7th November 2021
Over the past week, the world descended upon Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit. This summit was originally meant to take place in 2020, but was postponed as a result of the pandemic. It’s been billed as one of the largest summits that the UK has ever hosted.
Anticipation was ratcheted up for the summit with several major climate reports being released in advance. In August, the IPCC released a scathing sixth assessment report, writing that, “It is unequivocal” that humanity is responsible for the climate change we’re witnessing, and that the rate of warming was “unprecedented” in thousands of years. Research by Cornell University examined around 90,000 research papers on climate change and found that there was 99.9% consensus amongst scientists that humanity is responsible for causing climate change.
Numerous recent surveys of public opinion show that the majority of people in the UK and across the world understand that climate change is caused by us and want to see action. In addition, the IMF examined fossil fuel subsidies in 2020 and found that these amounted to $5.9 trillion, a staggering amount, which is fanning the flames of the climate crisis. If those dirty subsidies were invested in clean energy, imagine how quickly we could transform our society and our situation around.
It was on the back of these reports that around 120 leaders gathered to discuss the fate of our collective future in Glasgow. According to the Guardian’s Down to Earth newsletter, the attendees include:
- Official delegates: 21,238
- Observers: 13,885
- Media: 3,824
These attendee numbers indicate that the world is finally engaged (at least temporarily) with the climate crisis.
During the first week, a few notable agreements have been reached and some potentially positive news has emerged, as summarised below.
Halting Deforestation by 2030
A historic agreement was signed early during the week to end deforestation by 2030. The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, is endorsed by over 130 countries including Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia and Costa Rica. Together, these countries cover 14,115,761 square miles of forest (the equivalent of 3,655,966,910 hectares of forest).
Critics might point out that 2030 is a long way away, given that an area estimated to be the size of 30 football pitches worth of forest is being lost every minute through deforestation. Critics may also question whether people like Jair Bolsonaro are really committed to this agreement, given his flagrant disregard for the Amazon and its indigenous peoples.
Nonetheless, in terms of a target on a piece of paper, it looks and sounds impressive. Leaders must be held accountable by their global electorate to adhere to this target, because otherwise we run the risk of forests turning from carbon sinks, into carbon sources as they transform into savannahs, grassland and desert.
Potential Warming Forecast Reduced Down to 1.8C
Following on from the pledges that have been announced so far at COP26, the IEA estimates that we’re currently on track for 1.8C of warming. This is an improvement on the trajectory we’d been on beforehand which was leading us catastrophically towards 2.7C of warming. However it’s still some way off the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.
The new estimate of 1.8C comes with a major caveat. It’s dependent on leaders implementing their pledges in full. In addition, 1.8C is still not where the world needs to be, so leaders must be pressed for stronger ambitions and even more urgent action.
- Coal – around 40 countries have agreed to end their reliance on coal as a source of power, through a gradual phase-out. However, some of the largest producers and users were absent from the agreement including the US, China and Australia. It’s therefore questionable how effective this agreement will be.
- Methane – 90 countries have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. But Russia, India and China are not amongst the alliance.
- Banks – The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), will see more than 450 banks and pension funds from 45 countries align their assets with net zero emissions by 2050.
- India net zero – India has pledged to reach net zero by 2070. It has also pledged to generate half of its electricity by renewables by 2030.
- Activism – organisers estimated that around 100,000 people attended a march on Saturday calling for climate action. Numerous activists from around the world including Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate are at COP26 and have hosted numerous events outside the event, lambasting leaders for more ‘blah blah blah’, when what the world really needs is action.
While the pledges so far may sound impressive, we must remember that they are wholly dependent on countries implementing them and this has been the major stumbling block of the climate crisis to date. Fiona Harvey also makes the case for caution in the Guardian’s Down to Earth Newsletter, writing that, “Not all of these announcements may be as solid as they seem: Indonesia appeared to quibble with the forest deal a few days after signing it; the banks signing up to GFANZ are still at liberty to pour cash into fossil fuels; and the coal announcements notably excluded major coal economies such as China, the US, Australia and India.”
Tomorrow, marks the start of the second week of negotiations. The world waits and watches as our hopes and dreams for the future lie in the balance.