Raising climate ambition at COP26
Coherent Identifier 20.500.12592/2zqppc

Raising climate ambition at COP26

5 October 2021


The COP26 climate change summit takes place at the beginning of the crucial decade for climate action. All regions of the world are already dealing with increasingly severe climate change impacts, and every additional increment of warming escalates the risks to people, ecosystems and communities. To have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C – and avoiding the most disastrous consequences – emissions need to halve by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. COP26 has a critical role to play in putting the world on a safer path. This paper sets out what a positive outcome at COP26 would look like, arguing that substantial progress must be made in three main areas: raising the ambition of 2030 nationally determined contributions (NDCs); providing support to and addressing concerns of climate-vulnerable developing countries; and agreeing the remaining details of the ‘Paris Rulebook’, which provides guidance for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement. Increasing the ambition of NDCs is vital. By signing the Paris Agreement, world leaders have committed to keeping the rise in the global average temperature to ‘well below’ 2°C above pre-industrial levels, preferably 1.5°C. The first round of targets, submitted in 2015, was not consistent with these goals. Parties are, however, due to submit new or updated NDCs ahead of COP26. As of September 2021, 85 countries and the EU27 had done so; a handful of governments have proposed new targets but not yet submitted them formally. While some of the NDC updates have been relatively strong, they only narrow the gap to 1.5°C by, at best, 15 per cent (4 GtCO2e). A positive outcome in Glasgow would require NDC enhancements that are large enough to ensure that the 1.5°C target can be achieved. Governments that have not yet submitted 2030 targets need to do so, while those that have submitted unambitious NDCs should revisit their pledges. Strong action from the G20 countries, which account for around 80 per cent of global emissions, is key. Should the level of NDC ambition by COP26 be insufficient to align with a 1.5°C pathway, governments will need to present a strategy for closing the gap in the early 2020s, which should include revisiting NDCs earlier than the Paris timetable dictates and accelerating decarbonization through initiatives in high-emitting sectors. While climate change affects all nations, it is generally those who have emitted the least that continue to be the hardest hit. In many climate-vulnerable developing countries, a lack of financial resources is among several constraints that negatively affect their ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. COVID-19 has aggravated this challenge: while industrialized countries have implemented unprecedented stimulus measures to support their economies – and vaccinated large parts of their populations – many developing countries continue to face a health and economic catastrophe.  Developed countries must deliver on their 2009 pledge to mobilize $100 billion per year for climate action in developing countries. This is important for raising ambition and crucial for avoiding a breakdown in trust. The implementation of many developing country NDCs is also – at least partly – conditional upon the receipt of enhanced levels of finance. An ambitious outcome in Glasgow will require enhanced support for and increased attention to the key issues of climate change adaptation and ‘loss and damage’. A positive outcome at COP26 would, finally, entail making substantial progress on advancing the remaining elements of the Paris Rulebook. While the Paris Agreement provides an overarching framework for action, the rulebook outlines the processes, guidelines and tools needed to implement it in an effective and transparent way. Most elements of the rulebook were agreed at COP24 in Poland in 2018, but some were left unresolved. Key issues at COP26 include agreeing on common review and implementation time frames for the NDCs; resolving disputes around the rules governing international carbon markets; establishing rules for transparent reporting; and providing further guidance on how the ‘global stocktake’ is to be conducted.

Published in
United Kingdom


Anna Åberg
Research Analyst, Environment and Society Programme

Antony Froggatt
Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director, Environment and Society Programme

Rebecca Peters
Leland Foundation Association of Marshall Scholars Transatlantic Academy Fellow, Environment and Society Programme


climate policy managing natural resources united nations (un) cop26 environment and society programme