A landmark UN conference has closed with promises of stronger action to curb climate change – but advocates at home say COP26 has fallen far short of delivering the urgent paradigm shift that had been hoped for.
The cornerstone achievement of the summit, which just wrapped up in Scotland, was the new "Glasgow Climate Pact", in which nearly 200 countries have agreed to keep trying to limit global warming to 1.5C, and finalise outstanding elements of the watershed Paris Agreement.
The meeting saw New Zealand and other nations pledge to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030 - known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs – next year.
That will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leaders Summit in 2023.
The Paris Rulebook - the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement was delivered - was also completed this weekend, after six years of discussions.
That would allow for the full delivery of the landmark accord, after agreement on a transparency process which will hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets.
It included the contentious Article 6, which established a new framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the UNFCCC.
The conference also ended with more widespread "net zero" targets – such as that set in New Zealand with the 2050-focused Zero Carbon Act – bringing the global area covered by them from 30 per cent two years ago to 90 per cent today.
As well, 154 countries, including New Zealand, have set new national targets, representing 80 per cent of global emissions.
According to work done by independent experts Climate Action Tracker, full implementation of the fresh collective commitments could hold temperature rise to 1.8C.
Many more countries have also signed on to phase out unabated coal power and end international coal financing, while 90 per cent of the planet's forests are also now covered by a pledge from 130 countries to end deforestation by 2030.
In the private sector, some of the world's largest car manufacturers have agreed to work together to make all new car sales zero emission by 2040 and by 2035 in leading markets.
The final agreement, however, noted with "deep regret" that the goal of providing US$100 billion annually to support poorer countries to transition to clean energy and adapt to a warmer world has not yet been met.
"This is clearly disappointing," Climate Change Minister James Shaw said.
"However, shortly before COP, the Prime Minister and I did announce a fourfold increase in the climate aid we provide to the Pacific and other lower-income countries, which reflects New Zealand's fair share of the $100 billion goal."
Shaw said, now COP26 had come to a close, attention needed to turn to the action countries must take to decarbonise their economies.
"For years we have been discussing the detailed rules that sit under the Paris Agreement. With much of that now finalised, countries can get on with the crucial work of implementation."
Shaw said the significance of countries agreeing to a set of rules that will ensure genuine emissions reductions the world over shouldn't be underestimated.
"This has been a long-standing priority for New Zealand," he said.
"What has been agreed at COP26 will ensure that when countries work together to increase their climate ambition and lower the cost of emissions reductions, it is done in a way that maintains environmental integrity."
On the eve of the summit, New Zealand tabled a pledge to cut net emissions to 50 per cent below gross 2005 levels by 2030.
The new target dramatically lifts New Zealand's existing emissions reduction committed, which was set as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
That 2015 target was to reduce emissions by an average of 30 per cent from 2005 levels over the 2021-2030 period.
That target used a different methodology however - an apples and apples comparison means the 30 per cent Paris target has now been lifted to a 41 per cent reduction goal.
Emissions today are roughly the same as they were in 2005, so the target will mean significant cuts between now and the end of the decade.
Shaw said New Zealand's upgraded pledge would bring the country closer into line what the science says was required to limit warming to 1.5C.
"However, as well as setting more ambitious long-term targets, addressing the climate crisis also requires a great many changes, large and small, that together will add up to a better, cleaner future."
Those changes would be laid out in the country's first Emissions Reductions Plan, due to be released in May, which will set three five-year carbon budgets out to 2035.
"Over this time, we will need to cut carbon pollution from nearly everything we do - from the way we grow our food, to how we generate energy to heat our homes, to the way we get around our towns and cities."
The summit's outcome has drawn a mixed reaction from climate campaigners in New Zealand and overseas.
While they hailed a new commitment by nearly 40 countries and institutions to end public finance for oil, gas, and coal projects overseas, many were left underwhelmed at another failure to support developing nations through "loss and damage", and that carbon-trading would still remain a major part of reduction efforts.
David Tong, a senior campaigner with Oil Change International, said the summit had helped to close the ambition gap between countries' promises and what's needed for 1.5C, "but the implementation gap between their policies and pledges is growing".
"The bitter end of COP26 must not be blamed on one country, but put in context," he said.
"India pushed for reference to a 'phase out' of coal to be weakened to a 'phase down' of coal.
"But wealthy nations had already pushed giant loopholes into the wording around fossil fuels, coded to protect their interests, at the same time as delaying action on climate-induced loss and damage for another three years."
Tong felt that, while New Zealand promised much at COP26, it delivered no new action.
"In the same week that our country joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance as an associate member, young New Zealanders took the Government to court for continuing to allow new onshore gas exploration in Taranaki – the same fossil fuel expansion that precluded us from becoming a full member of the alliance," he said.
"And while our Government pledged to end direct public finance for fossil fuel projects overseas, it did so intending to exclude the billions in fossil fuel finance that comes from Crown Financial Institutions like ACC."
He saw our new 2030 climate pledge, made the day before COP26 began, as merely a promise to buy more carbon credits overseas, "instead of doing our fair share here".
"We can't buy our way out of the climate crisis, and the reality is that New Zealand stood by while negotiations agreed on vague, weak protections for human rights and Indigenous rights in the rules agreed around carbon trading."
Coal Action Network Aotearoa campaigner Cindy Baxter summed up COP26 by saying it moved the dial forward – just.
"But not enough, and while coal's in a UNFCCC text for the first time, sadly, the language was weakened. 'Just' doesn't cut it," she said.
"New Zealand signed up to various pledges on coal and methane while arguing it's others who have to act on them, not us."
Dermot Coffey, the co-convenor of the Ora Taiao: NZ Climate and Health Council, said that, despite some gains, "this was not the ambitious and transformative conference needed".
"Fossil fuel producers are still getting unjustified protection, and the only fossil-fuel funded group to actually get a beating today were the All Blacks."
University of Canterbury political scientist and climate policy expert Professor Bronwyn Hayward however said she felt a "nuanced sense of relief" at COP26's outcome.
"Of course, everybody would have liked to have gone much further, but it could have so easily been badly derailed," she said.
"So it's a relief that we've made some small progress and created a kind of beachhead, or a bridge to a much more significant change."