What was COP26?
A “COP” is a Conference Of Parties where countries meet to discuss how they are going to tackle climate change. The “Parties” are those countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The 26th Conference Of Parties (COP26) was held in Glasgow for two weeks in November 2021. World leaders gathered to address stopping global temperature increases and harmful emissions from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Previous editions of COP have seen breakthroughs come into fruition, such as COP21’s historic 2015 Paris Agreement, which strived to cut carbon emissions for the first time.
COPs are now more critical than ever as the devastating impacts of climate change appear all over the globe, in particular the Global South, and the impacts are getting worse every year. We are now seeing the effects of climate change famine which threatens to malnourish thousands of children in the poorest regions, regions that have historically contributed to climate change the least. Indigenous people in the Kalahari Desert face rising temperatures and drought that affect their traditional farming practices and livelihood. Climate change is already making a deadly impact as the world’s poorest face the brunt.
Politicians speeches at COP26
Boris Johnson opened COP26 by emphasising the need to get on track with preventing the harmful global temperature increase of 1.5C. The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, also addressed the lack of progress in cutting global temperature increases and harmful emissions. The prospect of a disastrous rise in global temperatures of more than 1.5C dominated the summit.
Several leaders from the Global South led the conversation surrounding the impact of climate change on the poorest. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, spoke for the people of the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific as she stressed that “Our people are watching, and our people are taking note.” Wavel Ramkalawan, President of Seychelles, also argued that “We have to act immediately. Let the change be a real one. Let the paradigm shift happen. May those who exploit without thinking of tomorrow stop.” While Lazarus Chakwera, the President of Malawi, stressed that “Neither Africa in general, nor Malawi in particular, will take no for an answer. Not anymore.”
COP26 initiatives and successes
Perhaps the most important success was that nations which are not doing their bit to hit 1.5C return with plans to increase cuts up to 2030 at COP27 in Egypt during 2022. Under the deal reached in Glasgow, the UN will publish regular “synthesis reports” assessing countries’ plans against the Paris temperature goals.
Nearly 500 global financial services firms agreed to align $130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – with the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and the formation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). GFANZ provides a forum for leading financial institutions to accelerate the transition to a net-zero global economy.
World leaders, their negotiators and others announced a range of other significant initiatives. For instance, Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, promised, among other things, that India would get to net zero emissions by 2070. This was welcome, although it will miss a key goal of the COP26 summit, namely, for countries to commit to reach that target by 2050.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a new climate aid initiative aimed to support developing countries while US President Joe Biden announced a multinational pledge to reduce and control methane emissions by 30% in association with 90 other countries by 2030.
And, despite severe criticism from Greta Thunberg and others outside the conference (see below), within the conference YOUNGO brought the views of over 40,000 young climate leaders to ministers, negotiators and officials from across the world, making their voices heard and demanding the action needed to prevent catastrophic climate change in our lifetimes.
Regardless of these successes, the event and has received criticism from many corners.
Many people have addressed the “performative” nature of COP, particularly because governments and world leaders are still accelerating the use of harmful emissions while announcing ambitious initiatives to curtail the 1.5C temperature rise. Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate and other youth activists have created a petition for climate action based on their dissatisfaction with the COP proceedings. Thunberg even called COP26 a “PR event,” as she argued that the world leaders are still actively profiting from harmful emissions while discussing climate change. In response to the performative nature of COP26. Thousands of young people marched in Glasgow, demanding more from world leaders in their efforts to stop climate change and rising temperatures.
Another issue was that some initiatives were similar to previous ones made by world leaders in prior summits. For instance, while China’s President, Xi Jinping, was not in attendance, China committed to reaching peak emissions by 2030. However, the Chinese government made the same commitments a year ago, which means temperatures will not be on track for the targeted 1.5C if more is not achieved.
Others were also frustrated with the voices chosen to be amplified at COP26. Jeff Bezos, amongst other wealthy people, give speeches on what we can do to protect the world’s fragility. The issue is that these same influential leaders continue to be the main contributors to climate change while the poorest suffer. Ironically, many greenhouse gas emissions can come from buying and selling Amazon products, although Amazon too is taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint of its business.
Overall we will have to wait and see what comes into fruition as a result of the summit and whether it was simply a performative PR event.