COP26: Who's There And Who Is Missing?
In this article, Susie summarises who the delegates at COP26 are and what we have found out from this past week at COP26.
It’s been a week since COP26 began and there’s been plenty of coverage about the climate pledges which have emerged so far from the meeting. However, who is making these promises, and who isn’t there to join the pledges? This article is your quick guide to the delegates of COP26 and the notable gaps in the line up.
Who is there?
Individual action can and does have an impact on climate change, but real transnational change has to come from elected leaders around the world. In Glasgow this week over 120 world leaders have gathered to sign agreements and make pledges, which have already come thick and fast. From pledging to stop the use of coal, to promising to end deforestation by 2030, world leaders are not holding back. Although these pledges sound impressive, their active implementation must accommodate for the millions of people in the Global South who depend on the fossil fuel or timber sector for a living. For example, how might the zero-deforestation pledge impact the countries whose development requires the removal of trees for building new roads? Watch this BBC video to see a summary of the pros and cons of tree planting in tackling climate change.
Answers to these questions can only be found in a diverse and inclusive delegation that can ensure that climate pledges do not unfairly impact communities and livelihoods. People from indigenous communities arrived in Glasgow to participate in COP26. However, there is strong suspicion from some indigenous activities that they are not there to make decisions or guide policy but instead act as symbols of COP26’s success and inclusivity. This eye-opening article helps to shed some light on the reality of being an indigenous climate activist at COP26.
Sir David Attenborough
Ninety-five-year-old Sir David Attenborough has been prominent at COP26. The famous broadcaster has dedicated his whole life to nature and has been an advocate for climate action for many years. Although not an elected leader, Attenborough is a prominent and influential person, whose presence at COP26 will hopefully inspire both world leaders and people at home to stand up and campaign for climate action. Click here to watch his moving speech to the COP26 delegates last week.
We know who caused climate change but they do not want to pay for it.'
The noise demanding climate action is largely coming from the young population, so it is fitting that youth activists have been present at the conference. Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, addressed a crowd of one hundred thousand people at a Glasgow climate protest on the 6th of November, using the speech to draw attention to the ways her home country is already feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg has also been involved in the protests, and is already warning of the hollow promises, hypocrisy and inaction of many COP26 delegates.
Who isn’t there?
What is more surprising than the Queen’s absence from COP26 is the fact she was invited in the first place. As an unelected and largely ceremonial figurehead, the impact she and other royals could have at an event like COP26 is not obvious at first glance. However, the Queen’s influence and power means it could be important for the royals to be present at COP26.
However, the Royal Family does not have a history of enacting the climate action that they campaign for. For example, in July 2021 it was revealed that the Queen’s lawyers lobbied Scottish ministers to allow her to be the only landowner in Scotland to not be required to have pipes installed that would allow buildings to be heated using renewable energy. Additionally, research by The Eco Experts found that the carbon emissions of the Royal Family is 3810 tonnes a year, while the average person in British emits ten tonnes of carbon a year. Such double standards seem to be a theme among the elite, powerful and wealthy who are attending COP26.
President Vladimir Putin
President Vladimir Putin is not expected to attend COP26, although he is expected to send a video message during the second week. Russia is expected to be severely affected by climate change, due to the large proportion of the Arctic Circle in the country and important infrastructure built on now melting permafrost regions. However, Russia is not ignoring climate change: in March 2020 Russia presented a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Nonetheless, the absence of leaders from large and powerful countries does show how politics can obstruct the route to the climate action the world is demanding.
President Xi Jinping
China’s President Xi Jinping is a hugely notable absence from COP26. China is well known as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter; in 2019 China was responsible for 27% of the world's emissions. Although he did not attend, President Xi sent a written message to COP26 last week which made no major new pledges. The country's current goals are set at carbon neutrality by 2060, which has come under criticism for being too late. However, there is an element of hypocrisy in the naming and shaming of China for having high carbon emissions, when the UK government has recently approved Cambo, a large new gas and oil field, and currently pays subsidies to North Sea Oil and Gas companies. Finger pointing and blaming is all too often used to distract us from the ways in which we are failing on climate action too.
The first week of COP26 has been one of ambitious promises and political opportunity. There is still much work to be done on the implementation of these pledges, and the absence of major players brings into question how effective these goals will be in reality.
At SCOOP UK, we welcome the discussions at COP26. However, we are critical of the fact that climate action must seek the collaboration and participation from representatives around the world including the Global South in order to achieve the best and most inclusive climate outcomes.
We stand by and wait to see what this next week brings.