COP26: climate expert says summit did not go ‘far enough’ but was ‘progress not justice’

As the dust settles around COP26 in Glasgow, we speak to one climate expert on what the outcomes of the conference mean for our future.

Following the end of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Boris Johnson told his fellow MPs and politicians the summit had been a success.

Johnson and COP26 president, Alok Sharma, had, in his words, conducted a competent conference despite last minute negotiations which saw the summit go into overtime.

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At the end of the two-week long event, the Glasgow Climate Pact was created.

Mentioning coal and fossil fuels for the first time in a COP agreement was a huge win for the UK, but Johnson admitted that his “delight at this progress is tinged with disappointment” after some countries played hardball with language in the final document.

With accusations that the document delivered a “watered down” approach to fossil fuels, we asked one climate expert what their experience of the conference was and just what the outcomes mean for the future.

What were the outcomes of the COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact?

The biggest headline-grabbing inclusion in the Glasgow Climate pact was the mention of fossil fuels.

For the first time in COP history, there was a specific mention of fossil fuels and coal in the document.

Laura Young, a climate activist and environmental scientist, was present at the conference and was glad to see the inclusion of this in the final draft of the agreement.

She said: “The fact that they included fossil fuels in the agreement is great, but I do agree that the language had been watered down from the original draft.”

In an earlier draft of the pact, the language used included “phase out”, with the final agreement landing on a wording of “phase down”.

Laura said: “Coming out of the conference, I have to say I have mixed feelings. There was some really great stuff that came out of week one. For example we got commitments on coal, methane and deforestation, and huge countries such as Brazil and Poland included in this.

“But after the second week and with the agreement, you get the feeling that there has been a “watering down” of the language.

“The International Energy Agency (IEA) had made it clear that fossil fuels had to go in order for us to reach the 1.5 degree target.

“So to get the inclusion of fossil fuels was good. It doesn’t go far enough but the feeling I have is that it’s progress, just not justice yet, and we have to work with what we have now.”

Climate finance was key area

Another key point within the pact was climate finance.

Developed countries had agreed in 2009 that poorer countries would receive at least £75billion per year to help combat climate finance, however by 2019, it was found that countries were falling short of this target.

In the 2021 Glasgow climate pact, countries have agreed to double the proportion of climate finance doing to adaptation, rather than emission cuts, at the request of smaller, developing countries.

Laura said: “Overall I’m actually really disappointed in the finance aspect of the pact.

“We have increased funding but we’ve seen that fall short before. Not only that but a lot more developing countries rely on things like fossil fuels and coal to build their society.

“There’s nothing really detailing how those countries will be supported in the “phasing down” of fossil fuels and coal, and it’s really important that we don’t leave them and those most affected by climate change behind.

“Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Bardabos, put it really well when she said going above the 1.5 degree target is a death sentence for her people and other similar places.”

Laura’s sentiments were echoed by the COP Coalition group, who said in a statement: “We needed rich countries to step up and finally do their fair share of climate action, while providing compensation for the destruction to lives and livelihoods already being caused by climate change in countries who have done least to create this crisis.

“Instead, the needs of poorer countries have been kicked to the curb, in favour of keeping the hugely over represented fossil fuel lobbyists happy.”

Was COP26 a success?

Laura has said that while there were many aspects of the conference which ran well, the exclusion of certain groups outside the main negotiations was disappointing.

She said: “I was lucky enough to go to the conference in person and be included in talks and events within the blue zone.

“But what was really disappointing to see was that indigenous groups and young activists were often shut out from negotiations and talks, both physically and metaphorically.

“Real change will come from these groups, and you can see that reflected in parts of the pact, including the inclusion of things like coal, which was helped by pressure from the outside.”

Laura says that one of the issues with people being shut out of the conference was that organisers had “overinvitied”.

She said: “Room filled up really quickly whenever there was an event, which is great to see that everyone is so eager, but you also want the representation to be there.

“For activists or indigenous groups, when a room was too full, they were the first to be kicked out and told to watch on their laptop through the livestream. It completely defeated the point of being there in person.

“RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organisations) stated at the start of the conference that this was set to be the most inclusive COP ever.

“It might’ve been on paper but there in the venue, groups were shut out which was hard to see at points.”

What does it mean going forward?

Despite being disappointed with the weaker language in the final agreement, Laura says that it’s now something that everybody involved needs to work on.

She said: “Moving forward, countries need to prove that this isn’t all talk.

“It’s not the best outcome we could’ve hoped for, but it’s what we now have to work on.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say that the agreement is too little too late, but we can’t give up. If the 1.5 degree target isn’t achievable then we aim for 1.6 or 1.7.

“COP26 is a starting point but we need to build on this, we have to be hopeful in order for the planet to survive.”

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