Approaching COP26 – hollow promises, or positive action?


Between the 31st October and the 12th November 2021, the United Kingdom will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. This will serve as an attempt to unite the world to tackle climate change; it will be an opportunity for world leaders to discuss and action the goals of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

This historic treaty, signed by 196 countries, agreed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees celsius – preferably below 1.5 degrees celsius – in an attempt to substantially reduce the impacts of climate change. Fundamentally, net-zero carbon dioxide emissions must be achieved. Yet details to reach such targets are yet to be established, and any concrete plan is yet to be actioned.

More than 190 world leaders are expected to arrive in Scotland for this global climate summit; the COP26 website succinctly outlines its main goals:

  • Countries must secure net zero by mid-century and keep the 1.5 degree celsius goal within reach.
  • Countries must ‘adapt’ and reduce emissions in order to protect communities and ecosystems.
  • Countries must ‘mobilise finance’, and they must action their promise to deliver $100 billion per year to developing countries in a bid to tackle the climate issue.
  • Countries must make the Paris Agreement ‘operational’.

Although perhaps different in subject and function, the controlling notion of each goal is the same: urgent action is required. Past promises have not been reinforced by credible plans; signatories to the Paris Agreement must now commit to actioning their promises. Low-income countries are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as cities continue to be swallowed by floods and decimated by drought. The wealthiest countries of the globe must fight these extremes and deliver the promised financial aid. Such actions must be placed at the forefront of global politics, and rapid emission cuts must also define the policies of the world.

Urgent action is required

Whilst such goals are certainly inspiring, it is worth noting that three decades of conferences have produced only one agreement. Rainforests are burning, wildfires are raging and climate chaos is progressively worsening. What will this conference achieve? Three more decades of hollow promises?

The UNEP Emissions Gap Report has provided a view that the world is improving, but that countries are still far from a 1.5 degree celsius achievement. The coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly complicates matters further; Carbon Market Watch affirms that whilst numerous European countries are discussing ‘green Covid recovery’, their implementation packages still nurture the use of fossil fuels. This suggests, then, that there is a disparity between discussions and actual implementation.

The lack of progress within the UK also significantly undermines its credibility as a host. In the wake of the landmark agreement in Paris, new oil and gas fields have opened and high-carbon infrastructure has continued to be constructed. We have also not only recently approved exploration at the Cambo oilfield, but also endorsed the plan to open the first new deep coal mine in thirty years. Such actions do not align with the UK’s climate goals; it is a bleak view.

Our only hope to accelerate action

Ultimately, global procrastination must cease; the world must commit to action. COP26 must be decisive. This conference must champion the global transition to electric vehicles, accelerate the elimination of coal, and action the curtailing of deforestation. The world must be made more sustainable and critical ecosystems must be restored. World leaders must not flinch from commitments; they must finally enact their decision to support developing countries and demonstrate that their own climate targets will also be achieved, if not surpassed.

Whether one chooses to approach COP26 with hope or despair, it seems that this conference is the only multilateral process for confronting the global climate crisis; it embodies our only hope to accelerate action. Without meaningful action, COP26 will be deemed worthless. There are no excuses for hollow promises. COP26 is a critical moment; the urgency of action has never been more severe.

In the words of Licypriya Kangujam, a nine-year-old environmental activist: “This is the time to wake up. This is the time to open your eyes.”

Image: Melissa Bradley via Unsplash

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