A researcher perspective on COP26: Lisa Dellmuth

December 14, 2021

SweDev had a talk with researchers from Swedish Universities who participated at COP26.

Photo: Unsplash / Markus Spiske

The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference came to an end in the evening of November 13. Researchers across the globe has since then analysed the outcomes, highlighting both successes and failures. Assessments show that the agreements made at COP26 result in a best case scenario of a global warming between 1.8-2.4 degrees, indicating that the world needs to do more if the 1.5 degrees target of the Paris Agreement is to be met. 

SweDev had a talk with three researchers from Swedish institutions who participated at the global meeting to hear their thoughts and reflections. The third person in this series of three interviews is Lisa Dellmuth, Associate Professor of International Relations, Stockholm University.

Lisa Dellmuth. Photo: Private.

What were the most successful and least successful outcomes of COP26 acording to you? 

International diplomacy is now better equipped than ever to reach good outcomes, thanks to research and science about climate change and national preferences about climate policy, and some social capital and trust built at international conferences such as COP26.

I think the most successful outcome of COP26 might be about the process itself: there is a broad science-policy interface which allows for exchange of information and building trust, the two core ingredients for successful international negotiations. And we have seen some – although still insufficient – ambition to reach an outcome that benefits everyone effectively and fairly. At the very least, we have more solid knowledge about mitigation and some about adaptation, and 200 countries have reached an agreement that could “keep 1.5 degrees alive” – one of the main goals of COP26 – if countries live up to their promises and increase their ambitions to implement them.

My biggest disappointment concerns adaptation finance. Only few industrialised economies have offered to step up their climate adaptation funding considerably, among them the US, UK, and Japan, but we are still talking about billions of USD to be spent, while we likely need trillions to pay for loss and damage caused, climate mitigation in poorer countries, and aid for the climate vulnerable.

Do you think that the agreement at COP26 is based on research and knowledge? If no, what can be done to increase the use of research?

I think that the physical sciences had a greater impact on COP26 by way of their climate projections, than the social sciences. Social science research on topics such as adaptive capacity, climate vulnerability, climate justice, international climate negotiations themselves, and climate adaptation, seems to receive less attention by policymakers despite that millions of livelihoods are threatened by climate change and more robust insights are needed. I think social scientists need to become more active at the science-policy interface, but they will need more and earmarked state funding for that through national research councils and universities.

Universities have agency here as they can support both natural and social climate scientists’ outreach activities more. At Stockholm University, for example, I received some funding together with two meteorologists, Frida Bender and Aiden Jönsson, for collaborative research on hazard severity and disaster relief aid. This would have been very hard to do, if not impossible, without the university’s structures and funding in place.

One of the big battles of COP26 was around how much money the Global North would give to the Global South. Did the negotiations show enough consideration for the Global South and their fragility to climate change?

As mentioned earlier, this is clearly one of the big disappointments at this year’s COP26. It is a first step that it has been acknowledged and documented that the pledge to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries has not been reached and that we do not have the measures to know exactly what counts as climate finance. In particular, existing definitions of adaptation are broad and what counts as adaptation finance uncertain. This year’s additional pledges by several developed nations to step up climate finance are good, but we need better measures, more effective enforcement, and broader ambition to pay for loss and damage caused, assist climate mitigation in poorer states, and increase legitimate and just adaptation of marginalised populations.

This interview is part of a series of three. Read the other two interviews with Stephen Woroniecki and Aysem mert.