Alumna Katherine Maxwell: inside COP26

Katherine Maxwell is an alumna of the Department’s Sustainable Urban Development programme, and the first person to successfully complete the University of Oxford DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development. This year she is a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, based at the College’s Global Centre on Healthcare and Urbanisation (GCHU). In August, she was nominated as a COP26 Climate Resilience Fellow by the COP Universities Network and Cambridge Zero. We asked her to send us an account of the urban and health related highlights of her time there.

‘This year COP26 was held in Glasgow the first two weeks in November. The negotiations aimed to strengthen each nation’s carbon emissions targets for 2030 in order to limit global warming. Although some progress was made at COP26 with the Glasgow Climate Pact, there’s a very real concern that it won’t be enough. Here I’ve summarised my thoughts on the emerging trends, outcomes and what will come next.’

Emerging themes

‘Alongside the negotiations, various panel sessions and discussions with leading experts from around the world took place. One emerging theme that was noted by many this year was the focus on the social components of the net zero transition, such as, how to make the transition a just one; one that included representation from all social groups in their given society. Importantly, it was deemed essential that nations in the global south are represented and heard in the negotiations.

'Another key theme was the focus on improving the quality of life for citizens through concepts such as the 15-minute neighbourhood, where everyone has access to all basic needs within their local area that could be reached by active travel. This would bring other benefits such as improved health and well-being and better air quality.

'Lastly, the role of climate activism in particular the role of young people in the climate change debate was another key theme. In recent years, high profile protests and campaigns have been widely reported now that they are catching the attention of the public and politicians. This has put more pressure on nations to urgently address climate change and deliver on their ambitious targets.'


‘The key takeaways from the COP26 negotiations and the agreement of the Glasgow Climate Pact are as follows:

  • Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – The NDCs weren’t improved this year. To improve carbon emissions reduction targets, countries will need to review their NDCs at COP27 in Egypt next year. It was widely acknowledged by most countries that the NDCs are not enough as they stand just now, and they will lead to global warming in excess of 1.5 degrees.
  • Fossil fuel phase-out – India didn’t accept the call to ‘phase out’ coal but rather, ‘phase down,’ with no agreed date – though it’s the first time it’s been mentioned in a UN climate agreement. There has been a call to ‘phase out’ inefficient fossil fuel subsidies (though many countries claim that theirs is efficient). Over 40 countries have agreed to phase out coal, with developed nations aiming for 2030’s lower income nations aiming for 2040.
  • Climate finance – It was acknowledged that developed nations will have to double the funding given to lower income countries for adaptation and loss as a result of current global warming risks. However, at COP26 there was no consensus on how to increase the annual $100 billion that is required by 2025 – which means that next year there will be new agreements on finance required for post-2025. To avoid cascading climate risk, countries need to meet and go beyond the annual $100 billion commitment.
  • Deforestation – One of COP26’s first major deals was the investment of 14 billion pounds (public-private funding) to stop and reverse global deforestation and land degradation by 2030. It was pledged by more than 100 nations, which included Canada, Russia and Brazil – where forests make up over 60% of the country.’

What’s next?

‘The Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at COP26 highlights that some progress has been made (specifically with fossil fuels), BUT countries will still have to accelerate the transition to net zero sooner rather than later.

'Although countries have acknowledged the phasing down of fossil fuels, this won’t be enough to stay within the 1.5 degree warming by 2030 and prevent catastrophic climate impact being locked in by 2030. Over the next year or two, nations will have to ramp up climate action and build on the momentum from COP26. Next year, at COP27 in Egypt, countries will have to rapidly decrease their carbon emissions to be in line with the Paris Agreement. The climate crisis requires urgency - much more work still has to be done.’

Read more about Katherine and her work:

Published 15 November 2021