UNGA 76: Kicking off the Final Sprint to COP26

For COP26 to land a credible response to scientists’ latest ‘Code Red’ warning, Climate Finance, Coal and Accelerating Climate Ambition must be at the top of world leader’s to-do lists at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Flags being prepared for UN General Assembly (UNGA) General Debate. Image via Flickr : UN_photo
Flags being prepared for UN General Assembly General (UNGA) Debate. Image via Flickr : UN_photo

UNGA faces no shortage of hot-button topics – Afghanistan, COVID-19, vaccines, recovery inequality, geopolitical rivalries – that will be competing for attention from world leaders. In a world of crises, cooperation to solve these pressing global challenges feels in short supply. 

Climate change will also feature heavily. On Monday 20 September the UN Secretary General is hosting a private leaders roundtable dedicated to unlocking accelerated action. 

Though the wider geopolitical context remains fragile, volatile and isolationist, this meeting of leaders is a powerful symbol of the willingness to keep talking on climate. Addressing the climate crisis continues to be a golden thread of cooperation through every major gathering. UNGA is one of the last steppingstones on this golden thread to COP26.

Calls from civil society for the Glasgow Summit to be postponed have highlighted the challenges of hosting a COP in a pandemic. These concerns must be addressed to ensure safe and equitable participation. The summit must deliver a credibly ambitious package of climate action to warrant the risks. 

What countries are expected to achieve at COP26 is becoming clearer. The UK Presidency has set out its goals. Progress made in July’s in-person COP26 climate ministerial helped define the purpose. The Climate Vulnerable Forum, 48 of the most climate impacted countries, have published their COP26 Manifesto.  

Civil society expectations set out in submissions to the UNFCCC and the COP26 Five Point Plan for Solidarity, Fairness and Prosperity show consensus about the mission in Glasgow. 

The Glasgow Mission 

In August, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sent a ‘Code Red’ warning on the state of our planet. A credible response at COP26 would see world leaders secure ambitious deals on faster action to keep the Paris Agreement ‘stretch goal’ of limiting warming to 1.5˚C within reach.  

COP26 must set pathways to close the gaps on emissions reduction, finance solidarity with vulnerable countries, and transformations of fossil energy, transport, deforestation, and the finance systems that support them. Our recent blog detailed the policy and political pathways to land a credible package in Glasgow (see summary in The Glasgow Package). 

The Glasgow Package 

These three objectives must be the priority of world leaders over the coming weeks.


The dash to COP26 begins at UNGA

The last quarter of this year will see a noticeable step-up in the intensity of government negotiations, media coverage and the volume of civil society protests and demonstrations.

A last dash of climate diplomacy begins at the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York and the Italy-hosted PreCOP at the start of October. The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington DC in mid-October and adjacent G20 Finance Ministers meetings will be the next landing ground, particularly for solidarity packages. This will be followed by the back-to-back G20 Leaders’ Summit on 31 Oct and the COP26 Leaders’ Summit on 1 Nov – a ‘Rome-Glasgow’ super-summit that kicks off COP26.  

The COP26 ‘To Do List’ 

Throughout these moments new policies and pledges need to be delivered to build the crescendo of political momentum towards political agreements being done on the ground at COP26. This is the critical path to build the trust, confidence, and coalitions for high ambition. At UNGA, governments must start delivering mission-critical outcomes for the next 40 days: 

  1. Climate financesurpassing the promise for $100bn in finance to developing countries from major donors and increasing the share of finance for adaptation. A new commitment from the US that better reflects its fair share given the size of its economy and emissions is pivotal. 
  2. Ending coal: securing commitments to no new coal power, phasing out existing coal power and ending international coal finance. UNGA progress here will be key to injecting ambition into G20 negotiations – and China, the last major provider of international coal finance and operator of half the world’s coal capacity. 
  3. Higher climate ambition: a UN report assessing progress made by countries towards enhancing their 2030 NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) has provided impetus for remaining big emitters to submit new targets to narrow the gap to 1.5C. Twelve G20 countries are either yet to do so (China, India, South Africa, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) or failed to raise ambition in their NDCs (Australia, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea). The report alone will not stimulate the politics needed for action. The UN Secretary General’s roundtable needs to rally support for a Glasgow COP agreement on the path to close the gaps to 1.5C this decade. 

If these priorities can be unlocked, then there is still every hope that COP26 can deliver transformational outcomes for the future of our planet. 


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