Long queues, exclusionary negotiations, an inaccessible conference centre. COP26 may well be remembered, but instead of being the watershed moment it was touted to be, it’s more likely to be recalled for everything that was limp and lacklustre about the two-week summit.
Perhaps to the dismay of the Prime Minister and his government who were angling to use their role as hosts to show off their global might, the talks were marred from the very beginning by their exclusive nature. If nothing else, the summit highlighted the glaring inequity between the rich nations who’ve fuelled the global climate crisis for decades, and poorer countries who’ve done least to cause it.
This summit needed to see great gains made; instead, negotiations stalled and shuffled along reluctantly. It’s in this vein that previous climate talks have failed to deliver the meaningful, lasting change needed to halt climate breakdown and stop us hurtling towards a disastrous, uncertain future.
The defining text published at the close of this year’s conference, dubbed The Glasgow Climate Pact, saw intense wrangling which kicked negotiations into extra time. Unsurprisingly, crucial agreements at the core of this deal were eventually weakened, including around phasing out fossil fuels. The language used to hold countries responsible in the future was watered down making much of what remained vague and meaningless.
Starkly, the final deal does not put the world on track to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. Analysis by Carbon Tracker which found that the world is actually on course for 2.4 degrees of warming came at a crucial moment in the talks, cutting through the many curated announcements which might fool some into thinking progress was being made. Ultimately, The Glasgow Climate Pact has failed to lock in the ambitious commitments desperately required of wealthy nations to drive down climate-wrecking emissions in the near future, nor their agreement to provide adequate financing so that poorer countries can do the same.
Photo by Ben Soedira
The chasm between what has been promised, and what’s needed to stop catastrophic climate change, is still far too big. The Pact reinforces the idea that net zero must be reached “around mid-century”. This doesn’t tally with what the science tells us: that deep emissions cuts are needed in the next decade. Or what historic responsibility dictates – that richer countries which have emitted the most need to make greater emissions cuts, and sooner. Instead, it allows the world’s biggest polluters to keep recklessly emitting for decades, while finely balancing their “net” emissions through unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage, or other dangerous distractions such as bogus offsetting schemes.
One of the most alarming omissions from the agreement is any financing for loss and damage. The term describes the irreversible changes that are inevitable globally even if 1.5 is achieved, making parts of the world too hostile to remain habitable. It extends to the devastating consequences for people, livelihoods and homes, as well as the less obvious impacts such as the loss of culture and biodiversity. The world’s poorest, who have contributed least to climate chaos, stand to be hardest hit in this respect, owing to the growing volatility of regions, and in some cases whole countries, which are likely to be impacted by multiple climate hazards.
The UK, along with other wealthy nations, has undermined climate progress by failing to acknowledge its historic responsibility for fuelling climate breakdown, and compensating those communities who have barely contributed accordingly. It is not enough to simply finance solutions to help climate vulnerable countries adapt to our changing world – the financial target for which hasn’t yet been met by rich countries. Damages must surely be paid to those countries which are set to lose whole swathes of land to climate disaster through little fault of their own, millions of homes and livelihoods lost forever. Money alone is hardly enough to remedy this great injustice, which is why it’s an affront that this bare minimum has not been met.
Photo by Ben Soedira
And if global inequalities haven’t already been exacerbated enough by climate disaster, then agreement on a particularly troubling aspect of the Paris Agreement which finally came to a head after years of delay should ring alarm bells. Carbon markets have been a highly controversial and contested subject in climate circles, because legitimising them allows countries to trade “carbon credits”. This means that some countries can continue to pollute in the face of climate change by paying other countries to account for some of their emissions in exchange. The problem with this approach is that it’s unlikely to limit warming. Worse still, carbon markets often rely on dodgy offsetting schemes which are linked to land grabs, human rights abuses and furthered disenfranchisement of marginalised and Indigenous communities.
When there’s still so much ground to gain in order to prevent the worst of climate breakdown, it can be difficult to see a way forward. Not nearly enough has been done by the world’s most powerful countries to stem their addiction to dirty coal, oil and gas, or level the playing field so that nations who will bear the brunt of the climate crisis have a fighting chance in curbing it. We cannot wait for governments and businesses with vested interests to save our planet, that much is clear.
By harnessing the unlimited potential of people power, the tide can be turned, the reign of Big Oil, Gas and Coal ended. But it will take commitment and hard graft, starting at the local level. We can make a good start here in the UK today, by telling our government we don’t want any more dirty fossil fuels. That means no more oil from the North Sea or Surrey, coal in Cumbria, or a gas mega-project in Mozambique. It’s on the streets and in our communities that we should look for hope.
Rachel Kennerley is the International Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Follow her on Twitter.