Cop26 finished last week, and everyone is fed up with hearing about it. After weeks of negotiations about the fate of our planet, it has been a rollercoaster of emotions, and has left us puzzling over its success – what does the conference really mean for the planet?
There’s certainly a lot to be apprehensive about. The deals drawn up at the conference are nowhere near what we need to see in order to prevent climate disaster. Smaller, poorer countries were sidelined throughout the conference by rich nations and huge corporations. According to the Climate Action Tracker, temperature rises will reach 2.4C by the end of this century, given the short-term goals set out by countries. This number is well beyond the 1.5C “safe” limit set out by the Paris Agreement, which is frankly terrifying. However, previous forecasts that took into account more long-term goals suggested that heating could be limited to 1.8C. This is no 1.5C, but with further talks and negotiations planned, I don’t see why we can’t be optimistic about further progression.
So, with this optimism in mind, I’d like to highlight some successes of Cop26, particularly around key areas negotiated at the conference.
Unlike previous Cops, there has been no climate change denial. Our world leaders recognise the crisis on our hands, and, albeit slowly, are gearing into action to deal with it. We can be particularly pleased with the Glasgow Climate Pact which agrees to the necessary “phase-down” of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are undeniably on their way out, it’s just a matter of how fast they can get there. Of note is India’s pledge to reach net-zero by 2070, but as a lower-income country whose emissions are largely due to colonialism and imposition from the global north, India is arguably not the country to be held accountable. The unexpected China-US agreement to cut CO2 emissions in the next decade is huge from two of the biggest emitters.
Also significant were the talks surrounding deforestation, with 137 leaders pledging to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The pledge also had £14 million of private and public funding behind it. There is so much nuance surrounding this topic, and the indigenous people who take care of 80% of the world’s forest need to have their voices heard, but we can take hope in the Climate Action Tracker’s estimation that this could reduce emissions by 1.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, rising significantly if more countries sign up.
Notable progress was made surrounding climate finance. Wealthy states increased financial commitment to affected states for adaptation. While this extra funding isn’t enough, it recognises adaptation as well as mitigation and can be seen as a huge step in the right direction. Nations and charities pledged £1.27 billion to support Indigenous groups’ conservation efforts and land rights. If developed, rich nations may be able to hit their $100 billion target sooner than anticipated. This is long overdue but shows improvement from previous pledges.
Cop26 negotiations are too complex to deem a concrete success or failure. There are important nuances in determining whether we will succeed in preventing the worst effects of climate change. Many promises have been made without great follow-through, but there has undeniably been a sense of urgency at this COP that hasn’t been seen before. Pledges are great, but we need to act and act quickly. The real test will be in the coming months – promises have been made, and we all have a role to encourage governments to keep to their current pledges, and to push for more ambitious ones. The headlines neglect to highlight the incredible work being done by smaller groups such as Indigenous Climate Action.
We can take hope in the fact that while sometimes it can seem like our leaders are not taking action, so many people are working to save the world, and I am optimistic that we will succeed.