EXPLAINER: What did vulnerable countries fight for at the COP26 climate summit?

Climate Strike in Thunder Bay gathered on Red River road today
Climate Strike in Thunder Bay gathered on Red River road today

As the U.N. climate talks ran overtime, vulnerable countries pushed for progress on issues from “loss and damage” to phasing out fossil fuels – but didn’t get all they wanted

By Megan Rowling

GLASGOW – (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As the two-week COP26 climate talks concluded Saturday, they left many key issues to be ironed out, with developing countries vowing to continue the battle for more progress on issues that could mean life or death for their people.

Those include deeper emissions cuts by major polluters, moving to end the use of fossil fuels, and more finance to help poorer nations adopt clean energy, adapt to a warmer planet and deal with the losses and damage they incur when hit by extreme weather and rising seas.

A Glasgow agreement was reached late Saturday by about 195 nations, after the talks ran a day over schedule.

But while the deal made significant advances in some areas, it did not meet vulnerable nations’ expectations for a big increase in funding to help them cope better with spiralling climate impacts, such as worsening floods, droughts and storms.

Teresa Anderson, climate policy lead for ActionAid International, called it “an insult to the millions of people whose lives are being torn apart by the climate crisis”.

“There were huge expectations that COP26 would finally deliver real support for the communities, farmers, women and girls who need to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of climate disasters,” she said in a statement.

“But the wealthy countries most responsible for our warming world – particularly the U.S. – have blocked their ears and hung those most impacted out to dry,.”

Here is a rundown of some key elements of the deal sought by poorer countries on the frontlines of global warming, from Africa to Asia and the Caribbean:


A group of developing countries known as the G77 and China tabled a proposal in Glasgow for a new funding facility to help them deal with the “loss and damage” already hitting them at 1.1 degrees Celsius of global warming.

Low-lying island nations, such as the Marshall Islands and Antiqua and Barbuda, also called strongly for such a mechanism to be established.

They say they need the money for responses such as relocating villagers away from flood-prone shores, as seas creep higher and cyclones become more ferocious as ocean temperatures rise.

But such a facility did not make it into the final COP26 agreement, something that aid agency Oxfam said was of “deep concern”.

The Saturday outcome instead decided to establish a dialogue “to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage” each year until 2024.

Experts said richer countries in Glasgow had finally given the issue of loss and damage higher prominence than in the past, perhaps because they too are now suffering greater climate change impacts.

Yet some high-emitting industrialised countries, including the United States, do not want to see separate funding channels for “loss and damage” established, which could potentially increase their financial obligations.

Other ideas to pay such costs include a tax on fossil fuel sales or aviation.


In the run-up to the COP26 talks, the U.N. Secretary General and developing countries called for a major increase in funding to help at-risk communities bolster their defences against climate change and protect their homes, crops and sources of income against wilder weather and higher oceans.

That call came amid disappointment that a goal for donor governments to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations adopt green energy and adapt to climate impacts was missed, and now may not be met until 2023.

At the Glasgow conference, a range of wealthy governments did step up with new pledges – totalling about $960 million – for two key U.N.-backed funds that help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change.

But finance to pay for adaptation – at about $20 billion a year – remains far below the annual $70 billion developing countries are estimated to need now, the United Nations said this month.

By 2030, the annual need for finance could rise to $300 billion, it said.

In the Paris Agreement, governments said they would aim for a balance between international funding for emissions reductions and adaptation in vulnerable countries.

But so far only about a quarter of that climate finance goes to programmes to boost resilience with things like installing early warning systems for storms and floods, planting mangroves in coastal areas and adopting drought-tolerant crops.

The COP26 deal “urges” developed countries to “at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation” to developing country nations from 2019 levels by 2025, “in the context of achieving a balance between mitigation and adaptation”.

That essentially translates into adaptation funding of $40 billion a year by 2025, a level unlikely to be sufficient to meet growing needs by mid-decade.


For the first time, a formal decision at the U.N. climate talks includes direct reference to the need to reduce use of fossil fuels – something not mentioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A draft agreement circulated early on Saturday called for countries to accelerate “efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition”.

The addition of a reference to assistance for a “just transition” – to cushion impacts of switching from fossil fuels for high-carbon-energy countries and workers in coal, oil and gas industries – was intended to placate oil-rich nations and developing countries that still rely heavily on fossil fuels.

But India ultimately insisted language in the agreement to “phase out” coal be changed to efforts to “phase down” coal power.


The COP26 deal recognised that the impacts of climate change will be much less harsh at a global temperature increase of 1.5C above preindustrial times – the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement – compared with 2C, and resolved to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5C.

To that end – because current emissions-cutting targets for 2030 put the planet on track for a rise of 2.4C – the draft deal asked all countries to by the end of 2022 revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their national climate action plans to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal.

Some developing countries wanted stronger language to make clear the biggest-emitting economies should make most of these changes.

But the agreement said only that the updates should be made “taking into account different national circumstances”.

The deal also includes a provision for annual discussion of progress on reducing emissions in line with what scientists say is needed to keep to 1.5C – a 45% drop from 2010 levels by 2030.

Projections based on current plans still see emissions rising by the end of the decade.

The biggest question at the end of the COP26 summit will be whether enough has been done to fulfill the conference’s stated aim of keeping the 1.5C goal “alive” – that will likely be both difficult to judge and hotly disputed for some time to come.


Conservation groups such as WWF broadly welcomed wording in the COP26 decision recognising “the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss”.

The agreement also acknowledges “the critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems in delivering benefits for climate adaptation and mitigation”.

Protecting forests has major implications for global goals to curb warming, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-heating carbon emissions produced worldwide but release the carbon they store when they rot or are burned.

In Glasgow, there was also some praise for a commitment to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

That pledge, made alongside the formal talks by more than 100 leaders representing over 85% of the world’s forests, is backed by more than $19 billion in public and private funding.

But past promises to slow deforestation by companies and governments have not been met, with the loss of old-growth tropic forest continuing to rise around the world.

Tuntiak Katan, coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, representing indigenous forest peoples from Africa, Latin America and Indonesia, said 80% of the proposed new funding should be directed to supporting the land rights and proposals of indigenous and local communities, in order to reverse the destruction of nature.

In negotiations to establish long-delayed rules governing global carbon markets under the Paris pact, advances were made in the deal to prevent emissions reductions being counted by both sellers and buyers of carbon offsets.

But environmentalists and lawyers warned the new rules lack adequate protections to stop abuses of the rights of indigenous peoples, who rely on forests for survival.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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