ambitious if no one is left behind.

Why an inclusive COP is vital

Travel restrictions to the UK have recently eased. Only one LDC (Haiti) is currently on the UK’s red list and required to quarantine. But even so, delegates from vulnerable countries – particularly Small Island Developing States – face many steep challenges in getting to Glasgow for COP26.

But achieving equitable, inclusive and ambitious outcomes will be extremely difficult if there is not full representation. This fact was recently acknowledged by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Patricia Espinosa. She underscored that success "means ensuring that no voices remain unheard, nor viable proposals left on the table".

Driving progress at COP26

Once in Glasgow, COP26 delegates will have to navigate an extremely heavy agenda while avoiding possible procedural quagmires. The pandemic has limited formal negotiating processes since 2019. There is a sizeable backlog – spanning four sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) and two COPs – of negotiating mandates and agenda items to agree. 

But intersessional progress has been made. And it is crucial that COP26 builds on this as a starting point. There have been myriad technical-level virtual meetings convened by the SB chairs as well as head of delegation (HoD) meetings. 

Ministerial tracks convened by the COP25 and COP26 presidencies have also advanced discussions. And Parties undertook informal discussions in a May-June 2021 SB session, which advanced the state of understanding and made progress on many agenda items.

This progress was captured in informal notes at the end of the June SB session. It is critical that negotiations advance quickly on the basis of the progress already made this year to ensure that 2020 and 2021 do not end up as essentially lost years in the process. 

Galvanising political leadership

Without doubt, COP26 is convening in extraordinary times. It will be the largest in-person multilateral environment negotiation since the start of the pandemic. And it will face unprecedented challenges. These range from ensuring that delegates can get to Glasgow, to the crowded negotiating agenda, the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks during the session, and the potential for procedural obstacles. 

But it is equally clear that the world urgently needs global political leadership to galvanise ambitious and equitable action on climate change. Glasgow must deliver that to succeed.