From October 31 to November 12, Glasgow held the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26. The annual conference was seen by many as a last-ditch effort to keep global temperatures from rising over 1.5℃ by 2100. In order for this to happen, global emissions need to be reduced by at least 45%. However, according to NPR, global emissions are predicted to grow in the upcoming years. Global temperatures have already risen by 1.1℃.
Much progress was made, such as a request for countries to strengthen the pledges they made during the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, halting or reversing deforestation by 2030, and 100 countries pledging to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. However, experts warn that although landmark deals were made, last-minute changes by countries such as India and China to eliminate some of the stricter measures on coal and other fossil fuels have put the world in a position to be unable to stay below 1.5℃. The measure to “phase down” as opposed to “phase out” fossil fuels was seen by many as an unsustainable compromise.
Leaders from across the globe in the business, political and social sectors came together for the event, adding to the impact of the conference. The United States, after pulling out of the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Accord, tried to re-establish itself as a force for climate action. President Joe Biden said at the event, “Climate change is already ravaging the world. We’ve heard from many speakers. It’s not a hypothetical; it’s not a hypothetical threat. It’s destroying people’s lives and livelihoods and doing it every single day. It’s costing our nations trillions of dollars.” John Kerry, the US climate envoy, added that the event had a greater sense of focus and urgency from previous conferences, with more decisive plans being laid out, but Kerry also emphasized the need for greater immediate action and for follow through on climate action plans. “The words don’t mean enough unless they are implemented, and all of us have seen years of frustration for promises that are made not to stand up,” he said, according to The Washington Post.
Other prominent leaders included the British Royal Family, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, all of whom pledged greater action and money put towards climate action. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the leaders of Russia and China respectively, were not present at the summit, which many took as a sign of disinterest from both countries.
Island nations, such as Tuvalu, are at risk of disappearing entirely with rapidly rising sea levels, even though they have almost no carbon emissions. Tuvalu’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, gave his speech from the sea, emphasizing the detrimental impacts rising sea levels are expected to have on Tuvalu and other island nations. The former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, added, “With anything above 1.5 degrees, we might not survive,” according to Politico.
Wealthy countries, which easily have the largest carbon footprint, are seen as being primarily responsible for helping poorer countries, many of which have been disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. More severe weather conditions in recent years have caused unprecedented amounts of destruction, both in terms of lives lost and damage to infrastructure and the environment. As a result, wealthier countries have pledged to provide more aid to these countries, with the US pledging $11 billion of annual climate aid alone. Wealthy countries have also previously pledged $100 billion to support poorer countries, but recently poorer countries have added that $1.3 trillion may be necessary to adequately meet the growing need for climate change aid.
Additionally, thousands of people protested outside the event, saying that the conference was a lot of talk and little action. Over 100,000 people marched in the pouring rain across Glasgow with signs demanding climate justice and action. Many children were also at the protest, with signs saying “Blah, blah, blah,” the quote climate activist Greta Thunberg made in response to world leaders promising to bring effective solutions, but failing to take any substantial action.