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Post COP26—Shortcomings, Positive Outcomes, and What’s Next for the Global South

COP26 is over, and although the final agreement may not have the language that many of us had hoped for, there were some positive outcomes. A few key inclusions such as emissions reporting guidelines and recognition of fossil fuels as the cause of global temperature rise are promising additions that continue to propel RMI’s work forward. Plus, it was the first time that methane and coal were specifically cited in COP text as part of the problem, with breakthrough announcements attributed to each of these critical areas.

Tackling the Global North/Global South Divide

A major issue at the heart of negotiations was how the Global North will help the Global South in its future energy transition. This included the question of how much wealthy countries should pay for loss and damage already done to the climate due to historical carbon emissions, which have resulted in disproportionate impacts on poorer countries. Given this is an area of priority at RMI, we are disappointed that wealthy countries did not make clear pledges for financing energy transitions or commit to the creation of a crisis response fund for poorer countries.

Developed countries not only failed to meet their promise of $100 billion by 2020, in this latest pact they pushed the deadline out even further, likely to 2025. This naturally irks the developing world, especially because their rich counterparts have been pressuring them to be ambitious in their own climate actions.

However, with major announcements around non-state actor finance, and credible stories emerging about tipping points in power and transport, there is hope. Despite the lack of alignment around support for the Global South in the final COP26 document, it was an important theme throughout the two-week conference. And the launch of ambitious major initiatives led by the Rockefeller Foundation, Bezos Earth Fund, and Ikea Foundation’s Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet will go a long way toward reaching 1 billion underserved people with reliable, renewable power while seeking to drive economic growth and job creation. It should be noted that several international finance corporations and multilateral development banks are also providing much-needed financing to this effort.

RMI has a number of programs which support the flow of resources to the Global South, not just in financial terms but also in building critical capacity, including our Energy Transition Academy and Climate Finance Access Network. RMI’s work in hard-to-abate sectors was also highlighted at COP26. RMI staff presented on our initiatives like the Mission Possible Partnership, our work on green hydrogen as a sustainable source of clean energy, and our commitment to non-state actor interventions around supply chains. We have also successfully made the case that clean energy is the ultimate form of adaptation for vulnerable countries, especially as it applies to moving away from natural gas.

Where We Go from Here

RMI’s priority focus areas of the role of non-state actors in curbing climate change, bridging the North-South divide, and market-driven catalysts were themes present throughout the two-week conference, where private sector involvement was more part of the mainstream program rather than on the sidelines as in previous years. The real economy was no longer a side event.

Non-state actor (corporations, banks, local governments, civil society) tipping points in critical areas like hard-to-abate industries, transport, and energy also resonated at COP26. All this is to say that RMI’s participation at this year’s conference captured the zeitgeist of a very noisy (and oftentimes controversial) event.

Looking forward, we know that the national pledges coming out of COP26 are not legally binding. It is up to individual countries to turn their pledges into law and to follow through on promises made at the conference. Radical collaboration between businesses, across sectors and supply chains, in civil society, and among nations is going to be crucial for humanity to address the climate crisis.

Now—let’s get back to work.