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COP26 - An international success or a flop?

A piece by Alice Homer

Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest threat to our world in recent years. At the start of 2021, 64% of people within the United Nations 50 countries declared climate change an immediate emergency.

We want change; we want our planet to survive, and we want it to happen now.

In the UK we are the first to blame the obvious carbon emitters in the powers of the US, China, and India, yet we should share all responsibility and action to stop the issue going any further.

In the UK alone, if we were to stick to the declarations and subsequent response plans we made in 2021, we will have spared the planet’s atmosphere for approximately two and a half billion tonnes of carbon emissions by 2050.

On top of this, with the impacts of covid 19 this past two years, the climate issue has been waiting in anticipation to be addressed. COP26 was supposed to be where all our issues were resolved.

Five years post COP21 in Paris, where a target was set to limit global warming to below two degrees - preferably to one and a half degrees Celsius, It was hoped that this next meeting would be the first major test of this and come up with plans to mitigate emissions and ‘keep 1.5 alive.’ Are we getting close to this? Well, the current national targets are still causing the emissions to increase 13% by 2030 in comparison to the 45% reduction which was aimed.

This is undoubtedly not where we want to be…

I am certain the aim of COP26 was not to tell the countries to come to COP27 with new targets for mitigation and emission reductions. Surely, they should have come to Glasgow with these ready after two years delaying of this extremely important meeting. This therefore begs the question: was COP26 a greenwashing press exercise?

COP meetings success should be evaluated not only by the levels of national and international commitments, but how this relates to the proliferation of non-fossil fuel energy systems and reaching a net-zero or negative emission system. US, China, Germany, and France – the four largest automotive industry countries should be changing their manufacturing processes towards electric - yet none of the aforementioned were present on the register for transitioning to 100% zero-emission sales of new cars by 2035. It’s no wonder, therefore, that after these countries chose not to follow this agreement, that Toyota, Honda, and BMW, all followed suit. Thus meaning that this supposedly influential strategy for reduction of emissions only made a very small contribution.

Blame for the climate issue is thrown around through the lack of commitment and contribution, yet it is easy for countries to avoid taking accountability in the mitigation of climate change. Biden was very quick to condemn the powers of China and Russia for not attending the COP, yet the US didn’t sign the ‘coal pact’ – COP26s flagship policy. Whereas 40% of all global solar energy and 65% of all global wind additions in 2020 were installed in China making its market vital for the downward trend in renewables cost.

Greta Thunberg, influential in the activism over climate change, declared the COP a ‘failure’ at a recent PR event.

She must have done the maths.

The world’s largest carbon capture plant operational in Iceland, costs around $ 15 million and sequesters up to 4.000 tonnes of CO2 annually when operating at full capacity. This is the equivalent of the annual emissions of 800 cars, while globally we typically add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year. How does that add up when a lot of the focus for how we are going to combat this problem is placed on carbon capture? We need to cut emissions in the first place. We have no other option.

The developed countries with power able to support themselves though climate change mitigation should be doing more to help less economically developed countries cope with the effects of climate change and make the switch to clean energy. The previous pledge for developed countries to provide £72 billion a year by 2020 was missed, and so COP26 set out a new fund for a trillion dollars a year by 2030.

This would make a huge difference for the world, yet where is the ratification? What is to say that if they couldn’t give the money previously, they are going to be able to now?

COP26 did not fundamentally change or improve any targets set at Paris and seemed to rely on COP27 in Egypt to back up its plans of mitigation. The term ‘success’ cannot be given when there is no proof of meeting previous targets or any universal commitment to future ones. We must change today for the future of the world. Cutting personal carbon emissions through the small tasks of using public transport or recycling our waste will make the largest impacts. If our politicians can’t make change at these conferences, we must apply collective pressure on these governments to show action needs to happen.

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