Updated: Nov 18, 2021
The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, was attended by 25,000 delegates from 200 countries and some 120 heads of state. The fossil fuel industry was the largest delegation at the conference, with 503 people accredited. Some accredited observes found themselves excluded from the main venue due to lack of space and poor organisation.
But what is this COP26 all about anyway? Okay, here’s a full explanation. (1) Its main goals: to secure global net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
The Good News
Leaders of 105 countries home to 85% of the world's forests agreed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. (2)
More than 40 countries including Chile, Poland, Ukraine, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Africa agreed to phase out coal in the 2030s or 2040s.
More than 80 countries pledged to cut global methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade.
Over 20 countries pledged to halt funding for foreign oil, gas and coal projects.
Many countries committed to net-zero CO2 emissions.
The US and China issued a surprise joint statement in which they vowed to work together to slow global warming. (3, 4)
The Bad News
Research by the climate analysis coalition Climate Action Tracker (CAT), was concluded that countries’ short-term goals for the next decade will not avoid a rise of 2.4°C. Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, one of the organisations behind CAT, explained: “Some countries are trying to portray [Cop26] as if the 1.5C limit is nearly in the bag. But it’s not, it’s very far from it, and they are downplaying the need to get short-term targets for 2030 in line with 1.5C.”(5)
Even if nations manage to keep the rise to 1.5°C, there will be serious disruptions. (6) UN secretary general, António Guterres, observed that “Promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies. …Or when countries are still building coal plants.” (7)
Ugandan youth activist Vanessa Nakate implored, “I hope you can appreciate that where I live, a 2C world means that a billion people will be affected by extreme heat stress. In a 2C world, … even healthy people sitting in the shade will die within six hours”. (7)
Sir David Attenborough, speaking at the opening ceremony, said “It comes down to a single number: the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere. … We must fix our sights on keeping 1.5 degrees within reach.” He noted, “If working apart we are forces powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it.” (8)
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of the small island nation of Barbados, spoke next. “On finance, we are $20B short of the $100B and this commitment might only be met in 2023. Adaptation finance remains only at 25%,” she deplored, and asked, “Can there be peace if 1/3 of the world prospers and 2/3 live under siege and face calamitous threats to our well being?” (9)
Greta Thunberg called COP26 a “Greenwash Festival”. She warned that “The changes required are nowhere in sight. The politics needed does not exist today”, and deplored the lack of a sense of urgency. (10)
Thousands - more than 100,000 according to organisers - marched through the streets of Glasgow to protest against insufficient action against the climate crisis. “What’s actually happening now is a crime against humanity”, said one protester. Another was more hopeful: “Individuals will make a difference if we stand up to power”. (11)
A group of 50 young nuclear professionals delighted passers-by with an amazing song and dance to convey the message that Net Zero Needs Nuclear power (12).
Their song (13) begins,
Where has all the wildlife gone
And why the dioxide?
Where's the frozen glaciers
That right the rising tides?
Isn't there a clean tech, on which we're all agreed?
Late at night we toss and we turn and we dream of what we need
We need Net-Zero
We're holding out for a hero
to deliver this right.
It's gotta be safe
And it's gotta be clean
And it's gotta be up to the fight!