Photo: The Scottish Event Campus, the venue hosting COP26 in Glasgow, on November 6.
Negotiators representing nearly 200 countries used just about every second of the two-week COP26, the global climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to reach an agreement to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases. The intense summit culminated in an agreement that Christina Figueres, who headed the UN climate change convention in Paris that resulted in the 2015 climate accords, described in a Guardian op-ed as “more complex and far reaching than any transformation we have ever attempted.”
Though COP26 did result in some positive strides with nations reinforcing their commitments to thaw the heating planet, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have characterized it best when in his closing statements he said, “My delight at this progress is tinged with disappointment.”
Diplomats and government leaders, analysts argued, didn’t go far enough to push the planet off its cataclysmic path. The pledges and targets agreed to in the Glasgow Climate Pact may not be aggressive enough to prevent the world from heating up 1.5° Celsius by later this century. Analysis published to the Climate Action Tracker shows that even if countries meet the targets they set for 2030, global temperatures would still be estimated to rise 2.4°C above pre-industrial levels.
The worldwide mission to prevent global warming by 1.5°C was a cornerstone commitment from the Paris Climate Agreement. Scientists have warned that the seemingly slight rise in global warming will have disastrous global impacts, including widespread and indefensible water shortages, famines and heat waves. Natural disasters like hurricanes and floods stand to dramatically increase in a warmer world — it’s a future where etymologists may rebrand the term “1,000-year floods.”
Not all hope is lost, though. The Glasgow Climate Pact, along with many lower-profile pledges and agreements made during COP26, signaled that the world is starting to treat the climate crisis with the greater urgency it deserves. Brazil and Russia, two of the world’s most heavily forested countries with nefarious track records in protecting their carbon-absorbing bounty, joined more than 100 other countries in a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. More than 100 countries also signed on to cut methane emissions, a gas that is 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, by 30 percent by 2030.
The world’s biggest polluters, China and the United States, signed a surprise joint pledge that lacked specific details but is an encouraging sign of cooperation among two rivaled titans of manufacturing. India, one of the world’s largest consumers of coal, promised to have net-zero emissions by 2070.
Still, India and China rebuked the pact’s phrase to “phase out” fossil fuels, instead rallying negotiators to weaken it to “phase down.” It’s progress, but watered-down progress.
The conference also provided a space for developing nations to revisit the empty financial promises wealthier nations made to them more than a decade ago. The world's wealthy nations had agreed that by 2020, they would mobilize at least $100 billion to support developing nations combat climate change and respond to disasters. They’ve fallen notably short of fulfilling what’s known as the “loss and damage” fund, a sum that even if reached still falls short of the amount of investments needed to create far-reaching improvements.
COP26 was a reminder of an ongoing divide worldwide: Rich countries disproportionately contribute to climate change while poorer countries disproportionately bear the burden of climate-induced disasters. Greenhouse gasses emitted from the ports such as those in Osaka and Nagoya contribute to warming oceans that are engulfing island nations like Tuvalu. Meanwhile, emerging economies like Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria and India are less keen to reduce their coal consumption, and it’s obvious why. Those nations are trying to grow their industries with the same competitive advantage and lack of regulation countries like the U.S. and U.K. had long deployed to develop their massive economies. In sum, the loss and damage fund would not only provide low- and middle-income nations much needed insurance when faced with natural disasters, but also help these nations transition away from dependence on fossil fuels.
Through all the agreements, pledges, commitments, targets and handshakes, it remains to be seen whether the conference served more as lip service (as famed activist Greta Thunberg coyly put it: “blah, blah, blah”) or whether it’ll be the catalyst for lasting, tangible change. The world is watching, and the clock is ticking; 2030 will be here before we know it.
Image credit: UN Climate Change/Facebook
Based in Atlanta, GA, Grant is a nonprofit professional and freelance writer passionate about affordable housing and finding sustainable approaches to international development. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.