Kloe Watts, International Relations and Media student and Bxtra Student Editorial Assistant, reviews the successes and failures of COP26.
“We cannot wait for speeches, when the sea is rising around us all the time.” Simon Kofe, Tuvalu Foreign Minister (Endara, Oxfam, 2021).
What is COP26?
If you have been following the news recently, you may have witnessed Greta Thunberg singing about the climate crisis, and where you can shove it, amongst a crowd of protestors at this year’s United Nations Climate Conference (COP26).
However, if you haven’t seen this viral video or been keeping up to date with the news recently, let me give you a rundown of everything that happened at this year’s climate conference. Over 12 days spanning from 31 October to 12 November, the largest climate summit to date took place in Glasgow. Politicians, state leaders, royalty, activists and perhaps the most important person of all (David Attenborough of course) met to create new legislation, attempting to slow the irreversible changes happening to our planet.
The climate summit takes place annually, with representatives from the countries who signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, so it was no shock when they met again this year. However, 2021 is a particularly significant year. This year held more ambitious goals for the summit, with more at stake after a year of pandemics, rising global temperatures and humanitarian crises. Which leads us to the question…
What goals were set out?
Four priorities were laid out for this year’s summit:
- Securing net zero by mid-century and stopping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees.
- Protecting communities and natural habitats.
- Raising and mobilising climate finance.
- Working together to implement policies.
These key priorities were the focus of the summit, but were they achieved? The agreements proposed – although not legally binding- have set out to hit these ecological targets. Unfortunately, these plans appear to fall short of the mark. Rather than prioritising the planet, they cop out of meeting its greatest needs and instead reinforce the importance of state wealth and power above environmental needs. Here are some of the agreed plans.
What was achieved?
Emissions and coal: The conference laid plans to cut CO2 emissions to try to limit global warming to 2.4 degrees. To do this, plans on greenhouse gases were discussed. The original plan was to phase out coal-based energy sources, however at the last minute, they decided to change their plans. Instead, countries agreed to a watered-down commitment, agreeing to ‘phase down’ instead of phase out coal usage.
Developing countries: To assist developing countries in achieving their climate goals and converting to renewable energy sources, the conference pledged for richer countries to provide $100bn a year to developing countries.
China’s agreement: China pledged to cooperate on more climate agreements over the next decade- specifically on coal emissions.
Trees and methane: A plan to stop deforestation was agreed upon by more than 100 countries that contain 85% of the world’s forests.
COP-out or climate saved?
Now we have all been reminded of the achievements of the conference, I think it’s important to remember that surface level words do not equate to deeper level actions. For a start, nearly all the above agreements are self-policed, not legally binding. Not only does this mean that countries can say whatever they like at the conference to save face, but they are not obligated to fulfil the proposed plans.
Why would states phase out fossil fuels, if fossil fuel corporations are one of their leading sources of capital? Not to mention the power struggle between states and corporations that mean corporations often have a behind the scenes hand in state pockets.
Whilst the world is burning, governments are watering down some of their most important plans to help it. State wealth over global health. It’s also a recurring theme that certain states are unwilling to partake in climate conferences; yet a worldwide response is crucial in saving the planet. China is one of the top five contributors to climate change in the world, but they are one of the countries refusing to make concrete environmental legislation or partake in the climate conferences.
I’m only 20 years old and I’m worried for this planet. The impacts that climate change will have are irrevocable and we are beginning to witness them now. Global temperature and sea levels are rising. Droughts, intense weather, and flooding are creating hostile living environments, resulting in climate migrants who are forced to leave their homes. We have one earth and it’s not just on fire, it’s been engulfed. The decisions made now are the ones that will determine the course of this planets’ future. It’s hard to watch governments continue to dismiss the crisis but we must commit to fighting for change.
We can’t afford to cop out.
Kloe Watts can be found on LinkedIn here.