Every year, a United Nations Climate Change Conference is held where nearly every member state of the UN convenes to discuss climate policy and set international goals to limit the effects of climate change. These conferences are generally referred to as Conference of Parties (COPs). COP26, marks the 26th conference. After being delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it began on the 31st of October and ended on November 12th 2021.
Nearly two hundred countries participated in COP26, intending to discuss plans for financing climate decisions, fossil fuel consumption. On the agenda is also evolving the guidelines set in the 2015 Paris Agreement and working towards keeping the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ alive.
It is unclear how the decisions made at COP26 will affect the future. The conference made history, producing the Glasgow Climate Pact, the first climate deal to specifically address the role greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels play in worsening climate change.
Despite making major headway in this respect, international conferences are often met with criticism as many people worry that the atmosphere of compromise and debate means that nothing truly effective is ever enforced as a result. Whether or not this is true, these conferences are hugely significant. In order to tackle a part of this question, this article takes a brief look at COP26 and what it means for the future of the planet.
Climate change has been at the forefront of several scientific discussions for quite some time now. Many people refer to it as the greatest threat to our generation.
Post-industrial climate change has evolved into a situation that cannot be resolved through individual action alone. Now, when every country in the world is predicted to see dire consequences as a result, it is paramount that the international community works together to collectively limit the effects of global warming, which is exactly what the countries participating in climate summits like COP 26 intend to address.
COP26: The Agenda
Aside from the general importance of ongoing international discussions on climate change, COP26 was seen as an especially significant conference.
In 2015, COP21 made history, resulting in the widely known Paris Agreement. The agreement had signatures from nearly 200 countries who collectively agreed to work to limit the effects of global warming to 1.5℃. The agreement also stated that all member nations would work to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This was supposed to be the year the “Paris Rulebook” would be finalized thus allowing the operation of the Paris Agreement. Part of the agreement was that the member states would update their ambitions towards this goal every five years: making this the first year that countries reevaluate their plans.
Participating countries were expected to come forward with their carbon emission targets for 2030 in order to ensure everyone was staying on track with the mid-century net zero target. Delegates also discussed the financial mobility required to meet their goals. Globally, there is an emphasis on phasing out coal and other fossil fuels as well as increasing investment into renewable energy.
Earlier in the year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their sixth assessment report about the state of climate change across the world. The report reviewed all the literature in the field and in a sentence, spelled out grave danger to human society as a result of climate change. The state of climate change has evolved to a level at which it is inevitable that there will be disastrous consequences: the global focus now falls on minimizing the impact on society and natural ecosystems that are at risk of extinction, which was also part of the agenda for COP26.
After twelve days of discussion, one might wonder: “did this accomplish anything?”
COP 26 closed with the first deal to ever explicitly target global fossil fuel consumption, arguably the single greatest contributor to climate change. It was agreed upon that wealthier and more nations would help fund climate relief for the countries that require it- most of whom are developing or underdeveloped countries that do not have the resources. The participating countries also all agreed that work must be done in order to cut down global emissions.
These are all principles that COP26 had on its agenda even before it began, however the minutiae of how these discussions progressed has been a point of contention.
Perhaps most widely reported was the fact that India rejected a clause related to coal consumption, resulting in the rewording of the intentions expressed from “(to) phase out” coal to “phase down”. This move was backed by China, as well as many developing countries that are reliant on coal consumption for development. In particular, India’s environment and climate minister argued that the conclusion had to be kept “reasonable” for developing nations and their emerging economies.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, stated that regardless of the phrasing, the clause still expressed an intention to move towards lower carbon emissions and therefore did not make much of a difference.
This sentiment was, however, not shared by all participants. Many of them expressed a sense of dismay at the change.
While the Glasgow Climate Pact is the first of its kind, it was acknowledged that our current efforts as a global community are simply not enough to limit climate change to the 1.5℃ limit set by the Paris Agreement. The participating countries, nearly 200 countries, have agreed to update their commitments by the following year. Currently, our best efforts put us at a projected 2.4℃ global warming.
The Glasgow Climate Pact represents change in the right direction, but it is apparent that there is a long way for us to go. With that being said, what happens now?
The future of our planet is often painted as dire and hopeless. Reaching pre-industrial greenhouse gas levels is a task that requires complete commitment and co-operation on a global scale. The 2021 IPCC report even states that some damage has already been done and even with limiting climate change to 1.5℃, there will be unavoidable consequences.
There is still time to act. While many countries agree that reducing dependence on greenhouse gases is essential, progress has been moving at a slow pace. The fossil fuel industry has existed for several years, our dependence on them cannot be overstated: but it must come to an end if we are to preserve any hope of limiting climate change to the levels as agreed-upon in the Paris Accords.
Globally, it is unsurprising to note that climate activists continually express a lack of faith in the promises made by government leaders worldwide. While COP26 was going on, there were a staggering number of protestors in the streets of Glasgow, echoing the sentiment that they simply did not feel represented by the people making the discussions at COP26. Similar climate demonstrations took place across the globe.
While the UN, and it’s member nations, continue to state that they are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, data shows that we are not currently on track to achieving this. Intentions and ideas are great, but change comes with action. If all goes well, future talks and policy discussion will bring better outcomes. While climate data often spells doom, we still have time, limited though it may be.
It seems that climate change is a waiting game. International conferences such as the COPs set goals to be achieved over a relatively long period of time.
Reviewing the literature in the field tells us that should we fail to act appropriately, climate change will bring unprecedented damage to everyone that calls planet earth home. Statistically, countries with developing economies are projected to be the worst-hit. Climate change is therefore portrayed not just as a problem of environmental damage, but also one of disparity. It is a complex issue: one that unfortunately, we cannot solve.
It is paramount that sustainable practices become the norm. In recent times, there has been a massive push for governments to take climate considerations into policy decisions.
Currently, we sit at global warming levels of a little over 1℃. With us moving head-first into an irreversible catastrophe, we have a moral responsibility to prevent the worst. Unfortunately, individual action is often offset by systemic practices. Billions go into fossil fuel subsidies every year, an act that often tables any discussion of renewable energy as being “too expensive” in comparison. The fact is, we need global action- and quickly.
Given international promises to aim for reduction in consumption of fossil fuels, it seems like we’re headed in the right direction, even if we’re not there yet. Whether it comes sooner or later, it seems that we have accepted that greenhouse emissions from fossil fuels have no place in the future. Discovering the answer to “sooner or later”, however, is a waiting game.
 “COP26 EXPLAINED,” 2021. https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/COP26-Explained.pdf.
 “Conference of the Parties (COP) | UNFCCC.” 2019. Unfccc.int. UNFCCC. June 12, 2019. https://unfccc.int/process/bodies/supreme-bodies/conference-of-the-parties-cop.
 United Nations. 2021. “IPCC Report: ‘Code Red’ for Human Driven Global Heating, Warns UN Chief.” UN News. August 9, 2021. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097362.
 Abnett, Kate, and Valerie Volcovici. 2021. “Analysis: Was Glasgow Pact a Win for Climate? Time Will Tell.” Reuters, November 14, 2021, sec. COP26. https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/was-glasgow-pact-win-climate-time-will-tell-2021-11-14/.
 Reuters. 2021. “What They Are Saying about the U.N. Climate Deal.” Reuters, November 13, 2021, sec. COP26. https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/what-they-are-saying-about-un-climate-deal-2021-11-13/.
 IPCC. 2021. “Sixth Assessment Report.” Www.ipcc.ch. 2021. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/.