Updated: Mar 16, 2022
During October 31st – November 12th world leaders, big business representatives, scientists and climate activists met in Glasgow for COP26, the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to discuss the global response to the climate crisis. Tensions ran high as this conference hosted by the UN had been seen as a critical moment in the fight against the most destructive impacts of climate change being realised.
The event was meant to be the turning point in which world leaders made impactful changes to keep the Paris Agreement made during COP21 in 2015, alive. This being to limit global warming to 2°C, the temperature which if passed would see the Earth hurtling towards catastrophic, irreversible climate disaster. Looming over the conference was the realisation that the $100bn promised in 2009 by developed nations to aid developing nations in combatting climate change had fell short. Major nations such as Australia, China, India, the US, and the UK were present, announcing and debating polices and pledges on topics including deforestation, coal, methane, fossil-fuels, and transport. So, what occurred over the two-week climate event? What pledges and polices were agreed? Was enough done and was COP26 a success or failure?
" COP26: A brief overview of what was and wasn’t achieved and the position it leaves us in."
Whilst many polices were announced, not everyone could agree, and many vital pledges saw key nations refusing to join them. The Glasgow Leader’s Declaration on Forrest’s and Land Use was signed by more than 130 countries promising to work to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Following on from this, a Forest, agriculture, and commodity trade (FACT) statement, was jointly led by the UK and Indonesia and aims to support sustainable trade between commodity-producing and -consuming countries. However Indonesian officials would later speak out against this claiming it to be “unfair” and more about forest management rather than an end to deforestation.
Strides were made in the combatting of global methane production with the Global Methane Pledge being launched by Joe Biden and the European Commission. The pledge that demands countries to cut their methane emissions by 30% by 2030 was signed by 109 countries, which is near half of the global methane emissions. However, there were notable absentees such as major methane producing nations including Australia, China, India, and Russia. Furthermore, a rapid analysis from Carbon Brief estimates that global methane cuts of 50% would be required to achieve a 0.2°C cut by 2050.
Moving onto coal, which seemed to cause confusion from the start to the very end of the event. It appeared that many of the coal related pledges announced at COP26 were pre-existing, causing worry. Nevertheless, the UK announced a coalition of 190 countries and organisations agreeing to phase-out coal use. A partnership was also launched by the US, UK, and the EU to help fund South Africa’s transition away from coal. Worryingly though, there was last minute intervention to the Glasgow Climate Pact from India which saw the phrasing changed from “phasing out coal” to “phasing down coal.”
Developments were made in limiting the funding given towards fossil fuel production, with around 30 countries and financial institutions committing to halt all funding towards fossil fuels and instead diverting finances towards green energy. Key to this was the inclusion of the US, who are one of the top five fossil fuel financers. The UK, however, would refuse to join a green trade pact lead by New Zealand committing to cut billions in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. The reasoning given by UK officials was that they wanted to keep the subsidies and tariffs on green goods that the deal would eliminate.
Zero-emission cars were a big talking point, with nations and automobile manufacturers joining forces to push forward the development and production of zero-emission vehicles. The UK, Canada, Norway, and Chile were joined by manufacturers such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, General Motors, and Volvo in working towards all sales of new vehicles being zero-emission by 2040. However, this agreement is yet to be made legally binding and is marred by the absence of major vehicle manufacturing nations such as the US, China, and Germany. Without these countries on board, it seems unlikely that the target for zero-emission vehicle production will not be met.
Overall, it appears that for every step forward there was a step backwards. If you were looking to pinpoint who came out the worst, the major polluting economies such as Australia, China, India, the UK, and the US all failed to do their part in completely committing to all the necessary pledges and agreements. With everything assessed, although there were positives and steps in the right direction, ultimately, COP26 was a failure and has been labelled as such by key political figures, scientists, and activists. Big aims were not achieved, specifically, renewing key targets for 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 °C and the change in messaging to the coal phase out to a phasing down of coal use. Developed nations were criticised for failing developing nations in need of financial aid to help curb climate change, many of which are at great risk of climate disaster. Much, much more needs to be done and we can only hope that what will go down as a failed, PR exercise will act as a wake-up call to the world. We only have so much time to implement change before it is too late.