COP26 climate change summit acknowledged there is an emergency but failed to take emergency action – Simon Anderson

The scorecard is being marked. Delegations are heading home. Ruminations are flowing about what the United Nations’ climate conference, COP26, has achieved.

The summit was a first moment for reflection on progress toward the Paris Agreement’s aim of arresting the worst impacts of climate change. This year, countries have been publishing their plans for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate risks.

Because of the Covid pandemic, COP26 came a year later than first scheduled, so both the agenda and the lead time meant that expectations were high. The disappointment that neither China or Russia was represented by their leaders was offset by the prospect of serious engagement by the US.

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How well would COP26 keep the Paris Agreement’s hopes of a 1.5C ceiling to global warming within reach?

The UK’s lead climate negotiator Archie Young tweeted his view of the summit's achievements: the completion of rules for achieving the Paris Agreement; some commitments to stronger and sooner emissions reductions; and consolidation of the ratcheting up of climate action ambition.

Furthermore, Young lauded the first direct reference to phasing down coal; a global goal for climate adaptation; increases in climate adaptation funding; the establishment of a network to seek ways to deal with loss and damage; and a climate finance goal.

Other positive outcomes that have been noted are that countries agreed greenhouse gas emissions should fall by 45 per cent by 2030; some countries signed up to a process for reducing methane emissions; and a global carbon trading deal was reached.

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COP26 president Alok Sharma attempts to stop applause for his efforts as the summit ended amid what he called 'deep disappointment' (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)COP26 president Alok Sharma attempts to stop applause for his efforts as the summit ended amid what he called 'deep disappointment' (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
COP26 president Alok Sharma attempts to stop applause for his efforts as the summit ended amid what he called 'deep disappointment' (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

However, rich countries did not make good on the longstanding pledge of US$100 billion annually for climate action in developing countries. Worse still, respected carbon emissions tracking organisations estimate that the carbon emissions reductions pledges on the COP26 table mean global warming by 2100 will hit 2.4C.

It’s the most vulnerable people in the world who are already the most affected by the climate emergency.

Clémence Abbès Castillo, who supports indigenous communities as Oxfam’s climate justice officer in Peru, stated that: “The people of Peru, including those facing the deadly destruction of the Amazon and the melting of the glaciers, were desperate for world leaders to make these talks a landmark moment in the response to the climate crisis. To achieve this, they needed to secure a dramatic acceleration of emission reduction and a big increase in financial support to communities suffering the devastating consequences most.

“On both counts, the level of progress fails to match the scale of this crisis, which is creating more poverty, more hunger and more suffering, with women and girls living the impacts most.”

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As pointed out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the historic responsibility of industrialised countries to address climate change impacts on the vulnerable has progressed very little at COP26, despite her government showing important leadership by announcing specific funding for loss and damage.

Indeed, the collective proposal by a majority of countries to establish a Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility was considered, and then removed from the agreement text, due to the influence of high-emitting countries.

This gravely disappointed the 46 Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States whose people are already experiencing a mounting onslaught of loss and damage caused by climate change.

Recognition of this injustice was not matched by COP26 finding ways to address it. It is absolutely unfair and unacceptable to leave those who did not cause the damage to pick up the tab.

However, a process to discuss how to address loss and damage was agreed at COP26. The Scottish government’s £2 million contribution, announced in two lots, helped to precipitate contributions from philanthropic organisations (US$3m) and the Belgian province of Wallonia (€1m).

This lays the path for more substantive contributions in the future and can be used to design and test ways to redress the injustice of climate loss and damage.

Inside the halls, COP26 failed to properly include and hear from the voices of those most affected by climate change. There was reduced access to negotiating spaces for civil society observers, a lack of affordable accommodation, and increased barriers to travel because of visa and Covid requirements.

Due to progress at the talks not meeting expectations, on Friday, civil society groups marched through the SEC to join those on the streets outside the venue.

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Although not an official party to the negotiations, the Scottish government has played a positive role in encouraging collaboration and ambition on delivery of emission reductions and climate finance, meeting with Climate Vulnerable Forum leaders, while working with other sub-state actors to increase the bar, for example through the Under2 Coalition.

The Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition is calling on the Scottish government to now urgently deliver a just and fast transition away from fossil fuels and, at a minimum, deliver Scotland’s legal emissions targets. This must be done without an over-reliance on unproven technologies.

In summary then, nations failed to agree to cuts in emissions sufficient to keep the planet within 1.5C of warming. Climate finance promises from the developed world to the developing world of US$100 billion, due in 2020, are still not met.

The Glasgow Climate Pact acknowledges the science, speaks the language of emergency – but does not contain the actions required to meet that emergency. The climate can is ‘kicked down the road’ to 2022 and beyond.

So where is the hope? We need politicians everywhere to hear our voices and understand the urgency. This understanding has to translate into action in 2022 and beyond.

Simon Anderson is a board member of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

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