Key Takeaways From the UN Climate Change Conference

As the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, came to an end, what has it achieved?

During the event, delegates from around the world came to discuss their responsibilities to slow global warming by reducing greenhouse gasses. This year, the conference was in Glasgow, Scotland, between the end of October through November 12. 

Delegates who come to the conference talked about how they can keep up with their responsibilities under the Paris Agreement. 

Participants in the event included global heads of state, scientists, business leaders, government officials, and more. Of course, with so many high-profile attendees, it was a highly secured event.

The 26th COP summit was hosted in a partnership between the UK and Italy. The conference ended up being delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The following are some of the things to know and key takeaways from this year’s conference. 

The Glasgow Climate Pact

The biggest takeaway from the conference was the Glasgow Climate Pact. It’s the first UN climate deal that explicitly mentions a need to move away from coal power and also talks about subsidies for fossil fuels. However, the language was changed several times because of lobbying from the biggest fossil-fuel-producing countries. 

Nations are being called on to speed up the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels

At the last minute, India and China made a successful push to change the pact’s language, saying they wouldn’t agree to phase out unabated coal and instead would only agree to phase it down. 

John F. Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said the weakened wording was still progress. He said it was the first time the mention of coal and fossil fuel subsidies had been discussed in a similar context. 

China Deal

The fact that the U.S. and China were able to reach a bilateral deal on climate efforts was a big headline out of the conference. A joint statement was issued by Washington and Beijing calling for more climate action in the 2020s. 

The deal spoke to a need for more substantial emission cuts targets in 2025 and a pledge by China to cut methane emissions, following the lead of the U.S. 

Catastrophic Language

The agreement ultimately made at the summit spoke to a potentially catastrophic rise in global temperatures if all countries don’t do more. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the priority must be limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. 

He said scientists have warned that’s the threshold above which serious situations like heat waves and ecosystem collapse begin to become more likely.

Who Cuts What?

The final agreement didn’t answer in precise terms how much and how quickly nations should be responsible for cutting emissions over the next decade. 

Wealthy countries, including most of western Europe, the U.S., Canada and Japan, make up just around 12% of the global population but are responsible for 50% of all planet-warming greenhouse gases released from industry and fossil fuels over the past 170 years. 

European leaders, along with U.S. President Joe Biden have said countries such as India and South Africa need to work more quickly to move away from fossil fuels and coal power. They’ve responded saying they don’t have the financial resources to do that and wealthy countries aren’t providing them enough aid. 

Ten years ago, the wealthiest global economies said they would mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. They have fallen short by tens of billions annually. 

Now, in the wake of the COP26 agreement, many developing countries say they still don’t have the money they need for cleaner energy and to deal with extreme weather. 

Disputes Over Disaster Aid

One of the biggest debates that occurred at the Glasgow conference was about whether wealthy nations should compensate poorer countries for damages from rising temperatures. 

The issue is referred to as loss and damage. It’s separate from money to help less wealthy countries adapt to changing responsibility. 

Loss and damage are meant to pay for irreparable losses such as culture and ecosystems

Under the Paris agreement in 2015, there were more precise rules on how polluting countries and companies could buy and trade permits to lower global emissions. Negotiators announced a deal to regulate the global market in carbon offsets. 

Under the deal, one company or country compensates for its emissions by paying someone else to reduce theirs. 

Less wealthy countries say rich ones should give them a share of proceeds from carbon market transactions to help them deal with climate change. The U.S. and European Union have resisted calls for this, but island nations want something in place to make sure carbon trading leads to a reduction in overall emissions. 


Leaders of more than 100 countries which included the U.S., Russia, China, and Brazil, agreed to end deforestation by 2030.

The agreement will cover around 85% of the forests in the world, which absorb carbon dioxide and help slow the pace of global warming. 

India joined the nations that said they would work to reach net-zero emissions, setting a 2070 deadline to end their addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. 

India is one of the largest consumers of coal in the world. The country said it would expand the portion of its total energy mix coming from renewable sources, and half its energy would come from sources other than fossil fuel by 2030.

Overall, the agreement made at the conference establishes the consensus that nations need to do a lot more, and much of what’s been promised in past years haven’t been met. Many were also unhappy with the conference results, including Greta Thunberg. The young activist protested outside the event, saying she hadn’t been asked to speak. 

The activists described the language in the agreement on disaster aid as appalling.

Despite criticism, event attendees feel they made headway with one another to work toward shared goals.