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COP26 for Climate Action: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After the staggering failure of COP25, the 26th iteration of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow, United Kingdom, under the presidency of Alok Sharma. Convened in 2021, COP26 was the third meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement and the first meeting after COP21 to call for concerted action to limit global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures.

While mitigating climate change requires equal parts ambition and commitment, COP26 glaringly underlined the need for solidarity. Due to the inability of the developing countries to accelerate their transition to clean, sustainable, and climate-resilient infrastructure without progress on climate finance, developed economies were urged to democratize the climate finance landscape. Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados warned that climate change will be a death sentence for low-lying island nations without financial aid. Barbados, the world’s newest republic, fears the implications of the lack of critical funding to small island nations. On account of this ever-increasing chasm between the developing and developed world, the onus is on high-income countries to stave off the looming crisis that is climate change.

Notably, leaders from over 110 countries signed two major agreements at COP26 to reverse deforestation and reduce methane emissions by 2030 — an indispensable achievement by any metric. India, the fourth largest polluter on the planet, announced that it would seek carbon neutrality. The move was a meaningful step forward for a country that had not previously committed to net-zero emissions. Furthermore, the emphasis on grassroots cooperation by way of adaptation marked a significant turning point in the world’s approach to climate change. Identifying hyperlocal nuances for vulnerable populations in low-income countries was another pivotal dèmarche. For instance, India pledged to phase down instead of phasing out the use of unabated coal. Even though this elucidation was widely criticized for weakening the strategy, it would be unfair to dismiss the consideration that developing economies will need to decrease the use of coal gradually while exploring alternate energy resources.

The Glasgow Summit was, however, largely perceived as an exercise in futility. Campaigners and commentators were quick to prophesy the inaction that they believed would follow the conference. A long history of inadequate regulatory enforcement made observers worldwide voice similar concerns, with Queen Elizabeth II commenting, “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.”

Additionally, the non-attendance of President Xi Jinping was extensively condemned, and rightly so, given that China currently emits nearly 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil did not attend the summit. Having faced international condemnation owing to the incessant destruction of the Amazon rainforest, Bolsonaro decided to skip the convention. On the other hand, President Vladimir Putin of Russia attributed his non-attendance to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the meeting was underway, Greta Thunberg addressed a Fridays for Future protest that drew thousands of people, especially students. The Swedish climate activist stated, “We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.” Aside from pressing political leaders to intervene to curb climate change and urging fossil fuel companies to transition to renewable energy, Thunberg’s speech underscored anxieties about the conference being dismissed as a gimmick. Since 2018, the Fridays for Future movement has sought to exert moral pressure on policymakers to take action to limit global warming.

It is not surprising that the UK government did not deliver an inclusive convention, with advocates for disability rights describing it as an exclusionary dystopian hellscape. One would expect the United Nations — an emblem of inclusivity for people with disabilities — to work dedicatedly to make its events accessible. However, the absence of sign language interpreters rendered the summit inaccessible. COP26 was plagued with more allegations of ableism after an Israeli attendee with muscular dystrophy, Karine Elharrar, was unable to enter the conference venue as it was not wheelchair-friendly. Even though this oversight on the part of the organizers highlighted the importance of embracing inclusive practices, it is undeniable that adopting inclusive climate change policies is the only way forward.

It is safe to say that the Glasgow Climate Action Summit was not without its flaws. Even though the UN Climate Change Conferences have failed to live up to the world’s expectations, it is imperative to note that COP26 successfully established a sense of shared destiny. Thus, it is in this context that the reverberations of the Glasgow Climate Action Summit must be viewed. However, the promises made in Glasgow will have to be carried out if the planet is to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. To make meaningful progress, we will need several rounds of discussions at various levels. After all, our fight against climate change is a marathon, not a sprint.

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