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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The first week of COP26 has brought a head-spinning array of pledges and flaring geopolitical tensions.

The big picture: Here are a few takeaways after a hectic week...

1. There's lots of progress in theory. The International Energy Agency estimates emissions pledges before and during COP26, if met, could hold temperature rise to 1.8°C (over 3.2°F) above preindustrial levels.

  • The Paris Agreement goal is well below 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C (whether that's still viable depends on who you ask).
  • But we're talking about targets, so this line from IEA's post is really an understatement: "What is essential is for governments to turn their pledges into clear and credible policy actions and strategies today."
  • COP26 has also brought a bunch of big new initiatives on phasing out coal, restricting public oil-and-gas finance, fighting deforestation and much more.
  • The summit could be a historical inflection point! But stay skeptical, my friends. "These announcements may generate headlines but assessing their true worth is hugely difficult, especially at speed during a COP meeting," tweeted Mohamed Adow, director of the Kenya-based think tank Power Shift Africa (h/t @edking_I).

2. The fine print — or lack thereof — matters a lot.

  • Take the big news from the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a network of banks and other investors, that over $130 trillion of capital is "committed to transforming the economy for net zero."
  • The financial sector's push could prove extremely consequential. GFANZ head Mark Carney said the "plumbing" of finance is now in sync with climate action.
  • But that headline number refers to coalition members' total assets under management, which they're pledging to "align" with financing the transition to net zero. For activists, well, that's just too squishy. Several groups decried the lack of commitment to halting fossil fuel investments.
  • Or consider the pledge by 25 nations (including the U.S.) and development banks to "end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector." Politico's Zack Colman notes it provides "wide latitude for participants to set their own exemptions."

3. China's low profile is high on the radar. China's lack of new commitments is a big story here and fueling U.S.-China tensions.

  • "Clearly, China needs to be part of this movement going forward," U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told me on the sidelines of the conference.
  • "China has invested significantly in renewables, but they obviously are still investing in unabated coal, and that is a problem," she said.

4. COVID is front and center. Everyone has to show daily tests to get in, and capacity limits — on the overall venue and specific negotiating rooms — are creating tensions over limited access for delegations and civil society groups. The NYT has more.

Go deeper

What's next for the Fed on climate change

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Getty Images photos: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP and Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket

The Federal Reserve is poised to increase its climate focus even as President Biden's nomination of Chairman Jerome Powell to a second term disappointed advocates of policies to tilt the economy away from fossil fuels.

Catch up fast: Biden on Monday announced Powell's nod and said he's tapping Lael Brainard — a Fed board member who's outspoken on climate — as vice chair.

Updated 12 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 14 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.