After a year postponement due to CV19, the 26th Annual COP (or Conference of the Parties) has started in Glasgow, Scotland, with 125 leaders from around 200 countries gathering to discuss the accelerating climate crisis. As the number suggests, this is the 26th time the world has come together, but COP26 has been called ‘the last chance saloon’ and the ‘most critical’ of COPs, where ‘failure is not an option’. So no pressure then.
Looking back over the history of the COPs, a few stand out as being seminal years. 1997 saw the drawing up of the Kyoto Protocol, which set targets on emission cuts for each developed country. COP21 in Paris 2015 saw the groundbreaking Paris Agreement being signed, where parties agreed to ‘limiting greenhouse gases to well below 2 degrees centigrade, with a target of 1.5 degrees centigrade’ above pre-industrial levels.
Hope ran high after COP21 and the Paris Agreement, and quite rightly so. It was one of the few moments in global history that the majority of us came together to agree on a common set of goals. It is on this basis that nations set their ‘Net-Zero’ targets for 2030, 2040, even 2050 – with those targets being reviewed and adjusted every 5 years.
Glasgow is now five COPs on from Paris, and the moment where we will see just how many of those promises made by leaders and negotiators in 2015 have actually been turned into any form of reality.
The trouble is, we already know it’s not good news. Progress has been made, but nowhere near the scale that was agreed in France.
Developing countries have continued to develop using fossil fuels – and at breakneck speed. China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Australia and many others are still huge producers and consumers of coal. Even though China has pledged to stop funding overseas coal-fired power station construction, it still continues to use it’s own coal at a staggering rate, putting them at the top of the carbon-emitters chart globally.
And whilst gradual cuts and small measures to de-carbonise the economies of the world have had small effects, there is much concern that at present it is just not going fast enough to keep within that 1.5 degree target set in Paris. Speed rather than eventual change really is of the essence here. Plus the slower the changes happen, the bigger they have to be to get the same result.
A good analogy is this – imagine you have a bill to pay on 31st December. You know about it in January of the same year. If you put a small amount of money away each day, the money builds and the differences to your wallet are negligible. Do nothing and suddenly remember that bill in the middle of December? Yikes. You have to find a large chunk of cash – quickly – to make that payment. With carbon, we’re pretty much opening the first door of our advent calendars. We’ve not got long left to make huge, impactful, global changes to keep that 1.5 degrees anywhere near our sights.
This is why COP26 in Glasgow is so important. We need action, not words. We need leadership, not finger pointing. We need collective responses, not individual protectionism of each economy.
Because ultimately, money is rather useless on a dead planet.