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COP26: Progress but not enough?

By Orla Leahy – News Editor

COP26, the 26th ‘Conference of Parties’ since 1995, took place in Glasgow from the 1st to the 12th of November, at which 196 nations were represented. At COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed upon. The official United Nations’ COP26 public relations page describes the pact as “countries [accelerating] progress towards closing the emissions gap.” A short video posted to the page highlights the most significant developments, with 90% of all emissions now being covered by “net zero commitments”, “nationally determined contributions now [covering] 80% of global emissions”, a united agreement to cut methane emissions by 20% by 2030, and faster, more conclusive efforts to implement electric vehicles, and to phase out the use of coal. 

The United Nations’ page states that the goal envisioned under the 2015 Paris Agreement, to keep green-house gas emissions to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, continues to be within reach, following the Glasgow Climate Pact. The Minister for Environment in Ireland, Eamon Ryan, acknowledges that whilst the agreement is not completely perfect, it is in line with the objective of COP, to “keep 1.5 alive” and does recommit to “keep the global temperature increase at a level that is liveable for humanity.”

Whilst overall the milestones set out in the agreement are a positive development, most remain critical of COP’s achievements. Former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, stated that the resulting agreement was “nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster”, and National Union of Students’ UK President Larissa Kennedy noted that, 

“COP26 should have been the moment that our world leaders stepped up to the challenge, uprooted the system, and saved our planet. Instead, we’ve seen them asleep on the job, tinkering about at the edges and failing to address divestment and decarbonisation in any meaningful way.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged that, “The outcome of COP26 is a compromise. It reflects the interests, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.” Whilst the finalised agreement is indeed a compromise, the general consensus is that more needs to be done to prevent climate disaster. Guterres marks the conference as “an important step, but it is not enough.” 

Significant milestone agreements, such as the package on phasing out coal, were reduced in effect, as language was watered down at a last minute change. While such packages require protection by the people, with COP26 Chairman, Alok Sharma, stating, “it is vital that we protect this package”, further action is required to allow us to withdraw from what Guterres described as “knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.” 

It is notable that the action which has garnered most media attention in the field of climate justice in the last three years has been the climate strikes led by youth activists across the globe. Speaking to a number of Youth Delegates at COP26, the US Special Envoy on Climate, Secretary John Kerry, stated that “your movement and the things that you’re saying are on the lips of everybody here in discussions, people all talk about responsibility to your generation, the future.”

While many are unhappy with the outcome of COP26, it is clear that the true effects of the conference are yet to be seen, particularly the actions of people that COP will incentivise. Posting to her social media accounts on November 15th, two days after COP26 talks concluded in Glasgow, climate activist Greta Thunberg claimed that,

“When enough people come together, then change will come and we can achieve almost anything. So instead of looking for hope – start creating it. Now the real work begins, and we will never give up, ever.”

Image Credit: @COP26UK