Todays blog is written from the RSPB's Climate Change principal policy officer, Mel Coath, on her reflections from COP26 

It’s probably fair to say that there are as many interpretations of the outcome of COP26 as there are people who followed it! RSPB staff who attended the Glasgow negotiations certainly had mixed feelings about the outcome. Here we reflect on the highs and lows of the last two weeks.

COP26 - The Highlights

Starting with the highs: the RSPB has been working with our BirdLife partners and our many friends in the Climate Action Network coalition to demonstrate the important role of nature in the UNFCCC, and we were very happy to see its role substantially elevated at COP26.

We can say with confidence that there was real progress made in connecting the biodiversity crisis to the climate crisis. It was by no means guaranteed that despite the buzz around nature at this COP, this would follow through to actual meaningful outcomes in the text. Indeed, reflecting on the last COP – COP25 in Madrid – there were a large number of side events focusing on nature-climate interlinkages and nature was discussed in the corridors as never before at a climate COP, but we got barely 3 lines of text on the connection between climate change and biodiversity.

However, we have continued to show how important nature is in tackling the climate crisis, and this year the UK Presidency had made nature one of its key themes of COP.We were delighted that this momentum created by the World Leaders’ Summit forests and land use event, the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and indeed “Nature Day” carried through into good text outcomes.

So what did we get for Nature?

  • Our key ask which was explicit recognition of nature’s role in limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.
  • Welcome recognition in several paragraphs of the need to protect biodiversity and to protect, restore and conserve all terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
  • The importance of ensuring ecosystem integrity, which is vital as ecosystem degradation has major consequences for the climate and for wildlife.
  • Recognition that warming will have adverse impacts on nature as well as people.
  • Acknowledgement that nature delivers ecosystem services, reduced vulnerability, and sustainable livelihoods including for Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
  • Encouragement for countries to integrate nature protection into national and local policy and planning decisions.

I’m delighted to say that this covered most of our asks. It is true that we would have liked a mandate for countries to include nature’s role explicitly into their national plans, which includes Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Adaptation Plans and Long-term Strategies. This will be what we are pushing for at COP27 held in Egypt next year

Although our team were really pleased to get these outcomes for nature, it was hard to feel excited about this COP as the talks concluded , things were definitely far less rosy…

COP26 - The Lowlights

No financial compensation for climate-vulnerable communities

Progress on providing money to finance adaptation to a warming world, which doubled, was overshadowed by the absence of any money being made available to compensate those vulnerable communities at the forefront of climate impacts for the losses and damages they face to their lives.

Some of the climate impacts they face are existential and irreversible including hurricanes, wildfires or desertification as a result of 200 years of fossil fuel emissions from those living comfortably in the Global North. These impacts are felt by millions if not billions of people so this injustice was sorely felt.

Watering down fossil fuel phase out

On mitigation, despite the latest science showing that we desperately need to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C, language around this was not strengthened beyond what was secured in the Paris Agreement six years ago. In addition, the hopes for critical new text on the need for fossil fuel phase out were sadly watered down several times, including in the closing hours of the COP, although the end of the road for coal is now indisputable.

Some progress in this area was made, including a mandate for Parties to come back next year with increased ambition in their national plans, and on finally concluding negotiations on the “rulebook” for implementing the Paris Agreement. However, it is certainly true that the incremental gains at Glasgow were not commensurate with the scale of the climate crisis.

What next?

There are, however, two things that give me hope. Firstly, it is extraordinarily difficult to get agreement, let alone progress, in a consensus-based process with nearly 200 countries. Yet, the Glasgow talks did not collapse, they moved forward, albeit not far or fast enough, and there are programmes for further progress at COP27.

Secondly, whatever the negotiated outcomes, it was incredible to see the huge civil society engagement with this COP, with the raft of commitments, action and progress from businesses, local leaders, youth and others from across the world that took place outside of the negotiating space.

This engagement is truly heartening and will stand us in good stead for the very urgent task ahead of us to throw everything we have at addressing the climate emergency.

More on COP26

Find out more about COP26 and the RSPB's involvement on our website as well as reflections on COP26 from our Chief Executive, Beccy Speight