27th October, 2021- by Amy Colwell
With COP26 just days away, Amy Colwell digs into the myriad issues surrounding this conference- who will be attending, why it’s so important and whether it will succeed.
The COP26 climate summit will begin in Glasgow on Sunday 31st October, lasting nearly two weeks and hosting many of the world’s most important leaders. The UK is the President and host of the event, putting PM Boris Johnson and other British politicians under pressure to deliver. Since 1995, the UN has been hosting these annual summits in which over 200 countries discuss pressing matters of climate change, firmly entrenching the issue as a global political priority. Over 30,000 people will be in attendance, ranging from world leaders to NGOs, climate activists, journalists, scientists and business representatives. Previous COP summits have resulted in momentous agreements, most significantly the 2015 Paris Agreement in which every country committed to bringing forward national plans and contributions to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius with an aim for 1.5 degrees. It was promised that every 5 years they would update their national plans, making this year’s summit particularly important- after the delay due to COVID-19, this is the year in which countries must return with their updated strategies. The most important result of this year’s meeting will be the number of countries who pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Scientists and experts are emphasising that this summit is particularly important as planetary warming is accelerating faster than anticipated, with warming levels having already reached 1.2 degrees Celsius and the latest UN Report warning that the world is facing at least 2.7 degrees of warming this century. A 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report demonstrated the stark difference between the warming that the world is currently on track for and the 1.5 degrees that the Paris Agreement is aiming for: flooding and other water stresses would be 50% worse, decline in coral reefs would be 29% worse, extreme heat would be 60% worse, and polar ice cap melting would be 10 times worse. Christina Figueres, former UN Climate Chief, commented: “Do we need a success out of this? Absolutely. We don’t have the option or the luxury of failure”. David Attenborough, who is attending the summit as the COP26 People’s Advocate, described how crucial the talks are for the “decisive decade” in which leaders have the final chance to veer the planet off a route of destruction, and warned that countries cannot fall victim to “the temptation to deny the problem if the solution will cost money in the short-term”.
The spotlight will be on the UK and PM Boris Johnson “
The Climate Action Tracker has drawn conclusions showing that the plans of major polluting countries including Russia, China, Brazil, and India are “highly insufficient”. Additionally, much of the legislation which the US promised to tackle climate change, such as the Clean Electricity Performance Program, has been blocked in Congress, rendering many of their proposed contributions as empty promises instead of real action. The tumultuous actions of the US recently, with Trump heavily criticising and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, only for Biden to re-join in February 2021, means their actual progress has been hindered significantly by political disagreements. Furthermore, Chinese President Xi Jinping is not expected to attend the COP26 summit. Despite China promising to become carbon neutral by 2060 and stop increasing emissions by 2030, it has been somewhat vague and not pledged a concrete date in which emissions will peak, raising concerns that the world’s biggest carbon emitter will quietly dodge these agreements. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will also not be in attendance, citing COVID-19 concerns as his reason. This is a major setback, as Russia is warming 2.8 times faster than the global average, and the melting of Siberia’s permafrost has been releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Another concern is the potential conflict between developing and developed countries. The Paris Agreement reinstated a 2009 promise that the world’s richer countries must provide $100 billion annually to aid poorer countries in dealing with the effects of climate change and investing in greener economies. However, only $79.6 billion was raised in 2019, which does not bode well for the new and more ambitious target for 2025 which is supposed to be set at COP26. This is one of the major contesting points between countries at the summit as the developing nations demand their promised allowance before they take further action, which could leave negotiations at a standstill and veer the summit onto a conflictual, ineffective route.
One can only hope that leaders work co-operatively “
The spotlight will be on the UK and PM Boris Johnson as the hosts of the summit. Britain has stated its four key goals for COP26 as: securing global net zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5 degrees within reach, adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, mobilising finance, and working together to deliver. Johnson is also hoping for new national bans on petrol and diesel car sales. He has been asserting that the UK has proactive in “massively” cutting CO2 and coal emissions, and if other countries show similar levels of commitment, the COP26 goals can be achieved. However, the PM admitted this Monday that he was “very worried” about this year’s “touch and go” conference, worrying that political and financial bickering would detract from the global issue at hand.
Furthermore, the organisation of the summit has come under fire from multiple groups. Climate activists have been protesting the UK’s plans to open a new coal mine in Cumbria, arguing that this contradicts the pledges they plan to make at COP26. Despite energy minister Greg Hands defending the proposal as having a “negligible” effect on global coal usage, this has still undermined the credibility of the UK’s promises. Johnson has also been criticised for seemingly downplaying the importance of recycling, saying that it “isn’t the answer, I’ve got to be honest with you. You’re not going to like this, but it doesn’t begin to address the problem”. Extinction Rebellion have planned a number of high-profile protests throughout the 2-week period and have condemned the summit for platforming major polluters like Shell and other oil companies, drawing further controversy towards the event. Corporate sponsors including Sky, Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power, Microsoft and GSK have also heavily criticised the organisation of the event, deeming it mismanaged with poor communication and delayed decisions.
It remains to be seen whether COP26 can be salvaged from the various issues it faces, ranging from its poor organisation to the lack of attendance from some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters. For the sake of the planet and our future, one can only hope that leaders work co-operatively and listen to the stark warnings that experts have provided, and conclusively commit to action together.