COP 26: How much have we achieved so far?

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is an annual conference hosted by the United Nations to assess progress made in tackling climate change, as well as negotiate binding commitments and obligations. Geared towards reducing greenhouse emissions by member nations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNF CCC)

The recently concluded 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), which took place in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh, has sparked a lot of conversation on just how realistic and effective the goals set in this now-past COP Summit actually are. In this article, we reflect on COP26, reviewing how much has been achieved and areas where these commitments might have fallen short of expectations. 

Recap on the COP26 Summit at Glasgow, UK. 

The COP26 summit, which was originally scheduled for October-November 2020, was pushed back to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. World leaders gathered in Glasgow last year for the summit to discuss growing concerns about climate change, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, habitat loss, and biodiversity loss, among other issues. This summit gathered over 120 world leaders and 40,000 participants from around the world to come together for our planet, accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

The general idea of the COP summit over the last couple of years has been “to do more for the planet,” and at the COP26, this theme was once again re-echoed as they set goals and agendas. Some key objectives reached in this conference include the following:

  • Ensuring global net-zero emissions by the middle of the century and keeping global temperatures well below 2OC and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5oC by:
  •  Reducing global deforestation rates
  • Working towards phasing out the use of fossil fuels such as coal, which currently is the single largest source of global warming.
  • Speeding up the transition to electric vehicles
  • Creating the platform for investments in the renewable energy industries to enable a fast transition 
  • The Glasgow summit called for the doubling of resources in support of,  namely, Russia, Canada, the United States, Brazil, and China. Only the United States seems to be taking special measures to ensure forest preservation. Russia lost roughly 6 million hectares to wildfires in 2022, while Brazil has seen roughly five times the size of New York City deforested in the first six months of 2022. In reality, while the destruction of forests may be declining, it’s not falling nearly fast enough to achieve the required target by 2030. 
  • Methane Emissions: Questionable

103 countries signed up for the global methane pledge, aiming to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2030. However, this year the United Nations published that atmospheric levels of methane reached record highs in 2021, and the levels have continued to rise all through 2022, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. The WMO warns of the largest year-on-year increase in methane concentration since measurements began nearly four decades ago, putting further strain on the COP26 commitments.

  • Coal: Questionable

An $8.5 billion partnership over the next 3-5 years to transition away from coal was announced for South Africa with support from nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, and the European Union. The President of South Africa recently stated that it would take roughly $98 billion to completely phase out the use of coal, of which only 2.7% is accessible as a grant with the remaining 97.3% standing as a loan to the nation’s government. Remarking that it was a rather discouraging discovery. Several countries renewed their commitments to phasing down coal, but we have seen an uptick in coal usage in countries such as India, the United States, and Germany.

Various governments agreed during the COP26 to revisit and strengthen their plans to cut planet-heating emissions; however, according to a UN report, only 26 of 193 nations have promised improved emissions reductions and followed through with their climate action plans. 

There are several other areas of concern that have not shown any significant milestones in terms of positive achievements with regard to dealing with climate change. In stark contrast to the progress made thus far, this calls into question how achievable and realistic the goals set for 2030 are. 

It’s time to ask critical questions!

Are countries actually serious about enforcing their obligations to combat global warming, or have the COP summits merely evolved into a forum for setting unrealistic objectives and creating the illusion that progress is being made when, in fact, we seem to be at a global stalemate with regression in certain areas? Countries at COP26 have not achieved as much as we would like because of increased reliance on fossil fuels and insufficient efforts to transition to renewable energy.

In light of the fact that COP26 had the chance to make a significant change in order to reach its goals by 2030 but opted not to do so, we should be more skeptical of the outcomes of the conference. They failed because no new agreements or resolutions were proposed that would significantly advance efforts to address climate change or any other environmental problem. Furthermore, we see that prior arrangements have had essentially no monitoring because such countries are not under any obligation to uphold their pledges.