What you missed at the COP26


The COP26 climate talks were just a little bit on the dramatic side of things, weren’t they?

From teen activist Greta Thunberg storming out of a panel discussion and declaring the climate summit a “failure”, to a now-viral video of US President Joe Biden appearing to rest his eyes during the summit, the UN Climate Change Conference – or COP26 as we also know it – was certainly interesting, if nothing else.

Just as interesting as the drama that ensued were the revelations and commitments made by the various countries that participated in discussions. Most notable was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the year 2070 as the target for India to achieve net-zero carbon emissions – a benchmark that is two decades beyond 2050, which is when 70 out of 200 countries that attended the 2015 Paris climate accord have pledged to stop emitting more greenhouse gases.

Defending his decision on the matter, Modi stated that India had stuck to its climate pledges “in letter and spirit”, noting that the country, while comprising 17% of the world’s population, was responsible for only 5% of global emissions. He added that by 2030, India would pledge to increase the share of renewables in its energy mix to 50%.

India’s clean energy transition

Already, Indian refiners are readying themselves for the transition toward cleaner, more sustainable fuels.

Earlier this year, Reliance Industries revealed its investment of $10.1 billion into clean energy over the next three years, as part of its drive to become a net carbon zero company by 2035.

More recently, IndianOil inked a Memorandum of Understanding with NTPC Limited, agreeing to collaborate and mutually explore opportunities in the field of renewable energy. Said NTPC CEO Gurdeep Singh, “NTPC is taking various steps to make its energy portfolio greener by adding significant capacity of renewable energy sources & plans to have 60GW capacity through renewable sources by 2032, which will constitute nearly 45% of its overall power generating capacity.

IndianOil and NTPC have come together for the generation and storage of renewable energy or other cleaner forms of energy, including gas-based power, primarily to cater for IndianOil Refineries or other installations.”

Ultimately, the fact that India and China have called for the phasing down of fossil fuels, instead of a clean phasing out, is what has led to intense discussion and debate, with a fair few calling the statement “disappointing”. However, some have defended the phrase, deeming it a “necessary” move for India, and several experts have stepped up to push for a clean energy transition instead of a coal transition. Compared to other, more developed countries, India simply does not have the same means to develop and depend on alternative energy sources at the moment.

Aside from its commitment to phase down fossil fuel usage by 2070, India has also announced other targets for 2030, which include:

  • Making sure approximately 50% of its energy needs will come from renewable sources,
  • Reducing total projected carbon emissions by a billion tonnes between now and 2030, and
  • Reducing the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45%.
What is the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance?

Another interesting topic of note was the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) formed at the COP26.

Led by Costa Rica and Denmark, the BOGA is the first international coalition of countries committed to ending oil and gas extraction. All in all, the alliance is currently joined by seven countries – Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, and Wales – as well as the Canadian province of Quebec. Associate members include California, New Zealand and Portugal.

In a statement put out to the media, BOGA said: “BOGA is a first-of-its-kind alliance of governments determined to set an end date for their oil and gas exploration and extraction and curtail new licensing or undertake other significant measures that contribute to the joint goal of aligning oil and gas production with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Co-chaired by Costa Rica and Denmark, BOGA will leverage momentum from first-movers and create an international community of practice that can support governments in delivering their commitment to a managed phase-out of oil and gas production.

Going forward, the founding members will work together to expand the alliance. BOGA will focus on mobilizing action and commitments and supporting countries and governments as they implement ambitious policies to move away from oil and gas production.”

So… What now?

The COP26 was to be the most significant climate summit held between world leaders since the 2015 summit that ultimately resulted in the Paris Agreement. Although it cannot be said that significant changes have been brought about from the talks held, some progress has been made.

There has been a commitment to phase down on the usage of fossil fuels. Nations have agreed to come forward with improved Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or climate action plans, at the COP27 summit next year. Most importantly, leaders agreed to stay the course in keeping to the UNFCCC’s goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The big question now?

If these goals and commitments are, at the end of the day, too little too late.