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Was it a COP-out?

COPs are the biggest and most important climate-related conferences on the planet. This year, COP26 took place in Glasgow, and it was framed as a pivotal moment in the effort to halt climate change. Sadly, after two weeks of speeches, protests, and meetings, the climate negotiations ended for most in extreme disappointment. In the closing moments, the president of COP, Alok Sharma, fighting back tears expressed his sorrow as he reminded everyone in the room that their collective climate action had “fallen short on promises.”

Climate Strike march, Glasgow. Pictured are marchers on Sauchiehall Street on their way to George Square. Photograph by Colin Mearns. 20 September 2019.

The scientific community has made it clear that we must limit global warming to 1.5 °C to avoid climate catastrophe. Not surpassing this threshold would avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change and allow society to adapt. The United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, also known as the IPCC, have written several reports explaining in detail how we can achieve this. However, they have also stressed the point that the window of opportunity is closing.

Despite deceiving news coverage, the bitter truth is that climate pledges are still not ambitious enough and the world remains on track for a dangerous global temperature rise. In fact, right now, countries’ registered plans point towards a 2.7 °C increase in global temperatures. This seemingly minor difference is a “death sentence” for many, particularly island countries.

The world has now heated up by around 1.2 °C, on average, since the preindustrial era and millions of people are already being displaced and killed by disasters exacerbated by climate change. Although some parts of the world are experiencing it more than others. Only in this past year, there’s been Death Valley-like temperatures in Canada reaching 49.6 degrees, which created a ‘heat dome’ that killed hundreds of people as well as over a billion sea creatures which were literally roasted alive; to deadly floods in Europe, killing more than 200 people in Germany and Belgium with 2 months’ worth of rainfall in the space of 2 days; to raging wildfires in California, which burned the equivalent of the city of Los Angeles in vegetation and forest in less than 2 weeks.

The IPCC warns that deadly heat waves, vicious floods, droughts, and sea level rise will all get worse if warming continues. Some parts of the world will be too hot for humans to endure and precious ecosystems such as warm-water corals, wetlands, alpine areas, and the Arctic are set to die off. The IPCC have made projections for different warming scenarios to see what the world would look like and, quite frankly, the reality we face is frightening! As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “This is a code red for humanity.”

The evidence is irrefutable and yet, somehow, there is lack of meaningful commitments to action by governments and companies. This lack of climate leadership has caused fury and frustration, to say the least. The resentment inside COP was such, that hundreds of representatives walked out of the convention center in protest on the final morning of the summit. They joined thousands of people marching in Glasgow demanding more action on the climate crisis. Protests weren’t just unfolding in Glasgow city, but all over the UK and the world. From Sydney to Paris to Istanbul, people urged world leaders to do more. There was even a digital global rally!

The 1.5°C threshold of safety set out is still in reach, but there is a growing sense among many that this UN negotiating process is no longer fit for purpose, since it works against the scale and speed of action needed in a global emergency. The Glasgow Pact was weaker than many had hoped for and while the deal recognizes the need to cut emissions this decade, commitments have been pushed to next year. Thus, many people are wondering, has COP26 been a success or a COP-out?

COP26 has drawn mixed reactions, but it’s too soon to write it off as a “failure.” The key test for Glasgow is whether recent climate momentum keeps building, catalyzes the world’s attention, and keeps the goal of 1.5 °C alive.

- Nerea Ferrando Jorge

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