COP26: 5 key moments from the United Nations climate change conference currently underway in Glasgow

COP26: 17 key moments from the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow

COP26, a United Nations conference on climate change in Glasgow is coming to an end, after world leaders including Boris Johnson and Joe Biden met to recommit to action towards slowing down global warming.

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is coming to a close in Glasgow, two weeks after bringing together world leaders and delegates to accelerate action towards the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Following the G20 summit in Rome on 31 October, where leaders of the world’s 20 major economies reportedly struggled to bridge differences over how to combat global warming, the conference and surrounding events were attended by around 25,000 people, including senior officials, environment ministers and activists like Greta Thunberg.

The summit in Glasgow had been due to conclude at 6pm on Friday, but was extended as negotiators from 197 countries talked into the night in the hope of securing agreement, with an announcement now expected over the weekend. 

Both China and Russia have failed to send physical representatives to the conference, which was attended by US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Analysis already that the pledges put forward at the summit could put the world on track for under 2°C of global heating for the first time, if they are fully committed to.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden on stage at COP26
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden on stage at COP26

What is the aim of COP26?

In the landmark Paris agreement, signed in 2015, nations committed to holding global temperature rises to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to limit heating to 1.5°C. Those goals are legally binding and enshrined in the treaty.

The goal of COP26 is to recommit to ‘net zero’ by revising each country’s ‘ nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) in line with a 1.5C target, the lower of the two Paris goals. As the Guardian reports, scientists estimate that emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, and from there to net zero emissions by 2050 if the world is to have a good chance of remaining within the 1.5°C threshold.

In a statement about COP26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote: “Securing a brighter future for our children and future generations requires countries to take urgent action at home and abroad to turn the tide on climate change. It is with ambition, courage and collaboration as we approach the crucial COP26 summit in the UK that we can seize this moment together, so we can recover cleaner, rebuild greener and restore our planet.”

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What are the key takeaways from COP26? 

 AOC: “don’t expect COP26 or governments to address climate crisis”

US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , congressional delegation to the climate conference, spoke on an Instagram live from the conference, telling followers: “There are some things that I saw in that room that I’m like, if the world is relying on COP and governments to stop climate change, that is not going to happen”.

“Governments are a very important, critical, determining aspect to stopping climate change but they are not the only aspect and so fact of the matter is, grassroots collective people’s organising is going to be extremely critical in solving the climate crisis.”

COP26 has already come under fire from activists and has been branded a “failure” by over 200 academics in an open letter to organisers.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends COP26 climate summit
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends COP26 climate summit

Action Aid: “Deliver for women and girls on the frontlines of climate crisis”

On ‘Gender Day’ at COP26, ActionAid UK called on world leaders, including the UK Government, to stop overlooking the women and girls on the frontlines of the climate crisis and to meaningfully include them in negotiations, financial commitments and climate solutions.

Women and girls already make up 80% of people displaced by climate change, and this humanitarian crisis and women’s rights issue is only going to get worse, according to the charity.

Sophie Rigg, Senior Resilience and Climate Adviser at ActionAid UK commented: “It is all well and good hosting a dedicated ‘Gender Day’, but there can be no more empty speeches – now is the time for action. World leaders – and the UK Government as host nation – must ensure climate finance delivers for women and girls on the frontlines of the crisis. Specifically, the UK Government must commit to making sure that all UK financing on climate also tackles gender inequality.”

Barack Obama: “We’re nowhere near where we need to be”

In a speech at the COP26 summit on Monday 8 November, former US President Barack Obama called on the world to “step up” on the fight against climate change.

Obama said the world is “nowhere near where we need to be” to avoid a future climate catastrophe, and criticised both Donald Trump’s “active hostility toward climate science” and scolded China and Russia’s leaders for not physically attending the conference.

However, while he made a point of calling out nations for failing to meet the pledges they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement when he was in the White House, many activists were quick to point out those broken by his own administration, including the failure of a key promise by developed countries to deliver $100bn (£73bn) a year in climate finance to poorer nations.

Barack Obama speaks at COP26 climate summit
Barack Obama speaks at COP26 climate summit

Met Office: “1 billion people will suffer extreme heat at just 2°C heating”

A UK Met Office study released at Cop26 revealed that the climate crisis is driving up deadly combination of temperature and humidity, meaning that over a billion people will be affected by extreme heat stress if the climate crisis raises the global temperature by just 2°C.

Tropical countries including Brazil, Ethiopia and India are hardest hit by extreme heat stress, with some parts being pushed towards the limit of human liveability.

However, The Met Office analysis also maps the rising risks of river flooding, wildfires, drought and food insecurity, and found that virtually the entire inhabited world is affected by at least one impact.

Greta Thunberg: “COP26 is a greenwash festival”

Speaking at a climate rally in Glasgow on Friday afternoon, activist Greta Thunberg told crowds that COP26 has turned into a “PR event” and criticised global leaders for turning the urgent talks into a “greenwash festival”.

The 18-year-old took to the stage amid cheers from activists and said that “drastic cuts” were needed to halt climate change and that the conference is a celebration of “business as usual and blah blah blah”.

Earlier in the week, she suggested that summit talks were becoming a “greenwashing campaign” for politicians and business leaders, calling the conference a “failure”.

Greta Thunberg joining climate change protests outside COP26 summit
Greta Thunberg joining climate change protests outside COP26 summit

Carbon credit initiative announced to restore and protect African ecosystems

The Green 14 project is a joint venture of investment banking group Bacchus Capital and conservation organisation Space for Giants funding nature preservation in Africa.

It will coordinate a major conservation initiative across Africa to underwrite the restoration and protection of key heritage landscapes to the highest environmental standards, by creating high integrity carbon credits. These ‘credits’ give countries or organisations the right to emit a measured amount of greenhouse gases because of a commitment to increasing carbon storage, through land restoration or the planting of trees.

Boma and Badingilo national parks, South Sudan
Boma and Badingilo national parks, South Sudan

Vanessa Nakate: “World leaders must commit to ending all new fossil fuel projects at Cop26”

Speaking to The Independent, the Ugandan environmentalist explained that plans to tackle the climate crisis must not leave room for more oil and gas development.

It follows reports that 70 of the world’s leading climate scientists have called for Boris Johnson to stop all new investment in fossil fuels ahead of the summit.

“If leaders are going to talk about going net zero, then they have to start now. They must put an end to investment in new fossil fuel projects,” Nakate commented.

“Something that I always say is that we can’t eat coal, we can’t drink oil and we cannot breathe so-called natural gas.”

Climate change activist Vanessa Nakate
Climate change activist Vanessa Nakate

UN: “Cost of climate crisis in developing world up to 10 times higher than aid pledged by richer nations”

Analysis from the United Nations has suggested that the financial aid being offered by richer countries will cover only a fraction of the burden carried by poorer countries worst affected by and least responsible for warming.

The summit had previously announced a $10.5 billion fund to help emerging economies make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources, however UN experts claim that this won’t be enough.

Poland and 17 other countries to announce a major deal to end coal use

Following a deal struck at the climate summit, a coalition of 18 countries, plus dozens of banks and other institutions, will pledge to phase out coal-fired power plants domestically and to end funding for international coal projects.

The burning of coal is the single greatest contributor to climate change, and ending support for it is a major focus of the conference.

The full list of 18 countries is not yet available, but according to the UK government it includes developed and developing countries like Poland, Vietnam, Egypt, Chile and Morocco, but it is as yet unclear whether the United States was part of the agreement. 

Green energy projects in emerging countries given $10.5 billion boost

On Wednesday 3 November, a group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks announced a $10.5 billion fund to help emerging economies make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

High-profile donors include the Rockefeller Foundation, Ikea Foundation and Bezos Earth Fund, as well as money from international development banks like the International Finance Corporation.

The money is reported to support projects such as the development of mini-electricity grids in parts of rural India, help Indonesia shut down some of its oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants, and develop a hydropower project in Sierra Leone.

Sadiq Khan: C40 Cities project will make cities, as well as governments, climate leaders

Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s departure from the conference, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has stayed on at COP26 to make the case that big-city mayors are just as vital as world leaders in fighting climate change and managing its effects on a local level.

“Cities have got to be the innovators, the problem-solvers, the change-makers that are going to fix climate change,” he told audiences on Wednesday. “National governments can’t do it by themselves — they’ve got to do it with us.”

Khan is the new chairman of C40 Cities, a coalition of mayors from more than 100 cities that together account for 700 million people and whose goal is to lobby leaders for more ambitious commitments to emissions reductions, and for help in transforming cities.

Sadiq Khan at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow
Sadiq Khan at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow

Protestors call out corporate ‘greenwashing’

Throughout the conference, while world leaders have made pledges inside the summit venue, protestors have taken to the streets to demand further action.

On Wednesday, crowds marched in the city in opposition to “greenwashing” — when companies claim to be protecting the environment while continuing to harm it.

Reports say that several hundred protesters, holding signs that read “Act now!” and “Stop Funding Fossil Fuels,” gathered outside a shopping mall to demand that companies take more substantial steps than those they were committing to in the conference, which included new private-sector funding for climate change. Some Extinction Rebellion protestors were also arrested after a two-hour standoff with Scottish police forces.

Protestors gather outside COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow
Protestors gather outside COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow

Over 100 countries pledge to end deforestation

Being hailed as the first big achievement of the conference, the government has said it has received commitments from leaders representing more than 85% of the world’s forests to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

As per the Independent, more than $19 billion in public and private funds have been pledged toward the plan, which is backed by countries including Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo, Indonesia, Russia and the United States.

Forests are considered important ecosystems and a crucial way of absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

Boris Johnson: “World leaders must get real about climate change at COP26”

Kicking off the conference on 1 November, Boris Johnson warned in his opening speech that in a world where warming hits 4°C, whole cities – such as Miami, Alexandria and Shanghai – will be “lost beneath the waves”.

“If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow,” he told the audience at the COP26 summit.

“The anger and impatience of the world will be uncontainable unless we make COP26 the moment when we get real about climate change. And we can get real on coal, cars, cash and trees. We have the technology to deactivate that ticking doomsday device.”

However, However, critics including shadow business secretary and former Labour leader Ed Miliband questioned whether any deal reached at the summit would be sufficient enough action to truly tackle climate change.

“We’ve got to halve carbon emissions this decade… we’re a long way off where we need to be,” he said in an interview with CNBC, adding that the summit needed to “turn up the heat” on world leaders. “No G20 country is doing enough, everyone’s got to step up,” Miliband said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnston speaking at COP26 in Glasgow
Prime Minister Boris Johnston speaking at COP26 in Glasgow

David Attenborough: “Is this how our story is due to end?”

In an impassioned speech during the conference opening ceremony, naturalist and presenter David Attenborough detailed how the burning of fossil fuels and humanity’s destruction of nature are releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented pace and scale.

“We are already in trouble. The civility we all depend on is breaking,” he warned.

“Is this how our story is due to end?” Attenborough asked. “A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals. If working apart we are force powerful enough to destabilize our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it.”

Samoan climate activist Brianna Fruean: “We are not drowning – we are fighting.”

23-year-old Samoan climate activist Brianna Fruean addressed world leaders at the opening of COP26 in a first-person series about the realities of climate change, telling the audience: “We are not drowning – we are fighting.”

“The real question is whether you have the political will to do the right thing, to wield the right words and to follow it up with long overdue action. If you’re looking for inspiration on this, look no further for the climate leadership of young Pacific people,” Fruean told a crowd that included US President Joe Biden and David Attenborough on Monday.

“We are not just victims to this crisis. We have been resilient beacons of hope. Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry: ‘We are not drowning, we are fighting.’ This is our warrior cry to the world.”

“This is my message from Earth to COP,” Fruean said. “I hope you remember my words today and look closely at your words as you go throughout COP.”

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Joe Biden: “COP26 must be the kick off of a decade of ambition”

President Joe Biden told delegates at the COP26 summit on Monday that there is only a “brief window left before us to raise our ambitions, and to raise to meet the task that’s rapidly narrowing.”

He said this would be the “decisive decade” in which to prove that the goal of limiting global warming to just 1.5°C could be met.

“That’s what COP26 is all about, Glasgow must be the kick off of a decade of ambition and innovation to preserve our shared future,” Biden said.

US President Joe Biden at COP26
US President Joe Biden at COP26

However, the president was also widely criticised after videos of his reported 85-vehicle motorcade from the Rome G20 summit and a 20-vehicle motorcade as he arrived in Glasgow for COP26 were shared online.

“Nothing shouts ‘I care about carbon emissions’ louder,” one tweet read.

This story will continue to be updated as the COP26 conference continues.

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