COP26, the 26th annual ‘Conference of the Parties’, is well underway. COP has four main goals: secure global net-zero by 2050, protect communities and natural habitats, mobilise developed countries finance, and work together globally to do so. So, what’s happened so far, and is any of it going to make a change?
If there is one thing that springs to mind alongside COP, it’s failed promises. Richer nations failed collectively to deliver the promise made 12 years ago to channel $100bn into poorer nations by 2020, to help them adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. This year plans of redistribution are being laid out once more.
Mark Carney, former governor of the bank of England, has gathered over 450 organisations, with control of around 40% of global assets, with plans to shift finances into investments that could contribute to the net-zero goal. South Africa has been promised $8bn by various UN member states, to help them ditch coal in exchange for renewable sources.
If these institutions take this shift towards ‘clean’ investment seriously, it could be transformative. A genuine investment in renewable energy could increase our chances of keeping global warming below the 1.5C increase we are committing to globally. Critics are left to ponder how the big financial moves in COP26 have shifted to focus on industry, rather than on improving the lives of those already hit by climate disasters. This shift done effectively has the propensity to have a sustainable long-term impact. But why has this shifted focus away from the victims already created by the climate crisis? Why are they painted as mutually exclusive?
More than 100 world leaders have promised to not only end but reverse deforestation by 2030, including a pledge of $19.2bn across public and private funds. Not only does deforestation destroy irreplaceable natural habitats, but it also depletes the amount of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere.
The funding is aimed at countries along the equator that have seen the greatest amount of deforestation and includes a promise to protect indigenous communities. This is all well and good, but it does raise more than a handful of questions. There is no proposition as to separating deforestation from the consumer goods made in these countries. Further, where is the acknowledgement that most cleared land is used to grow soy for animal feed? Will we see a subsequent push for reducing our global animal product intake?
Did anybody hear about the cycle to work scheme? COP26 delegates clearly did not, with over 400 private jets flying into Glasgow for the conference. Whilst over 100 countries promised to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, some of the world’s biggest coal-dependent countries (the US, Australia, China, and India) refused to phase out coal power at all.
Working together? Only if you’re able-bodied! Israel’s energy minister, a wheelchair user, was unable to attend the conference due to the lack of accessible entrance. The deforestation pledge mentioned earlier has great potential, but Boris Johnson’s promise does not mitigate the 25 million trees a year Britain burns for biomass.
COP26 has facilitated some big plans and commitments that, if brought to actuality, could be brilliant in combating the climate crisis. The conference, though, has served as a heavy reminder that globally our politicians need constant urging to centre the impact on people at the heart of the discussion. It leans steadily towards being a greenwashed networking event, a celebration of promises we can only hope are not empty. Whilst we can glean hope from what we have seen so far, it is a sobering reminder not to allow complacency.