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COP26 is over, but we are still heading for catastrophic climate breakdown

4 min read

COP26 had been billed as the most important climate summit ever, our last best chance to avert climate chaos and meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. So how successful was it?

The COP presidency had set as its top priority keeping 1.5C alive. By the summit’s end, it was on life support. The pledges made by individual countries come nowhere near what’s needed to meet that target. Diplomats’ satisfaction that the words coal and fossil fuels have been mentioned for the first time in a UN climate agreement – 40 years after we were first warned of the dangers of carbon pollution – do not make up for the fact that we are still heading for catastrophic climate breakdown.

In the inevitable blame-game, fingers have been pointed at India and China for a last-minute watering down of the final text on coal, even though earlier in the summit both the US and Australia had also failed to sign up to a pledge to phase out coal. Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, even openly celebrated the weakened text.

For all his powerful speeches about “one minute to midnight”, Boris Johnson snubbed the chance to show he’s serious about phasing out fossil fuels when he refused to sign up to the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.

Joining this alliance, initiated by Denmark and Costa Rica, would have signalled clear intent to end our deadly addiction to fossil fuels, and put an end to speculation about the Cambo oil field and other oil and gas licences in the North Sea. 

By rejecting it, the Prime Minister sent a clear signal that he can talk the talk but won’t take the necessary action. One wonders what role the 500+ representatives of the fossil fuel sector at COP26 played in this decision.

There is a huge climate debt which the developed world owes to the global south for the impacts of climate change

Vulnerable nations, such as small island states, left Glasgow justifiably angry and in despair about their future and the likely death sentence which hangs over them if emissions are not drastically cut this decade. 

But let’s be clear: their anger had been there from the start of this conference because of the failure of rich nations to honour a pledge made more than a decade ago to provide $100bn a year in climate finance.

Countries on the frontline of the climate crisis are already paying vast sums to repair the damage caused by violent storms and having to abandon valuable land to rising seas or extreme weather – all made much worse by a crisis they did not cause. There is a huge climate debt which the developed world owes to the global south for the impacts of climate change and that debt needs to be paid.

While the critical issue of loss and damage did make its way into the final agreement, there is no formal funding attached to it within the Glasgow Climate Pact. The Scottish government put £2 million on the table, followed by Wallonia. From the UK government, there was nothing. 

Boris Johnson may claim to have been moved by the voices of small island states, but he did not listen to what they’re calling for.

The UK presidency of COP does not end until it hands over to Egypt for COP27 next year.  It is vital that the government uses this time to maintain political momentum so there is no backsliding on what was agreed in Glasgow.

The climate finance package promised in 2009 must be delivered in full by 2025, with the $100bn a year target met and the past two years’ shortfall made up. The Glasgow Dialogue cannot become a talking shop but must deliver new and additional funding for loss and damage at COP27 next year.

Climate justice demands that countries whose economies are being devastated by climate breakdown are compensated for their losses by those whose emissions caused the damage.  

Now it’s been agreed that climate action plans should be revised every year rather than every five years. When countries travel to COP27, their climate action plans must be made more ambitious and in line with 1.5C. We have only 98 months to halve global emissions. None of those months can be wasted.

Most of all, we need to heed the warnings of organisations from the IPCC to the International Energy Agency and end the exploitation of fossil fuels. One of the most promising developments on the side-lines of COP26 was the support from parliamentarians and others for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. 

This is the kind of step we need to take if we are to get off our current disastrous path: a clear signal that fossil fuels should be left where they belong, in the ground.


Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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