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Do you need to get out? The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference: Successes and Failures

On November 13, 2021, a visibly emotional Alok Sharma, president for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (or COP26), brought down the..

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On November 13, 2021, a visibly emotional Alok Sharma, president for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (or COP26), brought down the gavel on what had been a contentious summit in Glasgow.

Just a day prior, an alarming lack of progress on a slew of key issues had prompted Sharma to issue an eleventh-hour clarion call: “This is our collective moment in history. This is our chance to forge a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous world. And this is our time to deliver on the high ambition set by our leaders at the start of the summit. We must rise to the occasion.”1

So, did they?

Warming to the task

According to its organizers, COP26’s main goal was to set the world on a path to limiting warming to 1.5° Celsius above preindustrial levels by the century’s end (down from the Paris Agreement’s previous goal of 2°C).2 This initially seemed a highly ambitious target, as pre-conference proposals had put the world on track for a 2.7°C increase, but major pledges from countries such as India soon saw estimates drop and optimism rise. Certainly, there was a sense that talk was finally being matched with concrete action: first, over a hundred nations pledged to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, then the 130 countries that own 90 percent of the world’s forests agreed to halt and reverse deforestation by the same year.3 However, it’s not yet clear whether the holy grail of a 1.5°C temperature rise in 2100 is plausible or a pipe dream – current estimates range from the International Energy Agency’s 1.8°C to a disconcerting 2.3°C (Carbon Tracker).4

Dragging over the coals

Energy also grabbed the spotlight. In the conference’s last week, the fledgling Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, founded to put a halt to new drilling, welcomed six new members,5 while the final Glasgow pact contained the first-ever references to fossil fuels in a COP document.6 Included in this was a promise to put an end to “unabated” coal – which isn’t offset by carbon capture and storage – making it much less economical going forward.7 However, these fossil fuel mentions were ultimately weaker and more compromised than first hoped. In a last-gasp objection, the world’s largest three greenhouse gas emitters (China, the US, and instigators India) succeeded in watering down the wording from “phasing out” to “phasing down”.8 And an outright end to subsidies was qualified with the word “inefficient”, leaving more room for maneuvering.9

Credit where it’s due

For the first time, the world of finance looked to put its money where its mouth is with a strong, formal presence. CEOs across industries seemed eager to demonstrate their new commitment to sustainability – whether car manufacturers promoting electric-vehicle initiatives, or 450 financial institutions aligning $130 trillion in assets with net-zero goals.10 The agreement to set up a global, UN-backed carbon credit to be swapped and traded across borders was one of the conference’s big wins. However, this still falls short of a mandatory universal carbon ‘tax’, and leaves substantial wiggle room for those looking for loopholes.11

“This is our collective moment in history. This is our chance to forge a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous world. And this is our time to deliver on the high ambition set by our leaders at the start of the summit. We must rise to the occasion.” – Alok Sharma

United by a common cause

Despite (or perhaps due to) leaving the Paris Agreement a year prior, a strong American contingent including President Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, and Barack Obama made it clear that the US has returned to the climate table in a big way. While Biden’s sustainability-focused ‘Build Back Better’ infrastructure deal faced challenges at home, the shock joint appearance of Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua was warmly received by the international community. The pair’s symbolic announcement that the world’s two largest emitters would put aside diplomatic tensions to work together on climate change was one of the conference’s most welcome surprises. 12

A climate of mistrust

A stultifying lack of trust between stakeholders pervaded the event. Representatives from the global south felt that they’d been locked out of the process, leading to accusations of corporate ‘greenwashing’ and protests from women, indigenous collectives, and youth activists.13 The Adaptation Fund, established in 2001 to finance climate-related causes in developing countries, did receive $356 million in new support, but this was still considered entirely inadequate.14 Meanwhile, ‘loss and damage’ – the chosen phrase for the destruction wrought by the climate crisis on lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure – became possibly the conference’s most bitterly contested issue.15 Vulnerable countries such as Kenya and Tuvalu (whose delegate pointedly addressed the conference while standing knee-deep in the Pacific), implored richer nations to view the climate emergency as a literal matter of life and death. They also argued for reparations in the form of a $100 billion loss-and-damage fund to help avert, address, and minimize climate-related disasters. Ultimately, with “deep regret”, this pledge remained unfulfilled, with developing nations having to settle for the vague promise of more dialogue instead of hard compensation.16

What’s in the pipeline?

Ultimately, the jury’s out on whether COP26 should be deemed a failure or success. For every desperate disappointment, there was an unanticipated breakthrough. For every resounding achievement, a bitter anticlimax. Even many of the points agreed upon are asterisked, claused, or caveated. Unsurprisingly, reactions to the conference run the gamut from optimism to despair. John Kerry chose to see the positives in arguing that “you can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”,17 Saleemul Hug, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, scathingly labeled the talks “absolutely disappointing and totally unacceptable”, and prominent environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, felt that nothing had been achieved but “blah blah blah”.18

Whatever the verdict, the fact remains: never before has the climate been spoken about by so many influential figures with such urgency. COP26 ended with a call for nations to revisit and strengthen their 2030 climate goals, and to return in 2022 with more ambitious targets to curb emissions. It was further agreed to hold a high-level ministerial roundtable meeting every year until 2030 to ensure acceptable targets are met.19

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  • 1 (Nov, 2021). ‘As COP26 deadline slips, negotiators keep working to agree crucial climate deal’. Retrieved from United Nations.
  • 2 Worland, J. (Nov, 2021). ‘Why it feels so hard to understand what really happened at COP26’. Retrieved from TIME.
  • 3 Hill, A. and Babin, M. (Nov, 2021). ‘What COP26 did and didn’t accomplish’. Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations.
  • 4 Dunn, K. (Nov, 2021). ‘From a carbon market to a coal “phase down,” here are the 8 key takeaways from COP26’. Retrieved from FORTUNE.
  • 5 Nasralla, S. and Abnett, K. (Nov, 2021). ‘Beyond Oil” alliance adds members, but shunned by UK climate summit host’. Retrieved from Reuters.
  • 6 Dunn, K. (Nov, 2021). ‘From a carbon market to a coal “phase down,” here are the 8 key takeaways from COP26’. Retrieved from FORTUNE.
  • 7 Barrett, E. (Nov, 2021). ‘A caveat in a COP26 “clean power” pledge could effectively ban coal power as we know it’. Retrieved from FORTUNE.
  • 8 Hales, R. and Mackey, B. (Nov, 2021). ‘The ultimate guide to why the COP26 summit ended in failure and disappointment (despite a few bright spots)’. Retrieved from The Conversation.
  • 9 Barrett, E. (Nov, 2021). ‘A caveat in a COP26 “clean power” pledge could effectively ban coal power as we know it’. Retrieved from FORTUNE.
  • 10 Hill, A. and Babin, M. (Nov, 2021). ‘What COP26 did and didn’t accomplish’. Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations.
  • 11 Dunn, K. (Nov, 2021). ‘From a carbon market to a coal “phase down,” here are the 8 key takeaways from COP26’. Retrieved from FORTUNE.
  • 12 Dunn, K. (Nov, 2021). ‘From a carbon market to a coal “phase down,” here are the 8 key takeaways from COP26’. Retrieved from FORTUNE.
  • 13 (Nov, 2021). ‘As COP26 deadline slips, negotiators keep working to agree crucial climate deal’. Retrieved from United Nations.
  • 14 Hill, A. and Babin, M. (Nov, 2021). ‘What COP26 did and didn’t accomplish’. Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations.
  • 15 Carrington, D. (Nov, 2021). ‘What is “loss and damage” and why is it critical for success at Cop26?’. Retrieved from The Guardian.
  • 16 Graham, F. (Nov, 2021). ‘COP26: Glasgow Climate Pact signed into history’. Retrieved from Nature.
  • 17 Graham, F. (Nov, 2021). ‘COP26: Glasgow Climate Pact signed into history’. Retrieved from Nature.
  • 18 (Nov, 2021). ‘“Betrayal of people, planet”: World reacts to COP26 climate pact’’. Retrieved from Al Jazeera.
  • 19 Hales, R. and Mackey, B. (Nov, 2021). ‘The ultimate guide to why the COP26 summit ended in failure and disappointment (despite a few bright spots)’. Retrieved from The Conversation.

The post Cop Out? The Successes and Failures of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference appeared first on GetSmarter Blog.

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By: Anitta Jara
Title: Cop Out? The Successes and Failures of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference
Sourced From: www.getsmarter.com/blog/career-advice/cop-out-the-successes-and-failures-of-the-26th-united-nations-climate-change-conference/
Published Date: Mon, 06 Dec 2021 07:47:16 +0000

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