The Climate Crisis: COP26 or Cop out?

The world will watch as a huge landmark in battling the climate change crisis takes place over the coming weeks in Glasgow, with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP 26 as it is commonly referred. All eyes will be on the event, with many people agreeing that the conclusions of the conference may dictate the course of climate change action over the upcoming years more than anything else. So, knowing the importance of the event, just what is it, why is it such a big deal, and how can we ensure the best outcomes?

COP26, is the 26th climate summit hosted by the UN, taking place in Glasgow from the 31st of October to the 12th of November. The UK will be co-hosting the event along with Italy, which will see 197 Parties attending the Conference, making this a global issue on the world stage. 

This is the biggest Conference since the famous Paris Agreement (COP21) of 2015. The Paris agreement was such a success because it laid out the clearest goal, and, more importantly, had the most binding agreements. The critical message from Paris was as such: limit Greenhouse gas emissions to cut global warming to 2 degrees, aiming for 1.5, and cutting emissions by half by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Additionally, a fund of £100 billion was to be given to developing countries to deal with climate change. Importantly, progress was to be checked every 5 years, making COP 26 the first critical review of the success of the currently implemented plans to see whether we are on target for our goals.

Despite improvements in logistical terms, only 113 of the 196 Parties are on track to meet the targets laid out, resulting in a net 12% increase by 2030 based on current projections. With scientists consistently finding that quicker action needs to be taken and the 1.5 degree target must be met sooner, it is clear that drastic action must be taken now. Additionally, the fund promised to developing countries was not matched, leaving developing countries (the most impacted by climate change) hanging out to dry, creating distrust within the ranks, and overall highlighting the importance of COP 26 in meeting its targets and working with other countries. 

Leading up to the conference, speculations are being made about the nature of the agreements that will be made, and whether they will be to the level needed. China has already stated that they plan on increasing their burning of coal due to a power crisis with rolling blackouts, which already raises concerns about the willingness of countries to take drastic measures. Political and economic battles between the superpowers of China, America and many European countries will undoubtedly be at play here, as these parties will be keen to encourage other countries in ‘doing their part,’ whilst also ensuring that their own status is not compromised, many for selfish capitalist reasons.

Credit: Reuters

America and Britain will be keen to push things forward; with UK COP26 President Alok Sharma saying that he wants fossil fuels to be a thing of the past, and the US saying they want the phasing out of fossil fuels by 2030 in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) i.e developed democratic countries. 

This further raises the question of the varying level of input that will be expected by countries depending on their economic status. Many countries will claim that they, unlike the economic superpowers, have not yet been fully industrialised, and will be wary of the potential impact that the policies proposed in the conference could have on their economy, and whether it will even be viable. Rapidly developing countries will be keen to continue their social and economic progress; India will be particularly under the microscope, with such a large population, as well as a growing economy that has a level of dependency on fossil fuels. 

As a result, it may be expected that richer countries, who have caused the majority of the issue, should have to make more radical cuts to emissions, seeing that they have a higher fossil fuel consumption per capita, as well as the resources, money and technology to make these changes. Arguably, this is as much an ethical as it is a pragmatic stance. 

At COP26, there will be expectations to increase the amount of money funded to poorer nations who have unquestionably been hit the hardest by climate change. An example of this is Grenada, a small Caribbean Island, where a sizable proportion of the population relies on agriculture for money and food. But climate change has made seasonal weather unpredictable, turning optimum crop yield into a guessing game, and ultimately leading to lower crop output, crippling many workers and families. Combine this with the cost of damage to housing and infrastructure, it is no surprise that they are pleading for billions of dollars of support from the International Community.

The fund provided to poorer countries must be higher this time around, and actually adhered to unlike before, otherwise countries like Grenada have the potential of facing famines and unemployment on an unprecedented scale. For these countries this may be a make or break, with nationwide aid needing implementation soon with the necessary fiscal support before it’s too late.

The success of COP26 will be based on how substantial agreements are, how legally binding they are, and whether there is a clear plan made on how these goals will be met. The hopes of the people will be the enforcement of practises such as accelerating the phase out of coal, curtailing deforestation, speeding up switch to electric vehicles, and encouraging investment in renewables.

As the hosts we must set a precedent, and this will involve the nation doing what they can to ensure the best results. As an individual, you can make your mark in many forms, such as involvement in protest marches in your local area or supporting solution-oriented groups via online or personal means. 

Ultimately, we must persevere in the struggle for justice for damaged nations, damaged people and damaged futures, and make the changes needed to have climate justice.

Header Image Credit: Flickr