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COP26: the first week's headlines – The Natural History Museum

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Sir David Attenborough urged governments to ‘restore the wild’. Image © UNclimatechange, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
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Heading towards the end of COP26’s first week, there have been plenty of headlines coming out of the climate summit.
Dubbed the ‘last, best hope’ to limit climate change to 1.5⁰C, here’s a roundup of the important announcements from the past few days.
You can catch-up on the pre-COP announcements here, and also follow along with the news as it breaks over on our live blog.
Forest fires are predicted to become more common as the planet warms. Image © Shutterstock / Christian Roberts-Olsen
A report released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says greenhouses gases have ‘propelled the planet into uncharted territory, with far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations’.
The past seven years are on track to be the seven warmest on record, according to the provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report, based on data for the first nine months of 2021.
Global sea level rise has accelerated since 2013 to a new high in 2021, with continued ocean warming and ocean acidification.
The report combines input from multiple United Nations agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. It highlights impacts on food security and population displacement, harming crucial ecosystems and undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Queen Elizabeth II addressed delegates by a recorded message. Image © Shutterstock / Shaun Jeffers
Her Majesty The Queen has called on leaders to turn their words into actions in an address to COP26.
In a pre-recorded address, the monarch said, ‘Working side by side, we have the ability to solve the most insurmountable problems and to triumph over the greatest of adversities.
‘It is the hope of many that the legacy of this summit will be that you did not pass up the opportunity and answered the call of future generations. That you left this conference as a community of nations with a determination, a desire, and a plan, to address the impact of climate change; and to recognise that the time for words has now moved to the time for action.
‘Of course, the benefits of such actions will not be there to enjoy for all of us here today: none of us will live forever. But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps.
Queen Elizabeth II was due to address the conference in person, but pulled out after she was advised by doctors to rest.
Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi announced his nation would be net-zero by 2070. Image © UNclimatechange, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
Perhaps the most significant announcement from COP26 to date is the announcement that India will meet net-zero emissions by 2070.
The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi made the pledge on the first official day of the summit, adding that the world’s third-largest polluter would aim to get half its energy from renewables by 2030. 
The announcement puts it behind the UN recommendation for countries to reach net-zero by 2050, and behind other nations such as China and Saudi Arabia which are targeting 2060.
However, a study by the University of Melbourne offers a glimmer of hope, suggesting India’s pledge brings the world under 2°C of warming for the first time. More work will be needed to bring the world to the 1.5°C needed to limit the devastating effects of climate change.  
US President Joe Biden announced the Global Methane Pledge alongside the President of the European Commission. Image © UNclimatechange, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
More countries have signed up to a pledge to cut their methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
Announced back in September, the Global Methane Pledge now numbers more than half the top 30 methane emitters among its members.
Speaking at COP26, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that reducing methane is ‘the lowest-hanging fruit’ on the route to reducing the impact of climate change.
While climate pacts often focus on carbon dioxide emissions, methane has a warming potential 28 times greater, though it persists for less time in the atmosphere. The majority of methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, as well as landfill and agriculture.
A recent UN report found that a cut of almost 20% could be achieved with ‘low-cost mitigation measures’ by 2030, while moving to a plant-based diet would cut another 15% of emissions.
These cuts could reduce the impact of global warming by up to 0.4⁰C by 2050.
The Green Grid project plans to connect energy networks throughout the world to supply renewable energy. Image © Shutterstock / Fly_and_Dive
Forty-one countries and the EU have announced the launch of an initiative aimed at making green technologies more affordable and accessible.
Countries including China, India and the USA signed up to the agenda, which covers a number of areas including power, road transport, steel and hydrogen technologies.
In order to achieve their goals, countries are pledging to co-ordinate their investments, align their standards and work together on large projects to make green technologies a more attractive investment than fossil fuel alternatives.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says: ‘By making clean technology the most affordable, accessible and attractive choice, the default go-to in what are currently the most polluting sectors, we can cut emissions right around the world.
‘The Glasgow Breakthroughs will turbocharge this forward, so that by 2030 clean technologies can be enjoyed everywhere, not only reducing emissions but also creating more jobs and greater prosperity.’
The news follows a number of other funding pledges at the summit, including the UK pledging to become the ‘first-ever net-zero aligned global financial centre’ while nations will pay for South Africa to reduce its reliance on coal.
Broader funding pledges which have been called for by developing nations, however, are yet to have materialised.
The nation has not yet committed to any emissions cuts, but has taken steps such as banning future oil and gas exploration. Image © Naalakkersuisut
Several self-governing territories around the world, including Greenland and Jersey, are set to join the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Prime Minister of the former, Múte Bourup Egede, made an announcement during a briefing at COP26.
‘I am proud of the fact that the new Naalakkersuisut, the Government of Greenland, has reached the decision that Greenland should join the Paris Agreement,’ the Prime Minister said.
‘I can now inform the Danish Government that the work in ratifying the decision to join the Paris Agreement will be submitted to Inatsisartut – the Greenland Parliament.
‘The Arctic region is one of the areas on our planet where the effects of global warming is felt the most, and we believe that we must take responsibility collectively. That means that we too, must contribute our share.’
Jersey, alongside Guernsey and the Isle of Man, are also set to join the agreement after the UK Government announced it intends to extend the treaty to them following COP26.
Countries including Brazil, home of the Amazon rainforest, have signed up to the declaration. Image © Shutterstock / Richard Whitcombe
The first major agreement to come out of COP26 has seen over half of the world’s nations commit to end deforestation by 2030 and begin the process of regrowing the world’s forests.
The declaration pledges that the nations, which are home to around 85% of the world’s forests, will work towards six goals. These include developing sustainable agriculture, investing in and facilitating trade which prevents land use change, and supporting communities across the globe.
Among the 104 nations, and the European Commission, on the list are some with the largest forests in the world, including Brazil.
Dr Sandra Knapp, Merit Researcher in plants at the Museum, said, ‘If countries really stick to the COP26 agreement to stop deforestation by 2030, this is big for climate and for biodiversity.
‘I’m excited but also a bit apprehensive that if might turn into a race to convert land before the end date. However, I remain optimistic it will be good for the climate and good for biodiversity.
‘Let’s keep trees in the right places – in forests full of life.’
The reserve will be home to an important breeding ground for giant manta rays. Image © Shutterstock / Hoiseung Jung
Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica have committed to protect over 500,000 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.
The Eastern Tropical Marine Corridor initiative will see the nations expand their existing reserves to connect with each other. The combined reserve will stretch from Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands all the way north to Costa Rica.
The combined reserve will be home to some of the most biodiverse waters in the world as several currents come together and bring an abundance of nutrients for plankton. In turn, this feeds a range of animals from fish all the way up to whales.
The move is to be funded at least in part by a debt swap, where debt will be taken on by investors in return for pledges to protect the waters. It follows a landmark deal in 2016 by the Seychelles, who swapped 5% of its national debt in return for protecting 30% of its national waters.
The Loch Ness Monster has been ‘arrested’ close to the #COP26 climate summit in Glasgow
One of the world’s most famous creatures has apparently been arrested by police at COP26.
Videos showing the Loch Ness Monster being taken into custody by officers have been posted online after climate debt campaigners tried to send the inflatable creature floating past the conference.
Some suggest that Nessie could be the last of her kind, which may explain her apparent passion for climate campaigning. Conservation body the IUCN says that at least 11,000 species are at risk of extinction due to climate change, with some having already gone extinct.
Nessie was not immediately available for comment.
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