COP26: “The Two-Week-Long Celebration of Business as Usual”

Annie Sinert, Opinions Section Editor

Climate change is the single greatest threat to our survival. With every year that passes, we see the continued effects of this disaster unfolding right before our eyes. Global sea levels have risen about 8-9 inches since 1880, with about a third of that coming in just the last two and a half decades. Land burned by “high-severity” wildfires – those that destroy more than 95 percent of trees – has increased 800 percent since 1985. This past summer, hundreds of lives were taken by a record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, one so hot that it quite literally melted infrastructure

This is not new information. Scientists have been warning us about the climate crisis for years, and there has been progress made, however minimal it seems in the grand scheme of things. 

For almost three decades, the United Nations has brought together nearly every country on Earth for global climate summits they call a “Conference of the Parties” – COPs for short. In that time, climate change has shifted from being a peripheral issue to a global one. In 2015, the Paris Agreement was born at COP21, with all countries present committing to greatly curb their respective carbon emissions to limit global warming to well below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. Though seemingly a great accomplishment at the time, former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. from the Agreement in 2020, resulting in weaker climate goals for the remaining countries in the Agreeement. 

The most recent summit, COP26, was held in Glasgow where the main goals were to reach a consensus on actions to – again – keep global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, as well as to secure net-zero emissions by 2050. 

After two long weeks of scheduled talks and even pushing into overtime, world leaders came out of the summit with a plan that relies heavily on future action rather than immediate action. The negotiations ended with a document dubbed the “Glasgow Climate Pact” which did yield some positive developments. These included pledges to end and reverse deforestation, a deal between more than 100 countries to cut methane emission levels 30 percent by 2030, and new commitments to phase out coal power. 

Aside from those, the rest of the negotiations didn’t yield quite as much “progress.” 

Some of the shortcomings include the following: 1) despite a historic call for a “phase-down” in coal power, some coal-reliant countries – namely India, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil – indicated that they will not stop using coal until the 2050s or later; 2)  in spite of poorer nations renewing their calls for financial assistance from richer nations to adapt to the effects of climate change, countries failed to make significant progress on climate finance, only including a promise for future dialogue; and 3) China and other countries declined to commit to net-zero emissions by 2060. 

And those are just to name a few.

COP26 has been called a failure by climate activists across the globe, with some even comparing it to a 2009 summit in Copenhagen that ended in near complete disarray. 

Following a strike organized by “Fridays For Future” that saw thousands march across Glasgow’s city center, the familiar voice of Greta Thunberg rang through the air. “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic action on climate change,” she said. Thunberg described the summit as the “most exclusionary COP ever,” mentioning that “those at the sharp end of the climate crisis remain unheard.” She added that the event could be considered a “two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah.” 

Asad Rehman of the COP26 Coalition and executive director of War on Want, an organization that fights poverty, stated that “we should call it the ‘Glasgow suicide pact’ for the poorest in the world. [The Glasgow Climate Pact] does not keep us below the 1.5°C guard rail. In fact, it heads us closer to 3°C…they’re ramming through so many loopholes that it makes a mockery of these climate negotiations.” 

Despite the mounting evidence proving that the climate crisis is upon us, our world leaders have continued to neglect taking decisive action against it. In the face of melting polar ice caps and increasingly destructive fires reducing once lush wildlife to uninhabitable deserts, the people we’ve put in power maintain their negligence. They refuse to consider any efforts that have even the slightest chance of inhibiting or constraining our capitalist economy. They continue to put profit and financial gain over their people, as they’ve always done. 

Climate change has remained arguably the toughest, most intransigent issue our society has ever faced, and it’s easy to feel helpless in this fight for our survival. However, that is not necessarily the case. The reality is that collective action and concerted efforts that come from the voice of the people can make significant headway in effecting change. Attend rallies. Sign petitions. Hold our elected officials accountable to the promises they’ve made. The climate clock is ticking, but it’s not too late. If our world leaders can’t come to an agreement, it’s up to us to make it for them.