COP26 Week 1: Catalyst for change or performative gesture?

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By Alex Kim

The first week of COP26 was packed with action. From new agreements to failings of old ones the first week leaves us with a lot to discuss.

Day One: Sunday, Oct. 31

The opening days of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) brought out representatives and activists from the global community to discuss climate change and find ways to mitigate its effects on the planet. Though not formally invited, climate activist Greta Thunberg was swarmed by hundreds of people concerned with climate change upon her arrival to the convention in Glasgow, Scotland. Representatives from around the globe were calling on world leaders to take direct action to prevent the global climate from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above  “pre-industrial levels.” “COP26 is our last best  hope to keep 1.5  [degrees]  within reach, ” said COP26 President Alok Sharma.

Abdulla Shahid, president of the UN’s 76th General Assembly and minister of foreign affairs of the Maldives fixated on the unfulfilled annual pledged $100 billion from the developed world. The funds were supposed to be allotted to give to developing nations means to help them fight climate change, emphasizing the importance of these funds to island countries facing the immediate threat of rising sea levels.

Activist India Logan-Riley was also fed up with the unfulfilled promises of past conventions. “I’ve grown up, graduated, fallen in love, fallen out of love, stopped and changed a couple of careers along the way, all  while the Global North colonial governments and corporations  fudge  with the  future,” she said.  She also discussed how the Australian wildfires impacted the Indigenous peoples in New Zealand last year –  making a passionate plea for people to listen to the voices of Indigenous tribes across the world.

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COP26 Conference Room in Glasgow. Photo via Flickr.

Day Two:  Monday, Nov. 1

Monday, Nov. 1 saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a commitment that his nation would make investments in renewable energy by the end of the decade in an effort to reduce India’s dependence on fossil fuels. India is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, but has pledged to increase its capacity of renewable energy by 500 gigawatts by 2030, and has a target of “net zero” emissions by 2070 – two decades later than its original goal.  “Today, the entire world acknowledges that India is the only big economy in the world that has delivered in both letter and spirit on its Paris commitments,”  Modi said.

President Joe Biden issued a formal apology for former President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. “I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States and the last administration pulled out of the Paris Accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit,” Biden stated. He promised that his administration would attempt to mitigate the negative effects the Trump administration created by turning away legislation that would fight climate change. “This is a decisive decade,” Biden said, “The United States is not only back at the table, but hopefully leading by the power of our example. I know it hasn’t been the case and that’s why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words.”

US President Joe Biden at the Innovation event at the SEC
President Joe Biden speaks to UN Delegates at COP26. Photo via Flickr.

Day Three: Tuesday, Nov. 2

President Biden criticized China and Russia on Tuesday for failing to attend the summit and accused the two nations of “walking away” from their global leadership responsibilities. Biden offered a last-minute pitch in his closing remarks, pitching his $1.75 trillion spending package, and explaining some of the initiatives it would fund. “Investing in our clean-energy future is an enormous opportunity for every country to create good-paying jobs and spur a broad-based economic recovery.”

Thunberg continued to make her voice heard as she led a fiery chant against COP26 – captivating her supporters. “Inside COP, there are politicians pretending to take our future seriously,” Thunberg stated. “We say no more blah-blah-blah, no more exploitation of people, nature and the planet.”

However, strides were made in reducing greenhouse gases as more than 100 nations signed the Global Methane Pledge. It calls for a collective 30% cut in emissions by 2030. The global pledge now includes six of the 10 highest methane-emitting countries, and now covers nearly half of global methane emissions. The pledge won’t fix the existing issue of carbon dioxide emissions, however, mitigating methane emissions is a quick, effective way to make a dent in global warming.

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) speaks with US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry (left) about the Global Methane Pledge. Photo via Flickr.

Day Four: Wednesday, Nov. 3

After leaders left the summit on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 20 countries  pledged to stop publicly financing fossil fuel projects  by the end of 2022. Denmark, Costa Rica, Finland and Ethiopia are some of the countries following the British effort to halt the billions of dollars invested in international fossil fuel projects. In response, the  International Energy Agency  (IEA) said that “ending investments in oil, coal or gas supply projects is necessary for the world to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050.” This is a key factor in keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius in reach. There would be “catastrophic and irreversible” consequences if the temperature rises above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Some of the world’s richest banks, investors and insurers which “collectively control $130 trillion assets” vowed to aid the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy in order to reach net-zero emission by 2050. The pledge was met with skepticism though, as many activists noted there were no concrete details, and many banks still invest billions of dollars into fossil fuels.

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Protester speaking out against COP’s inaction to combat climate change. Photo via Flickr.

Day Five: Thursday, Nov. 4

More than 20 countries, including the U.S., pledged to phase out funding for international fossil fuel projects in a  deal announced Thursday. A second pledge was also made specifically to phase out coal fossil fuel emissions; the U.S. not agreeing to the latter. “The end of coal is in sight,” said UK business and energy secretary, Kwasi Kwarten. Notably, China and India did  not  agree to the pledge, despite the two nations accounting for nearly two-thirds of coal burned globally.

Indonesia has begun to question the terms of  a deal they signed  at COP26 that pledges to end deforestation by 2030, days after signing it with over 100 countries. The declaration committed to “working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.” Indonesia’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mahendra Siregar described the zero-deforestation pledge as “false and misleading.” According to  Global Forest Watch, in 2001, Indonesia had 93.8 million hectares (230m acres) of forests – approximately the same size of Egypt. The area had shrunk by approximately 10% by 2020.

COP26 President - Alok Sharma
COP26 President Alok Sharma. Photo via Flickr.

Day Six: Friday, Nov. 5

Thunberg has been critical of COP26 since her arrival to the summit. She capped off the week by chastising world leaders for their inaction. “The leaders are not doing nothing,” Thunberg said. “They are actively creating loopholes, shaping frameworks to benefit themselves to continue profiting from this destructive system.” Environmentalists have been equally skeptical, as unfulfilled promises and legislature from previous climate summits were a major point of discussion at COP26. “Since we are so far from what actually we needed, I think what would be considered a success would be if people realize what a failure this COP is,” Thunberg said. “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches … while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”

A delegation of mothers  from Brazil, Britain and other countries made an impassioned plea to world leaders to stop financing fossil fuels. Six of the mothers delivered a letter to Sharma, president of COP26, in which they called for limiting air pollution to protect children who are affected by it. “I am trying to get justice for my daughter,” said Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a mother who lost her 9-year-old daughter to  a fatal asthma attack  caused by air pollution. “This is affecting so many children,” said Kissi-Debrah. According to the  World Health Organization, air pollution is one of the biggest threats to human health. In 2019, 18 percent of all deaths in New Delhi were attributable to air pollution. This percentage was equivalent to 1.67 million deaths.

Glasgow, Scotland, November 2021
Greta Thunberg speaks to climate activists in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo via Flickr.

Day Seven: Saturday, Nov. 6

Tens of thousands of activists  flooded the rainy streets of Glasgow on Saturday, calling on world leaders to take immediate action to combat the climate crisis. According to organizers, 100,000 people came to protest the unfulfilled promises of previous U.N. climate summits and called on world leaders to make a direct change. The 300+ rallies at the march advocated for much more than just government inaction, they advocated for trade unions among other things. “I’m seeing small things coming out,” said Brianna Fruean, a protester from Samoa who spoke about a flood-control project in Samoa that garnered international support. “It’s not enough. But I wouldn’t say next year let’s cancel COP.”

Idris and Sabrina Dhowre Elba  made their presence known by calling for greater investments into small-scale agriculture. “If we don’t fix how we grow our food, and value the people who put food on our tables – the custodians of this Earth – we won’t survive,” said Sabrina Elba.

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Activists take to the streets of Glasgow to protest COP’s inaction to fight climate change. Photo via Flickr.

The COP26 Summit ends Friday, Nov. 12. Stay up to date and check with  Climate360News  for updates.

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