What can we expect from COP26? Are the pledges made sufficient or achievable?

A review of COP26 is made to see if the pledges are achievable or not.

Harry Sanderson
11th November 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson talking to environmental campainer and documentary filmmaker Sir David Attenborough. Image: Flickr
Over the past week the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, has been taking place in Glasgow with world leaders meeting in an attempt to reach a consensus on how to tackle climate change. This comes at an incredibly pressing time as the threat of climate crisis looms ever closer and CO2 emissions continue to rise, with many world leaders keen to appear to be doing something to challenge this. Although there are examples of very promising proposals being put forward at this conference, much of what has been said is fairly vacuous, as Greta Thunberg might say there has been lots of ‘bla bla bla’ and few concrete policy commitments as of yet.

Encouragingly, there have been several positive pledges made at the conference, such as the UK promising £290 million to help poorer countries fight the consequences of climate change, and a pledge to curb methane emissions by 30% by 2030 by more than 100 countries. However, the majority of what has been said has been considerably lacking in any substance other than the vague idea of doing something about climate change, an attitude exemplified in Obama’s speech in which he implores the leaders of the world to ‘do more’.

A pledge that has been made that seems relatively realistic was an agreement by 190 countries, banks and organisations to phase out coal power, with historically big proponents of coal such as Vietnam, Poland and Indonesia on the list. However as is with many of these sorts of pledges, the agreement was non-binding and loosely defined, and was also missing important countries such as Australia, the US, India and China. This is exemplary of one of the main problems with COP26, as far too many agreements are made as hollow gestures to please voters rather than serious attempts to end the climate crisis.

One of the main problems with COP26... far too manty agreements are made as hollow gestures to please voters

To do so would require an enormous restructuring of a global economy which totally revolves around fossil fuels, something incredibly difficult to achieve when so many at COP26 have vested interests to support these fossil fuels. For example, 503 delegates from the fossil fuel industry have attended COP26, more than any other country, with Brazil having the next largest number of delegates at 479. Governments also have reasons to avoid climate action due to the immense amount of lobbying by fossil fuel industries and climate sceptics, who have donated £1.3 million to the Conservative Party since 2019.

For those seeking a discussion on climate change led by those that are not beholden to corporate fossil fuel interests, and are prepared to put forward structural and transformative solutions, the counter-event to COP26 being run by Jeremy Corbyn may be the answer. Of course this event has no direct power to legislate any policy, but it has potential to raise awareness of the failings of COP26 and to remind those in power that much more needs to be done. After all, it is only by a radical restructuring of the economy that prioritises the planet over profits for a slim minority that there is any chance of preventing what is undoubtedly the greatest threat the world faces.

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