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Frankie Mancini / Gavel Media

COP26 Was a Failure

Science says continuing “business as usual” will cause catastrophic and irreversible damage, but necessary commitments were not made at COP26. Unfortunately, we saw more sweeping proclamations of support than actual decisive action take place. Our leaders have failed us again when there is no more time to be wasted. Empty words are no longer sufficient.

COP26 stands for the 26th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland from November 1st to November 12th. State leaders and diplomats from over one hundred countries met to set new goals to address climate change, specifically by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

Although the conference occurs annually, COP26 was the most critical to date due to the urgency of the climate crisis. The Paris Agreement from 2015, which was also considered most critical to date at the time, was established after the COP21 in Paris set goals to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Climate Action Tracker estimated warming of 2.5-2.9 degrees Celsius if current policies continue to be pursued. Even under the most optimistic scenario, there would be 1.8 degrees of warming. So the Paris Agreement clearly failed to meet its targets.

Despite the magnitude of the risk, world leaders are not mobilizing their efforts and shifting into a state of emergency the way they need to. Lack of urgency can partly be attributed to the parties in attendance. While delegates and leaders from over one hundred countries were present, the Presidents of Brazil, Russia, and China did not attend. Additionally, there were more delegates from the fossil fuel industry than any other group, with 503 delegates employed by or associated with the fossil fuel industry. They outnumbered the UNFCC official Indigenous Constituency by about two to one.

This lack of representation from communities most impacted by climate change and well versed in environmental protection calls into question the legitimacy of the COP’s efforts. How can frontline communities expect to be advocated for if they’re not even given a seat at the table? They can’t. In fact, they weren’t sufficiently advocated for. 

COP26 was a “global north greenwash festival,” dubbed by Greta Thunberg. While the richest and most developed countries are responsible for climate change, developing nations and disenfranchised communities suffer the most severe consequences. Vulnerable nations sounded clear and loud calls for not just climate action, but also aid from high emitting countries for “loss and damage”, referring to harm caused by anthropogenic climate change. But a binding climate financing promise was not reached at the COP. 

Six years after the Paris Agreement, the promise of climate financing for loss and damage has not been fulfilled. Since 2016, severe weather events and climate change have worsened to a fatal extent, while vulnerable countries still wait for rich countries to cash in on their empty promises. This broken promise set a bad precedent for climate financing negotiations at COP26, exacerbating a feeling of abandonment and hopelessness by vulnerable nations. 

Countries reached major agreements during these two weeks, but it is not enough. Agreements to release new NDCs, end deforestation by 2030, reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030, as well as attendees agreeing to the Glasgow Climate Pact, bring hope. But the ultimate question is: are these just empty words?’

Can we trust nations to fulfill their commitments? Can these insufficient commitments avert us from the most catastrophic impacts of climate change? Who should get to decide who has a seat at the table? Who will suffer the most as a result of the COP’s failure to adequately address climate change and its consequences? These questions are just a few of the many thoughts racing through my mind as I fight off a feeling of disappointment and dread while reading about COP26’s outcomes.

As delegates negotiated into overtime at the conference, crucial questions over money, mitigation, and methods are left unanswered. Still, there is a consensus to move away from fossil fuels and an understanding of the urgency. Pledges will not limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but inadequate progress is still progress. 

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Environmental Studies and Political Science major. Texas girl that loves listening to Taylor Swift on long walks.