Good COP, bad COP? What to think of the Glasgow climate summit

The COP26 circus has left Glasgow. Was it all just a bunch of ‘blah blah’, or were there real signs of progress? Martin Wright deciphers the events

So, now that the circus is gone, was that a good or a bad COP – or somewhere in between?

To state the obvious first: it hasn’t fixed climate change – not with a long chalk. Add up all the commitments made by governments under the Glasgow Pact, and we are still on track for a global temperature rise of 2.4 ° C, well beyond the comfort zone.

The world at large has not even made a commitment to phase out coal – essential to any real progress. Instead, under pressure from the big coal users India and China, we have just agreed to “phaser” [it] down ”- a neologism so vague that it hardly makes sense.

Meanwhile, governments of rich countries are still reluctant to take responsibility for the lion’s share of carbon emissions and put large enough sums of money on the table to compensate poorer states for “loss and damage. “that they suffer as a result.

But take a closer look at what was sometimes a stormy COP26, and you will see real bright spots among the clouds.

First, the fact that the official target is now to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 ° C represents real progress. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was the previous legally binding agreement, the official aspiration was just “well below 2C”. Half a degree might sound like a small beer, but for many of the world’s poorest communities, let alone its coastal towns, it could mean the difference between destruction and survival.

COP26

Keeping warming at 1.5 ° C is a matter of survival for some low-lying countries. Image: Jailam Rashad

This was underpinned by a renewed – and much-needed – sense of urgency, with countries agreeing to return next year (to COP27 in Egypt) with revised national plans for more ambitious climate goals – rather than submitting them. than every five years.

As for coal (and more generally fossil fuels): the language may be weak, but it is, absurdly, the first time that there is a reference at the COP to the need to go beyond. The elephant in the room has finally been named and humiliated, in other words, and with governments, lending agencies and banks increasingly determined to end funding for new coal-fired power plants, its days seem really counted.

Beyond the Glasgow Pact itself, the first and second weeks of COP26 witnessed a plethora of announcements and side alliances which, while ambitious rather than legally binding, cannot simply be considered hype and greenwash.

COP26 saw a plethora of announcements and alliances that cannot simply be considered greenwash

On coal, for example, they included a pilot project to help South Africa make a decisive “just transition” out of its dependence on coal. If successful, this could serve as the basis for similar programs for India and elsewhere. (Incidentally, India may be one of the largest users of coal in the world, but it is also pioneering an incredibly rapid deployment of solar energy, including for its rural poor, which has enabled it to announce its goal of ‘net zero by 2070’ in Glasgow.) On fossil fuels more generally, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, launched by Costa Rica and Denmark, has helped to establish a standard to which the largest countries aspire.

Then there was the pledge to end deforestation by 2030 – signed by 100 countries, including (to great surprise) some of the main drivers of deforestation, like Brazil and Indonesia. Given the recent spiraling loss rates in the Amazon and a seemingly fast reverse ferret by the Indonesian government, cynics could be forgiven for saying, “Yeah, that’s right…”. But once again, the engagement has set a very public marker on which nations will increasingly be judged. And it was backed by significant funding pledges from governments and private donors, including (ironically) $ 2 billion (£ 1.49 billion) from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Equally unexpected was the agreement on the reduction of methane emissions – a greenhouse gas more powerful than CO2, hitherto not addressed in previous COPs. Then there was the agreement between the United States and China (locked in a superpower rivalry over trade, Taiwan and human rights in the run-up to COP26), to work closely together in pursuit of a limit of 1.5 ° C. Little precious material in there, certainly, but proof that rivals can put aside differences to collaborate on the climate.

COP26

Commitments to end deforestation have been supported by significant funding pledges. Image: Guy Bowden

Put it all together, along with other commitments, and the respected International Energy Agency concluded that we might be on track to achieve a 1.8 ° C rise – if (and that’s a ” if ‘the size of the planet) everyone does what they say they will.

There is another reason to hope, and it is controversial: money. Money speaks; and loud cries of money. And when it’s 130rpm (96.6rpm), it really makes a lot of noise. This is the total amount of assets that are – in theory, at least – now managed in accordance with the goal of transitioning to a low carbon economy, by the 450 members of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, launched by the former Bank of England. Governor Mark Carney.

This is far from perfect – some of its members are still very exposed to fossil fuels, for example. And activists who naturally see capitalism as an important part of the problem will shudder at the idea that it might get us out of the mess it has created. But like it or hate it, money can go really fast when it sees an opportunity – and right now all the signs are that clean energy and green technologies are the way to go. great place to get a decent return on your investment. And it could still lead to much faster progress than the slow wheels of global diplomacy can ever hope for.

There is a lot of work to be done. But we’re still in this

In short, therefore, COP26 and its associated circus have not resolved climate change. There is still a mountain to climb, and it is terribly steep. But to dismiss it as all “blah blah blah” is to reject a lot of hard work by a lot of basically decent people pushing for the best possible progress in an imperfect world.

There are therefore real points of light among the storm clouds. They may be small and flickering right now, but like the headlights of distant trains glimpsed through the haze, if they can just stay on track, these lights will get bigger and brighter. Whether this happens, and whether it happens quickly enough, depends on governments, businesses, civil society – and each of us.

There is a lot of work to be done. But we’re still in there.

Main image: Red-robed Extinction Rebellion protesters in Glasgow. Protesters Mark Richards / Extinction Rebellion

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