Why the EU can make or break COP26

French President Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and then ECB president Mario Draghi
French President Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and then ECB president Mario Draghi. Image via Flickr: europeancentralbank, used under CC / cropped from original.

As we enter the final stretch to COP26, success hangs in the balance with gaps in ambition, finance, coal and adaption remaining.

The EU has led the way in getting its own house in order. But while we build our Green Deal at home, and were successful in bringing G7 partners towards climate neutrality, the G20 has failed to shift.  

Meanwhile, vulnerable partners are being hit by the economic impacts of COVID and climate-related extreme weather. They are increasingly reliant on climate laggards Russia and China for their vaccine supply. Inside and outside Europe the world is, frequently literally, burning.  

The EU is already doing its bit. Why does COP26 matter?

Because the Green Deal as the EU’s growth strategy is built on bringing international partners along. And not just the G7 – but China, Russia, and emerging economies like South Africa, India, and Indonesia. COP26 is a critical test for EU citizens and industry confidence that partners are on the path to climate neutrality. Leaders at COP26 will face greater scrutiny than ever, following a summer of devastating climate impacts, clear IPCC alarm bells and signals that we’re still far off track from a 1.5C pathwayAn outcome on global emissions trading and the Paris Rulebook, while important, will not bolster confidence that partners beyond the G7 are equally invested in a green transition.  

How the EU can unlock roadblocks to a successful COP26

  1. Be a real ally for vulnerable countries on finance, adaptation and loss and damage. This is important in and of itself – but also because countries like Brazil, China and Russia have been championing vulnerable country concerns to keep the spotlight off their own weak 2030 climate targets.  
  2. Get behind mobilizing at-scale investment for emerging economies’ green transition. Helping countries open to increased ambition (Indonesia, India, South Africa) with the cost of capital can be more impactful than any Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. The US has been leading on bilateral outreach, but at-scale finance will not emerge from US aid alone. The EU can lead on championing multilateral responses. 
  3. Leverage experience as honest broker to re-build the high ambition coalition around accelerated action, on mitigation, adaptation and finance, at beyond COP. Leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Mario Draghi can throw diplomatic weight behind COP as a launchpad for action, joining the UK and US in calling for COP26 to keep 1.5 in reach. Our first thoughts on what a COP outcome that does this could look like here.  

These can build a successful COP, through the High Ambition Coalition, the Cartagena dialogue, bilateral and informal diplomatic channels. With weeks to go, strong coordination at UNGA, pre-COP and October moments can help diplomatic outreach and announcements have impact. 

Making best use of the diplomatic end stretch 


Leaders’ speeches at the UN General Assembly can: 

  • Build on recent leadership from Denmark, the Netherlands and the European Commission to announce additional EU action on climate finance, particularly for adaptation. 
  • Deliver EU leaders’ statements that recognise significant gaps to 1.5C and the need for world leaders to accelerate action.  
  • Recognise climate impacts, adaptation pressure and losses and damages are hitting Europe. Call for COP26 to agree on a process for advancing global approaches to adaptation and losses and damages. 
  • Champion phase-out of international coal and fossil finance, highlighting the EU’s own shrinking coal and gas consumption. Leverage this to ask for comparable commitments, especially from G20. 

At the Milan Pre-COP meeting, coordinated EU outreach can: 

  • Engage with vulnerable country partners to set common priorities laying the foundation for a revived inclusive coalition of ambitious countries. 
  • Test what an outcome that gives confidence in accelerated action in 2022/23 must look like. 

Around the October EU minister meetings and the release of formal EU COP26 conclusions, European ministers can double down. They can lay out a vision for COP26, addressing how to close gaps, building on discussions with HAC and G20 partners at pre-COP. 

There are 40 days until Climate Judgement Day. Coordinated EU action can unlock roadblocks to a COP that gives citizens and industries confidence the world is moving with us to climate neutrality.  


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