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Why COP26 Failed Young People Like Me

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After two weeks of discussion, the COP26 finally ended with an agreement between more than 200 countries in Glasgow. Although the discussion continued longer than expected, the results were still disappointing.

A meme on COP and climate change
Photo credit: ZeroSeHero/Instagram

What is COP26? And Why Was It Important?

The Conference of Parties (COP) is a decision making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change initially formed to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The first COP meeting was held back in 1995 in Berlin, and since then, the members have been meeting every year to discuss the pressing issue of climate change.

While previous COP meetings have swung between success and failure, the historic COP21 meeting, held in 2015 in Paris, led to the ‘Paris Agreement’. This agreement deliberated on several strategies, including submitting country-specific National Determined Contributions (NDCs) containing country-specific pledges for emissions reduction and adaptation to climate change.

As a collective global action, the Paris agreement pledged to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial level and an ambitious target to keep the warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

World Leaders at COP on Climate Change
At COP 26. Photo: UNWTO

The COP26 completed five years of the Paris agreement, and according to the ‘ratchet mechanism’, the countries met in Glasgow to revisit and revisit their climate pledges made under the Paris agreement to keep global warming on track of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched a few months ago, warned that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 with the current emissions rate. The report had also suggested the need to decrease the emissions by 45% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels to reach a net-zero emission rate by 2050 in order to stay on the 1.5-degree trajectory.

 

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What Was Achieved At COP26?

While COP 26 took several important decisions during the two-week course of the discussion, it failed miserably in achieving a concrete action, experts said.

1. The Adaptation Story: The final agreement recognised the need for adaptation to climate change and further agreed upon the “scaling up action and support, including finance, capacity-building and technology transfer, to enhance the adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability”. While recognition of the need for climate adaptation was a welcome move, the same momentousness seemed missing during the finance allocation.

The developed countries in Copenhagen (2009) had promised to mobilise USD 100 billion for the developing countries to adapt to climate change. However, this promise has not been met even till now; the OECD highlights that in 2019 only around USD 80 billion in finance was mobilised by the developing countries.

While the finance mobilised was significantly increased from the subsequent years, it has been far lesser than what actually was promised. Nonetheless, the adaptation finance represented only one-third of the total finance.

A meme on climate change and COP26
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At COP 26, developing countries including India had called for rich nations to come forward and deliver on the promised financial help. They sought a trillion dollar a year fund from 2025 – after the previous pledge to provide $100bn (£72bn) a year by 2020 was missed.

2. Phasing ‘Out’ or ‘Down’: The initial draft of the Glasgow pact mentioned a complete phase-out of the coal by 2030, however, because of last-minute intervention by India, the term ‘out’ was replaced by ‘down’. Even though India voiced its opinion, it will not be the only country that would benefit from this terminology change. Countries like China, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, among others who produce and consume coal are also likely to benefit from this terminology change.

3. The emphasis on nature and ecosystems: Glasgow emphasised harnessing the benefit of nature to sequester excess greenhouse gases and protect biodiversity. While the initial draft was published utilising ‘Nature-based solutions’, it remained missing in the final draft amid the uncertainty and hazy motivation around the inclusion of the word.

4. Reducing the emission of Methane: The Glasgow pact invites the countries to reduce the emissions of other greenhouse gases, emphasising methane.

5. The notorious Net-Zero: Even before the starting of COP26, there was an increased emphasis on the declaration of Net-Zero. The global north countries lobbied and persuaded the global south countries to declare the year to achieve net-zero. While India was initially one of the few countries that remained content on the declaration of net-zero, the Prime Minister in his Glasgow speech mentioned 2070 as the year of the country to achieve net-zero. While the achievement of net-zero clearly states of long term action, the question of short term action still remained unclear.

 

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The Statecraft Of The Global North

Historically emissions by developed countries have led to inequitable use of the available carbon space leading to a minimal carbon space available for the developing nations. However, despite being the culprit, the global north has failed to take the leadership position during the negotiations. They have very strategically benefited from the lack of a united front of the global south countries. Glasgow in that sense witnessed galore promises without much weight from the global north.

On the bright side, the global south countries, despite limited finances, outshone in the negotiations. Ambitious targets by countries like India, Nepal and several others were loud in stating the seriousness of the global south in taking climate action.

 

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The COP Action Cycle

As mentioned in the earlier section, some of the deliberations at Glasgow were already proposed during earlier COP meetings. For example, the emphasis on nature and ecosystems isn’t new – the initial conversation to reduce deforestation and augment restoration was introduced during COP 11 in Papua Guinea, where countries introduced reducing emissions from deforestation (RED). Two years later, the concept was transformed in REDD+ to include sustainable forest management and conservation.

Similarly, several other proposed solutions have already been presented on the table before, and the presidency proposed nothing new except largely restating unfulfilled promises.

Why Did COP Fail The Youth Including Me?

I had many expectations from COP26, and as the draft kept getting watered down, so did our hopes of seeing concrete climate commitments from policymakers.

The negotiations, in my opinion, were akin to a street fight where neither of the involved parties agreed to give up. And even as the vulnerable population in developing countries continued to suffer, the developed world kept asking them to take action without providing them with enough finance or technology.

 

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The Glasgow summit was favourable for businesses and corporations. The presentation of the half-baked idea of nature-based solutions (initially published draft) is an example.

The presidency must take cognizance of the fact that climate policy isn’t just about knowing that ‘trees cannot fix everything and nature does not reflect trees only’.

As an environmentalist, it was hurtful to see how nature was used as a commodity Adding fuel to fire, the final draft mentioned how nature was ‘recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth’ – a lame attempt to not just anthropomorphize nature.

Attempts to greenwash outcomes were visible throughout the summit, making the outcomes less than what was anticipated turning the summit into a disappointment, especially for young people like me.

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