This year we have seen unprecedented climate disasters all over the world. What people might once have thought of as an issue that we have plenty of time to deal with, has shown itself as a force to be reckoned with now. COP26 has never been more timely, and has been deemed to be the last shot at saving the planet. So, what is COP26, and why is it so important?
COP stands for Conference of the Parties. It signifies a gathering between leaders to discuss climate change. These conferences have been happening since 1995, and each one leads to new commitments on how countries can tackle climate change globally. COP26 will see world leaders gather in Glasgow to try and find and discuss ways in which the damage from increasing temperatures can be limited and mitigated. Not only will leaders of states be in attendance, former heads of states, such as Barack Obama, will be attending, alongside climate scientists, activists and NGOs. Hearing the voices of those who are experiencing the effects of climate change on the front line is essential to tackle climate change effectively and in an equal manner. Indigenous people are vital to this, and in this COP26 there is hope that their voices will be heard and listened to, due to their thorough knowledge of the environment and how to adapt to the changing climate.
Planning has been going on for this conference for years, due to Covid-19 delaying the original date in 2020. This should have given countries time to lay out a climate strategy to decarbonise their economies. Decarbonising economies refers to the aim of producing energy via low-carbon emitting energy sources, such as renewables. The main four aims of COP26 are: secure global net zero by midcentury and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilise finance to realise these first two goals; and work together to deliver these goals.
Currently, the main obstacles are the fact that China’s President Xi will not be attending the conference in person. Whether this is a reflection of his non-committal response to tackling climate change, or wariness over Covid-19, it does not bode well for seeking out and implementing responses to preventing climate change. With China being the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses, they are a key state that needs to be involved in creating a global and coordinated response. Despite Xi not attending in person, hopefully China will still commit to targets to help reduce climate change.
From previous COPs, there has been little action taken after promises have been made. In the COP Paris Agreement in 2015 targets were put in place to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, with 2 degrees being the last resort. However, in the most recent IPCC report it was stated that limiting temperature rising by 1.5 degrees is looking increasingly unlikely. In September, the UN stated that the world is currently on track to reach 2.7 degrees of heating. Each degree of warming represents increased droughts, floods, and forest fires and other climate catastrophes.
Since COP26 has been heralded as the last shot at saving the planet by many, the implementation of all targets set is the most vital aspect. Talk with no action will not save the planet. With some of the largest emitters of GHGs being developing economies, such as China and India, there is a call for developed countries to assist in the transition to renewable energies. This will help their economies to continue to develop in an environmentally friendly way. Developed countries advanced their economies through the exploitation of fossil fuels, which massively contributed to global warming. Because of this there are calls for them to take responsibility for this and help those who cannot afford to adjust to renewable energy solutions in the limited time that it will take to avoid climate catastrophe.
However, developed countries are still reliant on fossil fuels to boost their economies. For example, despite the UK being a leader in transitioning to renewable energy, the UK government is expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, meaning that we will remain dependent on oil for decades to come. With the UK hosting this COP, it is vital that they do not contradict the targets that they commit to. It is not just the UK but the majority of those who committed to the Paris Agreement who are failing to act to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. The UNEP production gap report shows that the world’s governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030.
With scientists and climate leaders being present at COP26 there is hope that they will be able to encourage global leaders to realise the importance of implementing all the targets that they agree to. With the visible effects of climate change now being seen globally it is hoped that all countries will come together to think of and adhere to universal solutions to prevent climate disaster.
It’s easy to get weighed down in climate doom, but it is important to remember that we have not reached tipping point yet. Now is the most vital time to remain positive and have awareness of how individual actions can make a difference. Writing an email to your MP to push them to speak up about climate change, ensuring a greener future, is a great first step. The Climate Coalition has written a template for you to do so easily. Whilst individuals can create individual change by cutting down on their meat consumption, buying locally, or changing the way they travel, governments must make it easy for us to make the right decisions. Supporting a government that helps us make greener choices is crucial. Awareness of how we can help our government to make the right choices surrounding climate change is not always simple. Following the work of environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth is a great way to keep up to date with any petitions that can push the government in the right direction.
With so much weight being put on COP26, there is hope that there will be positive cooperation between governments. COP26 might be the last shot at avoiding climate catastrophe but acting as a global unit, which is what the world is, is the greatest solution to saving our planet.