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The COP26 Climate Conference was a major disappointment

Thesis: Despite recognising the urgency of the environmental crisis, leaders at the COP26 conference failed to reach an adequette deal which would lead to tangible progress towards tackling climate change.

Stephen Finlayson for 'Globalisation, Ethics, Welfare and Human Rights'

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) was held in Glasgow between October 31st and November 13th, with the intention of achieving four main goals: to secure global net zero carbon emissions by mid-century; to restore ecosystems and build defences to protect communities; for developed economies to mobilise their finances and provide at least $100bn in support per year; to encourage collaboration and co-operation across the world. Although the severity of climate change was highlighted, the conference was largely a disappointment due to three main issues. These issues include weak, broad targets, the hypocrisy of developed nations, and an apparent lack of measures to encourage wider social participation in mitigation measures.

The biggest factor which limited the impact of COP26 was the hypocrisy of developed nations, with the actions of many governments contradicting the statements made by their leaders. For instance, the Biden Administration claimed that OPEC+ is endangering economic recovery by not increasing oil production, vowing to use ‘all tools’ necessary to lower oil prices; this was in direct contrast to the President’s speech, whereby Joe Biden called for the increased deployment of clean-energy technologies. Similarly, many developed nations have failed to fulfil the climate finance commitment signed at COP15, with less than $80bn being provided to LEDCs in 2019- below the $100bn per year target. The credibility of developed nations is undermined when Governments protect domestic firms’ financial losses, despite the high number of emissions they produce. Evidently, corporate interests are heavily intertwined with political leadership- and therefore influencing decision-making. Thus, short-term national interest has prevented COP26 from establishing progressive measures for the long-term.

The broad targets introduced at COP26, imposed from the top-down, will be largely ineffective if wider social participation in combatting climate change is not encouraged. New institutions will be needed at all levels to support a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’- to reorient the global economy to be reliant upon renewable energy, with new technology. At the national level, institutions like the Scottish National Investment Bank can help to co-ordinate investment towards zero-carbon projects whilst groups like the Camden Renewal Commission can create awareness at the local community level. It is crucial that citizens are supported in adapting their lifestyles. For instance, employees who will lose their jobs if the global economy transitions away from fossil fuels need to be financially supported with Universal Basic Income (UBI) or retrained for a different career. Almost all announcements made at COP26 were focused on a macro-level, without consideration for any microeconomic consequences.

Finally, the COP26 conference failed to incentivise leaders of some of the world’s largest-polluting countries to adapt their methods of production. Mainly, India committed to a much later net-zero target of 2070, and applied pressure in the final negotiations to water down the phrasing of ‘phasing out’ fossil fuels to ‘phasing down’. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping failed to attend the conference in-person- suggesting that the Chinese Government does not share the same level of urgency about climate change as other nations. Hence, the COP26 conference was unsuccessful in holding world leaders accountable for their complacency.

Ergo, the COP26 conference can be easily described as a major disappointment. The final agreement does not propose strong enough measures that will achieve the initial goals set out by the United Nations. The issue of climate change needs to be at the forefront of political decision-making, and not an additional issue which Governments tackle alongside their main national mandate.

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