by Elsa Ying (’23) | November 19, 2021
After almost two weeks, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference came to a close on Friday, November 12. Commonly known as “COP26,” or the 26th Conference of the Parties, this summit started on October 31 and was hosted in Glasgow by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy. Attendees included world leaders and delegates from the 197 countries that convened at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, as well as climate experts and leaders of various climate-related campaigns. In addition to formal negotiations, there were several side events, talks, and even marches of upwards of one hundred thousand people.
Such conferences have been held annually since 1995 to address climate change. One of the most famous conferences was COP21, during which all countries settled on the Paris Agreement; the agreement stipulated that all countries would aim to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius increase compared to pre-industrial levels, set aside funds to help adapt to climate change, and enact efforts to prevent the phenomenon. However, upon entering COP26, it became clear that countries still have not achieved the 1.5 degree goal; in fact, the world is currently at 1.1 degrees and scientists estimated humankind has roughly ten years to reduce emissions to an acceptable level. The finding further emphasizes the importance of this year’s conference in stopping climate change worldwide.
Major goals from COP26 included further reducing carbon emissions, protecting global communities from the effects of climate change, and securing funding for climate-related efforts. Echoing the Paris Agreement, the 2021 Climate Change Conference asked countries to provide targets for emissions reduction with the hope of reaching a global net zero for emissions by 2050. Specifically, the conference advised countries to focus on renewable energy, protection of ecosystems, the transition away from coal and deforestation, and the transition to electric fueled modes of transportation.
During the global summit, various agreements were achieved, including a crucial agreement between the United States and China. Since these two countries emit the largest amount of greenhouse gases, their cooperation in working to reduce methane emissions and transition quickly to clean energy marked a significant milestone in the effort to maintain the 1.5 degree goal. This news was a surprise as it came after China’s previous reluctance to restrict domestic coal emissions, as well as the United States’s withdrawal and recent rejoining of the Paris Agreement.
Negotiations continued after the intended end date of November 12 and concluded on November 13 with the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact. All 197 countries in attendance agreed to report their progress on climate policies next year at COP27 and accelerate action. Governments were also asked for tighter deadlines on their plans for reducing emissions, and the document included the expectation of mobilizing financing from all sources. Still, many activists and delegates were disappointed by the lack of firm language or strict expectations within the document.
Similarly, COP26 drew major criticism for its part in increasing emissions. Organizers did encourage eco-friendly transportation options such as walking or taking the bus or train; they also provided more locally sourced produce with a focus on plant-based dishes. Still, many world leaders, most notably Boris Johnson, chose to take private jets and use other forms of transportation with excessive emissions.
Overall, COP26 served as a long-waited opportunity for people worldwide to come together and formally address climate change. However, it has become increasingly clear that if the United Nations intends to truly fight back against climate change, it must demand immediate and concrete action from countries across the world.
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