Despite last-minute squabbles over coal’s phasing out, the climate talks at COP26 delivered a deal that has been labeled as keeping the dream of 1.5 degrees alive. 

On Saturday evening COP26 organisers announced that countries had agreed to a climate deal that its backers proclaimed would keep the world within reach of the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. Although coal emissions were included in The Glasgow Pact there are more fraught nights of talks lying ahead.

The negotiations carried on late into Saturday evening, as governments disagreed over measures of phasing out coal, emission pledges and providing money to the poor world through a loss and damage financial mechanism.

The talks ran nearly 24 hours into overtime, and the extra day delivered its fair share of drama as the agreement was forged. 

Delegates representing 197 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change arrived in Scotland two weeks ago with the Herculean task of strengthening the Paris Agreement of 2015 and forging a deal that would keep the world’s temperature within 1.5 degrees. 

The 1.5 degree goal was the big dream of COP26’s hosts the UK. But countries would have had to go further with emissions-cutting pledges if they wanted to reach the 1.5 degree target, according to the latest independent analysis by Climate Action Tracker. Another analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that climate pledges made so far at COP26 could help limit global warming to 1.8 degrees. 

Many countries simply still can’t afford the cuts to their economy that the 1.5 degrees ask for, while others are terrified of the hardship the cuts will bring to their economies. But they also know that the cuts have to be made to avert a climate crisis. 

In the end there had to be a compromise and what the Glasgow Pact achieved was to keep the dream alive and to force countries to take a hard look at their pledges again. 

The pact fell short of actually getting nations to limit temperatures to 1.5C with their emissions pledges, but it received a commitment from countries to return to the negotiating table next year in Egypt at COP27 with a plan on how they could do better. 

The pact also expects parties to the Paris Agreement to increase their pledges by 2022 instead of in the middle of the decade. It also envisages new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) or emission pledges specifically on 2030 goals next year, and then NDCs on 2035 goals in 2025.

COP26 president Alok Sharma, who had delivered deep emotional pleas in the last hours of the talks, conceded that the deal was not perfect, but said that history had been made in Glasgow.

COP26 President – Alok Sharma. Photo: Bank of England.

“We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive, “ he said. But it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”

The Economist described COP26 in Glasgow as delivering in three ways: “by changing timetables, by tweaking financing arrangements and by allowing for greater multilateralism.” 

UN secretary-general António Guterre, though pleased that a deal had been struck, said the world was still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. 

“It is time to go into emergency mode – or our chance of reaching net zero emissions will itself be zero.”

Executive director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, said the pact kept the 1.5C goal only just alive. “But a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters.”

Read Part 2: Getting rid of old king coal is not that easy, last hours of talks show.