COP26 – Climate Change is The Greatest Risk Facing us all 

by Liteboho Makhele & Lebogang Lechuba
14 December 2021

COP26 has come and gone. We reflect on the key messages, highlights, lessons and what still needs to be done at country and local level. World leaders from more than 100 countries came together in Glasgow from 31 October – 12 November 2021 to negotiate and agree on what some say may be the most pivotal ambitions and commitments to address the climate emergency to 2030 and beyond. Alongside these world leaders were representatives from intergovernmental organisations, non-profit organisations, civil society, global businesses, youth activists and indigenous peoples’ organisations, to name a few.


For almost thirty years, the United Nations (UN) has been bringing together nearly every country on the planet for global climate summits – called ‘Conference of the Parties’ or COPs. In that time climate change has become a global priority and not just a peripheral issue. This year’s 26th annual summit – COP26 –brought parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, with the UK as President (co-hosting with Italy).


Countries were asked to come forward with their updated emission reductions targets, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. The COP26 outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on countries to deliver on these ambitious targets and accelerate the phase out of coal, encourage investment in renewables, decrease deforestation and speed up the switch to electric vehicles, among other measures. The aim of COP26 was to finalise the Paris Rulebook (the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement) and turn ambitions into action by accelerating collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society to deliver on their climate goals faster.


Another key outcome of the Glasgow Climate Pact is a renewed commitment from developed countries to provide climate finance to developing countries suffering from the effects of climate change. The delivery of finance to adapt to the impacts of climate change is one of the most critical issues for developing countries. Developed countries pledged $356 million to the Adaptation Fund at COP26, including first-time contributions from the US and Canada. While a record, it is far cry from meeting countries’ needs which are estimated in the trillions. The phasing down of coal usage in coal reliant countries was also top of the agenda but not enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C as countries have agreed that more stringent targets for 2030 need to be put in place.


Key declarations and statements coming from COP26 related to South Africa and other developing countries.

    • Establish an ambitious long-term partnership to support South Africa’s pathway to low emissions and climate-resilient development, to accelerate the just energy transition and the decarbonisation of the electricity system.
    • Develop new economic opportunities such as green hydrogen and electric vehicles amongst other interventions to support South Africa’s shift towards a low carbon future.
    • Several emerging markets are agreeing to accelerate the transition to Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) in their markets (including India, Rwanda, Kenya)
    • Launch of a new World Bank trust fund that will mobilise $200 million over the next 10 years to decarbonise road transport in emerging markets and developing economies.


As part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement, the South African government submitted a revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce domestic carbon emissions to stay within a target range for emissions of between 420 CO2-eq and 350 CO2-eq by 2030. This revised target is compatible with the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement and represents our country’s effort to confront climate change, which will have a destructive impact on sub-Saharan Africa without large-scale mitigation and adaptation efforts.  In her message to the COP26 climate summit, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, indicated that “South Africa is making progress with its climate goals”. The Minister added that to drive South Africa’s climate goals, the Presidential Climate Commission has been set up and a low-emissions strategy has been put in place. The government also acknowledged the need for sustainable financing from developed countries, multilateral institutions, and investors to enhance support for South Africa’s just energy transition as one of the country’s climate goals is to transition from coal power to more renewable energy sources.


As an acknowledgement that developed countries should do more to assist climate-vulnerable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and as a demonstration of support for South Africa’s just transition to a low carbon economy and a climate-resilient society, President Cyril Ramaphosa joined other leaders in announcing a historic partnership with the governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union. Through this Political Declaration, partner countries will mobilise an initial $8.5 billion (R131 billion) over the next three to five years through a range of instruments, including grants and concessional finance, to support the implementation of South Africa’s revised NDC.


Should the country’s ambitions, as outlined in the National Development Plan 2030 and the revised NDC, to lead a just transition to be successful, opportunities for technological innovations and private investment to drive the creation of green jobs will increase and local value chains will also benefit from these new areas of economic opportunity.

Liteboho Makhele is the Programme Manager for the Sustainable & Resilient Cities Programme at the South African Cities Network. To contact her email

Lebogang Lechuba is the Manager: Marketing and Communications at the South African Cities Network. To contact her email