1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

What became of climate pledges made at COP26?

Ajit Niranjan
November 10, 2022

Political and business leaders announced plans to cut pollution and protect forests at a climate summit in Glasgow last year but have taken little concrete action to honor those promises.

Protestors at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK
Young activists called out world leaders for greenwashing at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last yearImage: Duncan McGlynn/AP Images for AVAAZ/picture alliance

Meeting at a climate summit in the UK last year, world leaders from nearly 200 countries promised to tell the UN how they would cut pollution faster and sooner.

But one year on, as they meet for the COP27 summit in Egypt, only 26 countries have done so.

Broken promises are a regular part of climate conferences. In 2009, rich countries promised to provide poor ones $100 billion (€101 billion) a year by 2020 to cut pollution and adapt to a hotter planet. They reached about $83 billion in 2020 — much of which was in the form of loans that would have to be paid back — and have still not hit $100 billion. World leaders said they would try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F) this century. Their current policies will heat the planet nearly double that.

How are countries doing on the pledges they made at last year's climate talks?

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shaking hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during the COP27 climate conference
World leaders have failed to keep promises to cut emissions quicklyImage: Venezuelan Presidency/AFP

Burning less coal

All governments agreed to "phase down" coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. A group of 46 countries said they would phase out their unabated coal plants — power plants that have not been fitted with technology to capture and store carbon — including coal-hungry countries like Poland and Vietnam. Another 39 countries said they would stop financing fossil fuel projects in other countries by the end of 2022.

But the amount of coal being burned keeps rising, and some countries are rowing back on promises. Poland announced on Monday it would slow down plans to close its coal mines, according to the news website Euractiv. Countries across Europe have restarted coal plants to replace gas from Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

A cargo of coal passing in front of a steel factory in Duisburg, Germany
Some countries in Europe have burned coal to replace Russian gasImage: Ying Tang/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Still, high gas prices and growing fears about energy security have boosted investments in clean energy. The technology to turn sunlight into electricity has grown so cheap that building a new solar farm is cheaper than keeping an existing coal plant running.

"To align the power system with the Paris Agreement, efforts to phase out coal generation need to accelerate six-fold to reach zero by 2040," said Jennifer Layke, director of energy at the World Resources Institute, an environmental nonprofit group. "Around 100 GW of coal plants would need to be retired each year — or the equivalent to closing 310 average-sized coal plants per year."

Spewing less methane

More than 100 countries signed a pledge to cut methane pollution to 30% of 2020 levels by the end of the decade. Methane is a gas that heats the planet at least 80 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, though it doesn't last as long in the atmosphere.

A few countries have started. In June, Mexico said it would invest $2 billion into the state oil company to stop wasteful practices like flaring and venting. The EU is working on regulations to clean up its power sector.

But so far, only 15 of the 119 signatories to the Global Methane Pledge have put a number on how much methane they will cut, according to the World Resources Institute. Analysts expect dozens of countries to announce action plans to cut methane pollution at COP27.

"There is much more to do," said James Turitto, who hunts invisible methane emissions from oil and gas companies for Clean Air Task Force, a global nonprofit organization pushing for technological solutions to climate change. "Some of the world's largest emitters still have yet to join the Global Methane Pledge, and we need all its supporters to commit to action."

Gas flaring at an oil platform owned by French oil company Total in Nigeria
Oil companies could cut methane emissions quickly and cheaply if regulators banned harmful practices like flaringImage: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP

But even as governments show more interest, some companies have blocked progress.

In the US, the oil industry has lobbied against methane regulations and challenged the legal authority of the country's Environmental Protection Agency to regulate methane emissions under its Clean Air Act. In Europe, oil and gas companies have pushed for methane regulations to ignore imported fuels, despite these making up at least 80% of the EU's gas consumption in 2021.

"Many of the companies involved in this lobbying effort are the same companies that have made public comments about the need to reduce methane emissions," said Vivek Parekh, an analyst at Influence Map.

Putting money into cleaning up

At COP26, hundreds of banks and insurance companies — controlling more than $130 trillion in assets — said they would move money to keep the planet from heating 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But the alliance is shaky, some members have quit, and most are still profiting from projects to extract coal, oil and gas. On Tuesday, a UN report named the group in a report calling out greenwashing in pledges to reach net-zero emissions, the point at which the planet stops heating. "Net-zero is entirely incompatible with continued investment in fossil fuels," said Catherine McKenna, chairperson of the expert panel.

 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called coal a 'stupid investment' and urged banks to stop financing fossil fuel projectsImage: Mark J. Sullivan/ZUMA/IMAGO

A separate report from ShareAction, a UK-registered charity campaigning to clean up finance, found most banks that had set net-zero targets were moving their money too slowly into green activities. Most of the 43 biggest members of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance have climate targets that "fall short of what's needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate crisis." Just seven of the banks have set overarching goals to cut emissions by 2030. Most of the targets were to reduce the intensity of their emissions — meaning how much they emit per dollar — rather than the absolute amount they pollute.

Protecting forests

More than 140 countries pledged at COP26 to stop — and reverse —deforestation and land degradation by 2030. The group includes three of the countries with the most precious and threatened forests in the world: Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But "despite encouraging signs, not a single global indicator is on track to meet these 2030 goals," according to a report published in October by the Forest Declaration Assessment, a nonprofit group. To get there, rates of deforestation would have to fall 10% per year. Last year, they only fell 6%.

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon
Ranchers, miners and loggers have laid waste to vast swathes of the Amazon rainforest, encouraged by outgoing Brazilian President Jair BolsonaroImage: Carl de Souza/AFP

In Brazil, newly elected President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has promised to protect the embattled Amazon rainforest. "A standing tree is worth more than tons of wood illegally harvested by those who think only of easy profit," he said upon winning the election at the end of October. The last four years of rule by far-right Jair Bolsonaro have been characterized by forest fires, land grabs, efforts to hamper environmental agencies and attacks on Indigenous groups fighting to protect the land.

In addition, a group of leading agricultural firms — including big beef companies like Cargill and JBS — said they would release a joint roadmap by COP27 to clean up their supply chains quickly enough to stop global warming at 1.5 C.

On Monday, they published a roadmap that includes setting short-term targets to cut emissions and better reporting their progress. It also includes targets to end deforestation from cattle, soy and palm oil production in the Amazon by 2025.

Additional reporting by Tim Schauenberg.

Edited by: Tamsin Walker

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a group of leading agricultural companies had not published a roadmap to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In fact, they published this on Monday. The department apologizes for the error.

Ajit Niranjan Climate reporter and data journalist@NiranjanAjit