Did COP26 move the needle on climate action?

A young delegate from Zimbabwe reflects

December 21, 2021

Youth delegates at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.


The COVID-19 pandemic has made it very difficult to plan physical events, which is why critical climate talks known as COP26 had to be postponed in 2020. All throughout 2021, it remained hard to predict if there would be an in-person COP or not – but one thing that people have been certain about are the increasing impacts of climate change, not only in developing countries but also in developed countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

COP26 finally took place last month, hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow, Scotland. The event was attended by government representatives, the private sector and civil society. The participation of young people like me is always questionable in big meetings like these for, in most cases, we are not viewed as important. To tackle this, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has created YOUNGO, which enables young people to follow negotiations, have a say in decision-making processes and contribute to policy.

My family was among the  2.2 million people in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi who were affected by Cyclone Idai in 2019. And I was proud to attend COP26 as a representative of the Nationally Determined Contributions Contact Point of YOUNGO. Here are some of my reflections.

Improved youth participation

This year's COP26 witnessed an increased number of young participants from all over the world, which was a huge achievement for the Official Children and Youth Constituency to the UNFCCC. This would not have been possible without the support from UNDP’s Climate Promise initiative which has been supporting young people in their countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) enhancement process. Organizations such as UNICEF, UNFCCC Secretariat, Children and Youth International, and various governments also played a critical role. All of this enabled more than 200 young people to participate, a few as negotiators on behalf of their delegations, with the remaining as observers. The engagement of youth in climate change policies was further strengthened by an outcome of Action for Climate Empowerment, which recognized young people as critical agents of change.

Green job opportunities

At COP24 in Poland, negotiators could not reach consensus on carbon credits and carbon markets, referred to in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. At COP26, however, some progress was finally made on this issue, which has a potential of creating green jobs and businesses through the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation REDD programs. The finalization of Article 6 comes at a time when most countries have submitted their NDCs. Establishing carbon markets will not only increase the ambition of countries to reach net zero, but also create an opportunity for them to access financial resources to achieve their NDC targets, which can specifically be channeled into climate change adaptation.

Little hope for highly exposed countries

It is important that we understand the need for climate justice in highly exposed countries. The damage of cyclone Idai in Africa can still be seen and felt by our communities.  Land has yet to be restored, strong infrastructure is still not built, some people remain homeless. Unfortunately, discussions on loss and damage, were really not satisfactory. There was no consensus on a proposal from  developing  countries to  set  up  a financing  facility  dedicated  to  loss  and  damage. Considering how developing countries contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions than richer countries, and yet are affected much more, it is only fair that highly exposed countries are compensated for the losses they are already facing – and do not have to wait for two more COPs for consensus to be reached.

Uncertainties on building resilience and reducing vulnerabilities

Two of the four objectives set by the UK COP president were adaptation and climate finance. Building resilient communities is not possible without proper financing to support countries that are highly exposed to climate change. As Alok Sharma put it: “It is up to all of us to sustain our lodestar of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach and to continue our efforts to get finance flowing and boost adaptation.”

The goal of mobilizing US$100 billion annually to support developing countries by 2020 has clearly not been met and the outcomes of COP26 looked at the possibility of coming up with $500 billion over 2021-2025, with the $100 billion being expected to be reached by 2023. Whether developed countries will commit to these pledges remains to be seen. But right now droughts still continue, floods are killing people in Small Islands and Developing States, wildfires continue in the Amazon. Investing more in adaptation equips people to live in a changing climate, provides vast job opportunities, and helps people move from vulnerability to resilience.

Countries have been encouraged to revisit their NDCs and resubmit more ambitious goals in 2022. This will mean more resources are needed for consultations and technical experts, and I believe some of the resources should be used for taking action.

Lack of commitment and urgency in committing to climate finance, ambitious NDCs, and loss and damage not only undermines the Paris Agreement but shows lack of priority on issues to do with climate change. The choices we make today have a great impact in the future. We can and must do better.