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Inside COP26

By Clara Felberbauer – Student Contributor and Member of the UCC COP26 Delegation

From October 31st to November 13th, delegates from almost every country in the world gather in Glasgow for the 2021 annual United Nations Climate Change conference. It is the 26th Conference of the Parties involved in this climate summit – COP26. UCC is the only Irish university with ‘observer’ status – which means it sends four representatives each week of COP26. We arrive for the first week of COP26 by ferry and train. We arrive at the venue, and after about 2.5 hours of queuing and security checks – the police contingent is enormous – we dive into the busy world that is the inner “Blue Zone” at COP. A great number of young people are attending – not only as observers, but as part of delegations and activists. 

The first two days of COP26 are dedicated to the World Leader’s Summit, where heads of government meet and give their speeches. After the world leaders leave, some of the hustle and bustle dies away and the actual negotiations begin. Usually, these meetings should be observed by members of the public – NGOs like our delegation from UCC – this year they happen behind, mostly, closed doors due to Covid rules. The parts of the conference we have unlimited access to included presentations, speeches and discussions, as well as an area with country pavilions where different countries and organizations present their programs on a wide variety of climate change issues and solutions. A couple of feet away from the Brazilian pavilion, a young indigenous woman talks about her people’s fight for land, the constant threats she faces and their mistrust in the current government, under which deforestation has increased. 

At COP21 in Paris 2015, countries agreed for the first time to work together to limit global warming ‘well below’ 2 degrees. This year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released another report stating the importance of limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees to avoid the risk of cascading ‘tipping points’ – sudden and often irreversible changes that accelerate climate change including permafrost thawing, large-scale coral reef die-offs and ice sheet losses. The world is currently experiencing 1.2 degrees of global warming, with every increment of additional warming resulting in an increase in more extreme weather and climate events and connected loss of lives and livelihoods.  

The goal of COP26 is to ‘keep 1.5C alive’ by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Countries pledge to contribute to this reduction by bringing forth Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs). Ireland pledges to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030, the EU overall by 55%. Significant pledges are taken during COP26 – pledges to cut methane emissions, phase out coal and end deforestation in many countries. All these pledges combined – providing that they are all timely and successfully implemented – would lead to a warming between 1.8 and 2.4 Degrees. In the conclusion delivered in the evening of November 13th, countries agreed to meet every year – instead of, as planned, in 5 years’ time – to revisit their commitments to reach the 1.5 degree goal. 

To achieve this goal, developed countries – which are historically responsible for the vast majority of CO2 emissions – are incentivised to raise a sum of $100bn annually for developing countries to deal with mitigation and adaptation related to climate change. Although many countries double their contributions, the necessary funds are not reached, which is heavily criticized by developing countries. Another part of the discussion is the question of ‘loss and damage’, i.e. direct compensation of unavoidable harm induced by climate related events.  

Outside the venue, protests are constantly ongoing. The Fridays for Future march on Friday was attended by 25,000 people, the one on Saturday by 100,000. Those of us who are still around for the weekend attend the march. Much has been achieved at COP26, but there is much more to do to achieve the 1.5 degree goal.