Now that the media has moved on from COP 26 in Glasgow it’s time to take stock of the outcomes and consider how it impacts on us.
So what was the United Nations global climate summit COP 26 all about? In Paris in 2015 195 nations committed themselves to work towards seeking to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees centigrade and aim for 1.5 ˚c, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims. The commitments, which have to be agreed by consensus, (not easy to achieve) are voluntary and are not legally binding, unlike treaties between nations. Hence under successful pressure from the Chinese and Indian governments, the final COP declaration was changed from “phase out” the “unabated use of coal” to “phase down” which shows how fragile the entire process is.
So far we are not on track to achieve this goal as temperatures are already increased by 1.2 ˚c from pre industrial levels (1880) according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The impact of the climate emergency are already being felt with melting ice, rising sea levels, extensive forest fires, flooding and loss of forests and sadly loss of lives and people’s homes and livelihoods. Other effects of global warming include population movements, severe disruption to our weather patterns, our water and food systems and to eco systems and biodiversity. It can also bring about weakened governments, political instability, leading to conflicts and even wars.
COP 26 was supposed to take action to get us back to the Paris targets to avoid further climate related catastrophes. It is clear from the outcomes that it has failed. Rich nations like our own are failing to meet their responsibilities to deliver money already promised to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with implications of global warming. Maybe there’s not enough profit to be made from it! What’s more they are failing to cut emissions fast enough. Maybe this is something to do with the fact that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists, linked with some of the world’s biggest polluting oil and gas giants, were given access to COP26, flooding the Glasgow conference with corporate influence. If all governments met their 2030 targets, we would have 2.4 ˚c of warming in 2100, but right now, current policies put us at 2.7 ˚c.
On the other hand coal and fossil fuels were explicitly mentioned, countries will have to report more frequently on progress towards targets and there were target ambitions around forest protection, cutting methane emissions and private sector investments. As Greenpeace’s executive director Jennifer Morgan put it, COP26 was bad for fossil fuels, but not bad enough. The fundamental truth is that COP26 did not produce the required radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as representatives from the Maldives, Chad and other countries and regions especially in the global south will simply disappear from the map if the 1.5 ˚c, limit is passed.
Meanwhile the UK government has key decisions to take about high-carbon projects, including the Cambo Oil Field near Shetlands and the Cumbrian coal mine near Whitehaven. The government still hasn’t come up with enough money or policies needed to get the country’s emissions down in line with its targets. And they’re still not taking seriously the need for a just transition, which means workers in polluting industries risk losing out as we move to clean technology.
The massive public demonstrations in Glasgow demanded greater action from world leaders to avert climate disasters and deliver climate justice. The question many of them ask is whether an economic system based on putting profits first is willing to carry through even the most basic measures we need. Has the time come to challenge the power of capital if we are to stand any chance of saving the planet?
COP27 convenes next year in Egypt and between now and we will have to intensify raising awareness about the severe climatic impacts we are facing and the action that is needed to radically reduce carbon emissions. In the meantime, we have to campaign locally and think nationally to help achieve climate justice and a safer world now and for the future generations who are already with us! Nations can and must negotiate collctively to limit global warming and climate change, but they can’t negotiate with the climate!