The success or failure of COP26 will ultimately depend on what happens next. Will progressive governments and civil society be able to use the opportunities that the Glasgow Climate Pact offers to accelerate climate action in the year ahead? Or will the blockers prevail until all hope of keeping global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees is dead? What we – citizens and governments – do in the next twelve months is likely to be decisive.
Sadly, COP26 failed to deliver on its two most important objectives: achieving a level of greenhouse gas reduction pledges which would equate with keeping global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above the pre industrial average; and delivering on the past promise to provide $100bn a year (by 2020) to help developing countries go green and adapt to climate change.
However, a majority of countries refuse to give up on getting there. So, significantly, the Glasgow Climate Pact requests countries to update their current (inadequate) emissions cuts pledges to bring them in line with 1.5 degrees, and commits to considering the adequacy of the aggregated pledges at next year (at COP27 in Egypt), instead of waiting until 2025 as originally planned. It also promises a meeting of Ministers in the year ahead to try to achieve the long-promised climate finance flows, while acknowledging that developing countries already need much more than the originally promised amount.
Incredibly, no previous COP text has even named fossil fuels and the need to get the global economy off them, even though they are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. Such has been the power of the fossil fuel ‘lobby’ – oil companies and the like – and producer countries. This time the prime culprit role of fossil fuels is spotlighted and the text calls for the ‘phase down’ of coal (the most climate-damaging of all) and an end to ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. Of course some countries will now argue that their subsidies are ‘efficient’; but even the mention of ‘coal’, ‘fossil fuels’ and ‘subsidies’ breaks a long taboo which will open the way for more discussion and action.
Also significant at COP26 was the recognition that addressing climate change will require protecting the world’s remaining forests and other ‘carbon sinks’ such as wetlands and grasslands, and restoring these at scale. An agreement early in the conference on ending deforestation was signed by over 120 nations. Whilst a roadmap for delivering that goal was lacking, there seems more intention to act this time after a similar pledge made in a different UN procress ten years ago failed to stop the destruction.
A Rocha UK greatly welcomes this recognition of the value of ‘Nature-based Solutions to climate change. If implemented well, they will be a ‘win-win-win’ with multiple benefits for climate, biodiversity and people’s livelihoods. In preparation for COP26 A Rocha UK facilitated a process to develop a worldwide A Rocha family position paper on the subject, and we will now build on this work together with a view to holding our governments to their pledges made at COP26.
So, what happens now? The lack of decisive breakthroughs on the critical issues of finance and emissions cuts, coupled with agreement to return to them in 2022, adds pressure on wealthier nations to give much greater priority to domestic climate policy and action in the year ahead. And that underscores the critical importance of maintaining and growing public pressure for change.
A Rocha UK will carry out a rapid review of how our programmes can best build on the positives of COP26 in the critical year ahead, and refine our plans for 2022 accordingly. Already Eco Church, Wild Christian and Partners in Action provide supportive learning communities for churches, families, and christian land managers seeking to step up their own action to care for creation. As the number of participants in each grows, so too does the impact they can have. We will also, of course, continue to work with coalitions of like minded organisations – such as the Climate Sunday initiative during 2021 – to pool our resources around a common aim and achieve more collectively than we could do on our own. Key for 2022 will be holding the UK government to account for delivering on the commitments it has made at COP26 – and demonstrating our preparedness to make change in our own lives.
We thank all our supporters and supporting churches for their prayers and support during this unique and important event of the UK hosting the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The work of building on the results together, begins now.
We warmly invite our supporters to join us for our ‘View from Glasgow: Report on COP26’ webinar on 22 November, 7pm. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite here.
Andy Atkins is CEO of A Rocha UK and co-lead of the A Rocha worldwide family delegation to COP26.