COP26: Thoughts From A Glaswegian
COP26 - an event two COVID filled years in the making is finally here. And for me, here is literally 9 miles from my house. Glasgow is buzzing - not particularly for the event itself but for who is attending. Leonardo DiCaprio was spotted in Maryhill, Emma Watson in Scotstoun and Greta Thunberg got into the local patter singing "You can shove your climate crisis up your a**e!" Madness.
As with every eco warrior, I've been keeping up with proceedings, ever anticipating some overwhelming action that will really prove the wait worthwhile. To gain a bit of perspective outside my own and those in my eco circles I've been chatting with a bunch of Glaswegians from various backgrounds over the past fortnight; collecting opinions on COP26 - both prior to and during the first few days of the event. Unfortunately, the overwhelming opinion from most was negative - a lot of that down to pessimism, misunderstanding and, frustratingly avoidably, disruptions galore! But before we get into my rebuttal of that where I can, here's a quick brief for everyone who needs it!
Check the end of this article for the main highlights from COP and our reflection of its progression of climate justice!
What is COP26 and why is it important?
COP26 is (ordinarily) an annual event which began with COP1 in Berlin in 1995. It is a United Nations conference which aims to bring together world leaders and climate activists to assess global progress toward tackling climate change. This years event has world leaders from more than 100 nations (excluding Russia and China) and activists including David Attenborough, Leonardo DiCaprio, Greta Thunberg, Emma Watson and Mark Strong all in attendance!
While some iterations have proven more torturous than successful, there is a feel in the air that this years event could have a breakthrough moment similar to that reached at COP21 in Paris when almost every nation in the world agreed to a new climate treaty to stop runaway climate change.
After a 2 year hiatus, this COP could be the most important yet in controlling our increasing global temperature. The hope is that these talks will not only help to make the general public more aware of our climate emergency, but that countries will make fresh, wide-scale pledges to slash carbon emissions.
Glasgow's perspective and my rebuttal
As outlined in our Instagram post - the majority of talk from Glaswegians around COP26 has leaned toward the negative. Not because Glaswegian's don't believe in climate change - but because the event itself hasn't been handled all that well. Below, I've quoted some of the most powerful perspectives - along with my response and rebuttal (where it merits one).
"It's not taken seriously! Biden's showing up with gas guzzlers!"
Indefensible. It doesn't send the right message when there was a plain as day chance to make it a platform evidencing the viability of electric vehicles. Hugely disappointing for someone who based his campaign on the climate. In between showing up in gas guzzlers, limiting his stay to just two days and using his platform only to highlight other countries no-showing. While relevant, Biden should, I feel, be focussed more on what the USA as one of the worlds most populous and polluting countries are committing to do to tackle our climate emergency - and recognising that simply "turning up" isn't enough.
"Why not Zoom?"
The negative headline I've saw banded around Instagram plenty is that private jets flying to and from COP26 will release more CO2 than Scots produce in an entire year. Shocking to read it like that and no doubt horrific from an image standpoint - but to that I rebut: may it be worth that short term cost to gain significant traction in climate agreements?
Now of course the go to response has been "why not Zoom" and go remote with the talks to cut the carbon impact. But can you imagine trying to negotiate deals with delegates from 100+ nations, not even withstanding the online security risks of hacking, to which I would gander at least 20 won't know how to turn their camera on, or microphone off... But in all seriousness, in person is where the real deals happen. After dinners and conversations where leaders are able to offer thoughts and favours.
"Why is it even in Glasgow?"
Asked with an undertone of sarcasm and provided with a context of our climate misgivings - I do not subscribe to this negativity. While we are by no means perfect - as playing host city to the event has most certainly highlighted - we are, as a country, leading the way in innovation of renewable technologies and uptake of renewable energies. As per The Scotsman, Glasgow is currently ranked 4th in the world in the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) and on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Moreover, our experience in hosting world class events, commitment to sustainability, and first-rate facilities were also contributing factors.
Instead I offer an optimistic opinion that perhaps even as climate conscious as we are, even we still have work to do. I much prefer to look at our hosting through this counter-perspective offered to me: "This is our moment on the world stage - let's ensure we shine!"
"What's the point? China aren't even at the table"
I feel you. While Chinese president Xi Jinping is not in attendance in person he did appear on Zoom to call on other countries to act...without making any fresh pledges of his own and all the while still commissioning coal plants across his country... 🙃 This one is indefensible - China have a responsibility to the rest of the world to stop relying on old polluting methods and start innovating like everyone else. With all that said, don't allow their acts to disenthuse your own climate pledge - every action matters!
"It's inspiring me to learn how I can help our planet!"
I feel the exact same way!
"It's inviting the world to talk openly about climate change"
I think it has the chance to be a powerful motivator, in part I feel due to its delay from November last year meaning its been two years since our last major climate change event! Given the time pressure to keep warming below 1.5C, it has meant that it feels more important than ever to discuss what we intend to do next to save the world. That and I mean we did all see how much cleaner cities got almost overnight when worldwide lockdowns ensued... That's what's possible.
How to conclude...
Ultimately, it is ACTION that will determine if COP26 is a success. Action, is what will change the minds of the masses, not just in Glasgow where it is hosted but across the globe whose very futures depend on it. Action - definitive and binding, like the Paris agreement from COP21, is the only way leaders can show the world they mean business.
So far there have been positive signs. Some agreements of note. But nothing so far that has blown me off my seat. BBC note that statistically, agreements made thus far could limit global warming to 1.8C. Not yet enough to mitigate the devastating effects that will happen if we cross that 1.5C barrier.
From our perspective - we see this as our chance to save our future. While there is inevitable negativity surrounding the handling of the event itself (with Glaswegian's focussed on the disruption rather than the climate), the gathering of world leaders and climate activists to talk openly about how we can put our planet on a brighter path is inspiring! COP26 will be historic - whether it is for the right reasons remains to be seen. But I feel optimistic that years from now we can look back on it as an event that helped us save the world 🌍
Bonus: Now COP26 is over...how can we reflect?
Not an outright failure - just hugely underwhelming. Particularly considering how passionate the protestors were in encapsulating the imaginations of many Glaswegians. Greenpeace who were not even invited to the talks (like our own First Minister here in Scotland initially) staged a protest of their own - sailing into Glasgow without invite to make a stance on them being prohibited entry. And it wasn't just them. Costs of both travel and hotel bookings spiralled limited many activists from joining (some would call that supply and demand, realistically it's profiteering). But perhaps the most jarring of groups excluded were indeed those who will bare the brunt of climate inaction - youth. Which leads you to ask...at these talks, just who was representing the age groups that will have to deal with the inevitable consequences? Greta Thunberg, an outsider to the innermost aspects of the talks, was closest. Asking the UN to declare a climate emergency. They're yet to do so.
What happened at COP26? - Highlights
- Potentially groundbreakingly, the US and China signed a pledge to work together on climate goals.
- Over 100 countries signed a deal to end deforestation by 2030, including the reversal of forest loss and land degradation! A breakthrough moment was getting Brazil on board - however there has been criticism that it still allows another decade of destruction.
- Around 20 major countries including the UK and US pledged to stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects.
- India, Nigeria announce new net zero targets - though they are beyond the 2050 worldwide target.
- 83 countries pledge to significantly reduce methane emissions.
- Jeff Bezos pledges $2 billion to the environment.
- $575 million pledge to help farmers in low-income nations adapt to climate change.
- 450 firms across 45 countries pledged over $130 trillion of private capital to transition the global economy to net zero by 2050.
- Over 40 countries pledged to phase out coal power, by 2030s in larger economies and 2040s in smaller. Including South Africa's $8 billion partnership to strategically move away from its dependency on coal-generated electricity.
- 23 countries, 40 cities/states and 11 automakers pledge to phase out fossil fuels by 2040. Mercedes and Ford were among the automakers to take the pledge, though the worlds dominant producers of vehicles in Germany, the US and China did not.
- 11 parties join alliance to take on Oil and Gas. Including Denmark, Costa Rica, Italy, Sweden, France, Greenland, Ireland, Wales, Portugal, New Zealand, California and Quebec!
Yes, there were a handful of pledges made that, optimistically, could be powerful in the long run. Deals that if implemented as promised could keep 1.5C alive - getting us close at 1.8C. Yet, while seemingly progressive, on closer inspection are found to have more holes than the plot of a poorly made movie. I sincerely hope my perspective is just an uncharacteristically pessimistic view for me - but I'm convinced I'm unfortunately not in the minority. It's sad that, in reflection, my initial optimism to highlight the positives of every deal has dissipated - but it can be hard to stand in praise of such obvious inaction. There are signs of hope, but drastic enough steps are still yet to be taken, and those that were are left hugely reliant on countries commitments to their word. At COP26, we saw the world standing up - and world leaders lacking the vision to notice.