COP26: Just Another Cop Out?
COP26 has come to a close and a lot has been said, but will a lot be done?
COP26 talks were extended beyond the Friday evening deadline and carried on until the small hours of Saturday morning. The agreement that has been set has been called 'imperfect'.
The first week of COP26 saw many optimistic pledges being made. The frustration felt by many people at this PR tactic was summarised neatly by the director of the think-tank Power Shift Africa, Mohamed Adow,
“These announcements are eye candy, but the sugar rush they provide are empty calories.”
In addition, a highly worrying report in the second week emerged saying that the world was currently on track to reach catastrophic levels of warming of more than 2.4 Celsius. A rise of this level would cause devastating natural disasters, leading to the destruction of countless livelihoods. Heating has already reached 1.1 degrees Celsius and emissions must be cut by 45% by 2030 if we want to remain within reach of the 1.5 degree goal.
What did happen was the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact by 197 countries. This was an attempt to agree on all unfinished business, especially pledges from the Paris Agreement, such as keeping global warming levels to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
What was agreed at COP26?
Various pledges were made at COP26, some signed by all nations, others only by some.
1. Retaining the 1.5 degree goal from the Paris Agreement: the final COP26 agreement, signed by all nations, aims to preserve the goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In addition, countries are being asked to make stronger pledges to cut emissions by 2030 and to have these plans outlined and ready by the end of 2022.
2. The ‘phasing down’ of fossil fuels: note this is not ‘phasing out’. This language discrepancy was pushed by India and received a lot of pushback from smaller nations in the Global South. Nonetheless, previously fossil fuels have not been addressed in plain terms in UN climate pacts, so this is some progress in writing.
3. The halting and reversing of deforestation by 2030: this was signed by 137 countries, importantly including Brazil and China. Forests, alongside peatlands and wetlands, are carbon sinks and are incredibly important in helping us to keep emissions down.
4. The reduction of methane by 30% by 2030: this was signed by 108 countries and is important because methane, alongside carbon dioxide, is a dangerous greenhouse gas. It is emitted primarily by livestock, landfill and oil drilling, and is capable of heating the atmosphere 80 times more than carbon dioxide.
What isn’t so great?
As leaders of the conference, the UK’s political leaders did not appear to be fully committed to tackling the climate crisis, with their actions undermining their words and pledges. For example, the Prime Minister initially flew to Glasgow on a private jet from London for the conference, and also flew back to London only a few days later for a dinner at a men’s only club with Charles Moore, a former Daily Telegraph editor and a known climate change denier.
In addition, when pressed to discuss the planned opening of the Cambo oil field in the North Sea, Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has refused to back down and reconsider its opening. Johnson has also been wound up in sleaze scandals at Westminster, diverting much needed attention from COP26.
What feels disappointing is that countries are being asked to come back to a follow up summit in Egypt with even stronger pledges. The constant ‘putting off’ of acting on pledges is frustrating, to say the least.
What was key is that Global South is being promised finances from wealthier countries in order to support them in tackling the damaging effects already being experienced from the climate crisis. However, this pledge to give £73 billion per year by 2020, which was first made at the Copenhagen COP in 2009, is yet to be fulfilled.
Lastly, food and sustainable farming were not main topics of discussion at COP26, even though the wider food and agriculture industry contributes 25% of global emissions.
So, what happens next?
We must remember that pledges do not automatically translate to action, especially when it comes to the climate crisis. Pledges made are also not aligning with current activity and many leaders are suspected of trying to find loopholes in agreements.
Many climate activists, indigenous people and representatives from countries most at risk from the climate crisis have left COP26 feeling disappointed. The most powerful countries from the Global North, as well as countries part of G7 and G20, continue to sideline the communities that will be affected most.
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, made a persuasive and inspiring speech at the opening of COP26, calling for unity among all countries, especially wealthier ones, in seriously tackling the crisis.
Those who have shown themselves to be committed, as always, are the climate activists who have come together to organise, to protest and to call out leaders. Many activist groups are feeling betrayed, and The Cop26 Coalition, published a statement condemning the outcome of the summit. Spokesperson Asad Rehman said,
“This agreement is an utter betrayal of the people. It is hollow words on the climate emergency from the richest countries, with an utter disregard of science and justice. The UK government greenwash and PR have spun us off course.”
At SCOOP UK, we recognise and praise those climate activists at Glasgow who have shown themselves brave enough to stand up against the climate inaction shown at COP26.
If anything, COP26 reinforced that there is still much room left for youth engagement to help fill the political void in advocating climate action. We remain even more determined to keep platforming the need for a sustainability movement that remains accessible to all; a movement that gives a voice to the voiceless and that recognises who is and will be increasingly set to be worst impacted by climate change.