The first few days of COP26: somewhere between hope and despair

Chilly winds have been blowing along the River Clyde, as COP26 kicked off in earnest this week, with Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus playing host to the most important conference the UK has ever hosted.

To locked down streets, and crowds of security, the first two days of the conference saw heads of state from across the world descend on Glasgow. Boris Johnson didn’t mince his words with a strong warning that the world cannot continue to talk tough while doing nothing. Sir David Attenborough delivered an incredible and emotive speech.

But it has been the interventions from those countries who are already on the frontline of climate change which have really set the tone. Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados reaffirmed just how high the stakes are, and reminded world leaders that, ultimately, this summit is about saving millions of lives. Representatives like the Pacific Climate Warriors told us how their communities are already bearing the brunt of decades of inaction.

Whilst some media outlets have wanted to depict COP26 as already failed from day one, and activists have rightly pointed out the gaping holes in the UK’s own climate action, we’re starting to witness the long and messy process that happens when countries get their heads together to tackle a crisis.

Barely three days in and there have been new climate targets from India, a huge announcement on halting deforestation, a breakthrough on delivering green steel and the UK and India have announced a new renewables partnership. Our friends at E3G are running an ever expanding twitter thread of the announcements.

The deforestation announcement has to be followed by delivery this time
Momentum is growing, and yesterday’s announcement to halt deforestation was particularly significant. This was made by a hundred countries representing 85 per cent of global forests, including major forest countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and DRC, and supported by public and private funding. The agreement aims to recognise the importance that indigenous communities play in the protection of forests, and it was welcomed by indigenous leaders. But implementation has been a major challenge for previous agreements like this aimed at curbing deforestation, so now the test will be to make sure that delivery follows through this time, including working with local communities and tackling all the drivers of deforestation.

Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched finance day. He said that he wants to rewire the entire global financial system for net zero, with the UK becoming the first ever net zero aligned financial centre. He committed to make the publication of net zero transition plans mandatory. Given the world is still financing a significant and unsustainable amount of fossil fuels, there’s hope this could move the needle. However, there is no indication of how it will be regulated or policed.

Now the hard graft begins
So, where does this leave the rest of the conference? As the heads of state have left and handed the responsibility over to their best negotiators, now the really hard graft begins. It is time to focus not just on these so called side agreements, but on the prize of getting increased and ambitious climate targets, and mobilising finance to support developing countries in the transition and in adapting to the changing climate.

While it has been easy to get swept up in the headline grabbing, glitzy opening days of COP26, the momentum now has to be kept up,  including continuing to shine light on the needs of the increasing number of communities around the world already at the climate change frontline.

One comment

  • Even rapid net zero may not help. As ice sheets melt they reflect less solar energy and exposed darker surfaces warm up causing more ice to melt. Previously frozen gasses escape while fires and dying vegetation worsen matters further. It is total levels of all relevant gasses, their knock-on effects and even their locations which drive the greenhouse effect. High altitude gasses can’t be readily absorbed by natural cycles like the carbon and nitrogen ones. Hence net zero may need either to become negative or be backed up by geo-engineering techniques like carbon capture or even the admittedly risky solar radiation management. Politicians must come clean though as none of this will be cheap, popular or compatible with “business as usual”.

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