COP26, the 26th meeting of representatives from the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, concluded weeks ago, on November 13th, and scientists, policymakers, activists, reporters, and pundits have been busy weighing its results. 

Potentially game-changing agreements were reached in Glasgow on coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel subsidies, methane, and forests. But the voluntary nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce carbon emissions fell well short of the cuts needed to keep the increase in average annual global temperature below 1.5°C.

The ongoing process of assessment and advocacy is reflected in the variety of reports put out by governmental, nongovernmental, and media organizations since COP26 was gaveled to order. 

Chatham House, a think-tank in the UK, the country hosting the meeting, issued the first overall analysis. Climate Analytics and GermanWatch focused more narrowly on tallying the NDCs. Other organizations zoomed in on efforts to curb emissions from coal and methane and to flag the roles finance and insurance companies play in the ongoing promotion of fossil fuels. 

India’s Center for Science and Environment offered a view from the global south by opening access to its special COP26 issue of Down to Earth, while World Resources Institute timed the release of its 2021 State of Climate Action Report to coincide with the meeting. 

What happens in the United States over the coming weeks will greatly affect the world’s post-COP26 trajectory. Likely with that in mind, World Resources Institute also contributed to a climate policy brief focused on the American Midwest; Princeton Net-Zero estimated the climate impact of Biden’s Build Back Better bill; and Stop the Heat released a report on how Facebook (now Metaverse) continues to profit from groups that disseminate climate misinformation on its platforms.

As always, the brief descriptions of these reports are drawn from copy provided by the organizations that published them. Free downloads are available for all the reports in this list; however, some organizations require that visitors first register with their site.

COP26: What Happened, What Does This Mean, and What Happens Next, by Anna Aberg et al (Chatham House 2021, 16 pages, free download available here)

Raising the ambition of national emission reduction targets (nationally determined contributions – NDCs) was a critical task for COP26. Governments fell short: the new targets only narrow the gap to 1.5°C by 15-17 per cent. Another key feature of the Glasgow Climate Pact is the reference to ‘accelerating … the phasedown of coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’, the first time reducing fossil fuels is mentioned in a COP decision. Discussions around climate finance, adaptation, and loss and damage were critical points of contention. While some progress was made at COP26, the next 12 months will be crucial in determining if the formal agreements reached in Glasgow provide confidence that 1.5°C remains firmly in sight, and are sufficient to build trust between countries and between citizens and governments.

Climate Change Performance Index 2022, by Jan Burck et al (GermanWatch 2021, 32 pages, free download available here

The climate crisis is an existential threat to life on Earth. To reduce the magnitude of the crisis’ impacts, we must limit global warming to 1.5°C, as decided in the Paris Agreement. Only decisive action will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for climate change. As an independent monitoring tool, the CCPI has a leading role in informing on the Paris Agreement’s implementation phase. Since 2005, the CCPI has provided analysis of countries’ climate protection performance. It creates transparency in climate policy, makes it possible to compare climate protection efforts, and lets you see progress and setbacks.

Glasgow’s 2030 Credibility Gap: Net Zero’s Lip Service to Climate Action, by Climate Action Tracker Working Group (Climate Analytics / New Economy 2021, 36 pages, free download available here)

Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) improvements submitted over the last year have reduced the emissions gap in 2030 by only 15-17%. The biggest absolute contributions to this narrowing come from China, EU and the US, though other countries with lower emissions levels have also improved their NDCs. (Several governments only resubmitted the same target as 2015 (Australia, Indonesia, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, Viet Nam), or submitted an even less ambitious target (Brazil, Mexico). Some did not make new submissions at all (Turkey and Kazakhstan). Even with all new Glasgow pledges for 2030, we will emit roughly twice as much in 2030 as required for 1.5°. Therefore, all governments need to reconsider their targets.

Taking Stock of Coal Risks: Mapping Coal Risks in Listed Companies by Stock Exchange, by Lee Ray and Lorenzo Sani (Carbon Tracker 2021, 27 pages, free download available here, registration required)

Taking Stock of Coal Risks finds that worldwide $220 billion of investment in coal plants could be stranded if the world takes action to achieve the temperature goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The report warns investors that listed companies still planning to build new coal capacity are making “a very risky bet.” Growing competition from low-cost renewables and carbon pricing mean they are unlikely to generate a return over their lifetime and countries’ net zero commitments may drive early closures. Stranding risk is most prevalent on Asian stock exchanges, which account for almost $110 bn or 90% of the total.

Financing the Coal Transition: Pragmatic Solutions to Accelerate an Equitable, Clean Energy Future, by Koben Calhoun et al (RMI 2021, 57 pages, free download available here)

RMI’s report, Financing the Coal Transition, shows how the privileged place coal has occupied in power generation for over a century has entrenched complex barriers that prevent markets from catching up to the trend toward clean energy. In the absence of solutions to address these barriers, the costs of uneconomic coal will fall largely on local communities. This report helps make sense of the various financial mechanisms proposed to date. While it finds that financial mechanisms have the potential to generate wins for both the climate and communities, it also recognizes the risks of using finance to support the coal transition. To manage these risks, RMI proposes five key principles to guide the design of credible financial mechanisms.

Why Gas Is the New Coal, by Bill Hare et al (Climate Analytics 2021, 70 pages, free download available here)

In order to focus the relevant communities of state and non-state actors in the industrial and climate policy realms, scientists need to provide clear guidelines for the use of natural gas in a Paris-Agreement-compatible energy mix. Here, we provide a first quantification of a few key takeaways for natural gas in a world that implements the Paris Agreement and limits warming to 1.5°C: Natural gas was the largest source of fossil CO2 emissions increase (42% in the decade 2010 to 2019), is responsible for about 60% of methane emissions from fossil fuel production, and about 70% if the projected increase in fossil CO2 emissions under current policies to 2030.

2021 Scorecard on Insurance, Fossil Fuels & Climate Change, by Harriot Reuter Hapgood and Peter Bosshard (Insure Our Future 2021, 30 pages, free download available here)  

This is the fifth annual Scorecard on Insurance, Fossil Fuels and Climate Change published by the Insure Our Future campaign. The Scorecard analyzes the evolving role of the global insurance industry in the fossil fuel sector and in avoiding catastrophic climate collapse. It focuses on 30 leading primary insurers and reinsurers, assessing and scoring their policies on insuring and investing in coal, oil, gas, and other aspects of climate (in)action. The report highlights progress and loopholes, calls out leaders and laggards, and identifies challenges and opportunities for the year ahead.

Down to Earth: Special Climate Issue for COP26, edited by Sunita Narain (India’s Center for Science and the Environment 2021, 60 pages, free download available here

Table of Contents: World Is On the Line at Glasgow by Sunita Narain / The Numbers Behind Climate Change by Sunita Narain and Avantika Goswami / Prime Polluters / National Targets – Off by a Mile / Carbon Budget – Unfair Share / Target 2030 – How It Ends / Borrowed Time by Rajit Sengupta / Agenda for COP26 – (1) Carbon Net Zero, Pathway Unclear, (2) Fuel of Comfort – Coal, (3) Rise of Dragon Nation – China, (4) Hold On To Your Stocks – Market Mechanisms, (5) No Show – Climate Finance, (6) Cost of Survival – Adaptation Goals, (7) Polluter Doesn’t Really Pay – Loss and Damage / Inheritance of Loss – Young Climate Activists

State of Climate Action 2021: Systems Transformations Required to Limit Global Warming to 1.5°C, by Sophie Boehm et al (World Resources Institute 2021, 249 pages, free download available here)

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires far-reaching transformations across power generation, buildings, industry, transport, land use, coastal zone management, and agriculture, as well as the immediate scale-up of technological carbon removal and climate finance. This report translates these transitions into 40 targets for 2030 and 2050, with measurable indicators. Of the forty indicators assessed, none are on track to reach 2030 targets. Change is heading in the right direction but at insufficient speed for eight and in the right direction but even slower for another seventeen. Measures for the remaining targets are stagnate, reversing, or unavailable. This report also identifies underlying conditions that enable change. Finance for climate action, for example, must increase nearly thirteen-fold to meet the estimated need in 2030.

Also see: OECD’s 2021 edition of The Annual Climate Action Monitor. 

Decarbonizing Industry by 2050: A Federal and State Policy Blueprint, by Research Staff with Great Plains Institute and WRI (Industrial Innovation Initiative 2021, pages, free download available here)

Decarbonizing Industry by 2050: A Federal and State Policy Blueprint is the first consensus policy blueprint from Industrial Innovation Initiative (I3), an ambitious coalition of industry, environmental, labor, and other stakeholders working with state officials to advance strategies, policies and programs for industrial decarbonization by midcentury. It charts a course for industrial sectors to decarbonize through innovation, technology advancement and proactive, incentive-based policies at both the federal and state levels,” said Great Plains Institute Program Consultant Patrice Lahlum, noting that the blueprint builds off earlier work providing economic recovery recommendations I3 provided to Congress in July of 2020.

Preliminary Report: The Climate Impact of Congressional Infrastructure and Budget Bills, by the REPEAT Team (Princeton Zero Lab 2021, 43 pages, free download available here)

With Congress considering infrastructure and budget bills that would provide unprecedented public investments in clean energy infrastructure, clean vehicles, and other low-carbon solutions, the REPEAT Project is releasing this preliminary report on the national-scale impacts of the Build Back Better Act being considered in the House of Representatives (H.R. 5376, as reported by the Budget Committee on September 27, 2021) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684, as passed by the Senate on August 10, 2021). The report details the impact of these pending policies on carbon dioxide emissions, clean energy and electric vehicle deployment, fossil energy use, and more. (This version, October 20, 2021.)

In Denial: Facebook’s Growing Friendship with Climate Misinformation, by Sean Buchan (Stop Funding Heat 2021, 40 pages, free download available here

Mark Zuckerberg is on record admitting that sensationalist content and misinformation on Facebook is good business. In 2021, the social media giant continues to be under fire from whistleblowers, the press, governments and advertisers on the spread of misinformation on the platform, opening up a wider debate on Facebook’s impact on society. Stop Funding Heat’s new report, using tools and expertise from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and CASM Technology, brings fresh evidence to the table, finding that climate misinformation is rampant on Facebook, and that the platform directly receives thousands of dollars to place climate misinformation on its advertising platforms.

Also see: The Toxic Ten: How 10 Fringe Publishers Fuel 69% of Digital Climate Change Denial from Center for Countering Digital Hate, and Climate Change and Digital Advertising: The Oil & Gas Sector’s Digital Advertising Strategy from InfluenceMap.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...