As the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference draws closer, it is natural to reflect upon the year which has passed since last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. As a young Glasgow resident, I witnessed and really felt the importance of the conference in my city and in the UK as a whole. Although it was undeniably a huge event, exactly how productive COP26 was remains to be a subject of debate – particularly ahead of COP27 and in light of the increasingly undeniable urgency of the climate crisis.
Taking place in November 2021, the primary goal of COP26 was for nations to decide upon methods of reaching the goals of global net-zero emissions and limiting warming to a temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Representatives of nearly 200 countries came together in Glasgow to review the global implementation of the Paris Agreement, as well as the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, and determine means of implementing them in a more effective manner in order achieve the summit’s core goals.
So, could COP26 be deemed a success? Or was it the performative washout that its critics claimed it would be? The answer is complex. Progress was undeniably made, most notably through the Paris Rulebook being agreed upon and the Glasgow Climate Pact being signed. The Paris Rulebook was a development upon the Paris Agreement: the 2015 international treaty on climate change centred on the 1.5 goal. The Paris Rulebook thus provided guidelines on the Agreement’s continued implementation, for example through outlining target timeframes and processes for reporting emissions. The key benefit of this was that it offered practical means of assessing progress.
The Glasgow Climate Pact was a form of progression from the Paris Agreement. It listed the agreements made and resolutions devised during COP26 to tackle the climate crisis and reach the 1.5 goal. In line with the Pact, countries agreed to the goal of carbon emissions falling by 45% by 2030. Also notably, it called for the phasing out of coal power - the greatest factor in global warming. COP26 also saw other agreements, such as the commitment from 137 countries to reverse forest and land degradation within the next decade.
These are notable achievements, suggesting that COP26 was indeed a success. However, there is a general consensus that the conference ultimately fell short. Firstly, it’s worth noting that the Glasgow Climate Pact – the main outcome of the conference - is not legally binding, nor does it state the required actions of specific countries. This renders it less effective than it may initially appear.
There were also more blatant failures. Despite the progress made in regards to phasing out coal power, a number of nations who rely on coal did not agree to completely stopping their use of it – at least for the next two decades.
It raises the question: can we trust politicians – and the political system as a whole - to implement the action necessary to halt the crisis? How effective can these conferences be, given the need for mutual agreement across so many very different nations, and the lack of practical forms of accountability? It cannot be ignored that there are no global institutions in place to enforce the rules and agreements made.
COP26 was also criticised for the visible lack of young people involved in high-level decision-making. Critics argued that youths recognised the sense of urgency surrounding the climate crisis much more than their older counterparts. Indeed, protestors lined the streets of Glasgow throughout the duration of the conference, calling for the diversification of the voices at the decision-making table, and ultimately for politicians to refine their priorities and urgently take much greater action to halt the crisis.
Looking ahead, COP27 will be hosted in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in November this year. It take place within a global context very different to that of COP26, as the tragic war in Ukraine and the impact on economies and costs of living across the globe has come to the forefront. Egypt ambassador Wael Aboulmagd recently acknowledged the limiting impact these events could have on the climate conference, but emphasised the continued importance of unity in the face of the climate emergency.
Overall, although COP26 can be seen as a disappointment due to its lack of ground-breaking progress, it is undeniable that positive steps were taken and some groundwork was laid for this to continue. 2022’s turbulence has somewhat pushed the climate emergency further down the global agenda, yet it remains as urgent as ever. As the loss, destruction, and despair caused by climate change becomes more of a current reality than a future inevitability, we must hope that COP27 is a significant development from COP26. It should - it must - mark further, greater, quicker progress in fighting the climate crisis than ever before.