Climate conference: a cop-out?

More are worried but most think not enough achieved

More are worried but most think not enough achieved


There was much talk before COP26 began that this time around the world’s leaders were drinking in the climate’s last chance saloon. But with some failing to stand their round and others not even arriving at the bar, it was inevitable that the summit could never be more than a qualified success. And as the dust settled and the final pact signed, dissected and reviewed, many climate change activists as well as some politicians concluded that COP26 was another spectacular missed opportunity. The biggest disappointment for most was the watering down – forced by India and China – of the wording of the pledge to reduce coal power from “phase out” to “phase down”. Boris Johnson later insisted it didn’t matter about the last minute change to the wording and that the pact had “sounded the death knell for coal power.” The Prime Minister welcomed the outcome of the summit, saying the final agreement was “game-changing” before then admitting that his own feelings at the end were “tinged with disappointment”. Others put their feelings of dismay and disappointment far more strongly, with leading activist Greta Thunberg dismissing COP26 as more “blah, blah, blah” that would fail to see the “immediate” and “drastic” emissions cuts needed. Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai agreed that the summit had not lived up to campaigners’ expectations. 

It wasn’t entirely gloom of course, with the UN’s climate change chief Patricia Espinosa calling the pact a “good compromise” with the target of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C “definitely alive”. Alive but perhaps not ferociously kicking because at the same time the UN also conceded that the deal had failed to achieve the goals of cutting world carbon dioxide emissions by about half, or of making good on a twelve-year-old promise for $100bn a year to support developing countries. US climate envoy John Kerry also chose to focus on progress, arguing that the summit had been a success despite the “imperfect” pact. “We are, in fact, closer than we have ever been before to avoiding climate chaos and securing clearer air, safer water and a healthier planet”, claimed the Biden administration official. But many of the smaller nations represented in Glasgow cannot see the COP26 outcome in the same positive way, with Maldives’ environment minister Shauna Aminath expressing “deep disappointment” and stating that “the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C for us is a death sentence. Our islands are eroding.” The public’s confidence in the ability of politicians to act decisively and speedily enough to avoid climate catastrophe can also be seen as eroding. Our surveys prior to COP set out in the last issue showed 65% still think there is time to take action to avert the worst effects of climate change, but our surveys after the gathering show that the vast majority of us do not think that the actions agreed by world leaders are anywhere near enough.

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