The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) has come to a close after two intense weeks. Dignitaries from around the world met in Glasgow, UK to strengthen commitments and update pledges made at the historic 2015 Paris Agreement. This year’s meeting was a chance to restore faith in the climate negotiation process after the last COP in Madrid failed to achieve much. A deal has been struck, but is it enough to prevent a climate catastrophe?
What’s in the pact?
197 countries agreed to the Glasgow Climate Pact on the 13 of November. The document includes net-zero emission targets from 140 countries, with pledges updated from the Paris Agreement.
What stood out was the commitment to limit the use of coal, the first explicit mention of the fuel in a climate agreement. Coal currently makes up around 40% of fossil fuel emissions, so this is an important step in the right direction. However, due to opposition from China and India, the world’s largest producers of coal, leaders failed to plan a phase-out, and merely agreed to reduce its consumption. Significantly, oil and gas are not subject to the same commitments, indicating that other large economies are also unwilling to compromise their fossil-fuel-based wealth.
The pact also includes aid towards disaster mitigation and cleaner energy for developing countries, which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, a former pledge to provide $100bn a year to poorer countries by 2020 was not met. The agreement also contains promises to stop deforestation and cut a third of methane emissions by 2030, as well as plans to increase investment in clean technology such as renewable energy. Additionally, countries planned to meet at the end of 2022 for a review of further emission cuts to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
What does COP26 mean for the planet?
Although an agreement was reached, the conference was disappointing for many scientists and activists. The urgency the situation desperately needed was missing for many delegates. Small island nations already paying the price of climate change were left frustrated by unambitious targets set by global superpowers.
Crucially, even the most “ambitious” carbon-cutting policies made in this deal will not restrict warming to 1.5°C. Current estimates place the number at 2.4-2.7°C, if countries meet all the pledges. Even then, droughts, floods and the disappearance of entire countries cannot be prevented without further action. Warnings about the consequences of continued inaction from climate researchers and UN officials have fallen on deaf ears despite the many recent natural disasters intensified by climate change.
COP26 has made some progress, but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster. While millions around the world are already in crisis, not enough leaders were in crisis mode.
Was this conference just a waste of time then? COP26 did give leaders of countries most heavily impacted by climate change a platform to raise their concerns in person. Many countries have set carbon neutrality targets, and innovation into zero carbon solutions is increasing. The US’ planned climate cooperation with China is also reassuring given both countries majorly contribute to global emissions. And 2022’s review may keep the hope of a better-case 1.5°C scenario alive, if leaders cooperate and listen to science.
This pact is not legally binding, which puts less pressure on governments and companies to stick to pledges. Whether they will feel morally obliged to reduce emissions remains to be seen. To prevent the horror of future warming scenarios, richer countries will need to take bigger strides towards a net-zero planet.
Rapping for a better climate
Besides lots of discussions, also many artists performed in and around the COP26. One of them was Baba Brinkman, a rapper known to perform at live events to make them more lively but also to invite the audience to think about the discussed content critically. Interested? You can watch one of his performance here: