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One week down, one to go: what exactly has been done so far at COP26?

Greta Thunberg said on Friday: “It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure.” Is she right?

Children participating in the climate protest in Glasgow yesterday.
Children participating in the climate protest in Glasgow yesterday.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

WE’RE HALFWAY THROUGH the COP26 summit in Glasgow which has brought together countries from across the world to discuss climate action. 

Tens of thousands of people are in the Scottish city to take part in the annual UN conference on climate change.

Others are also in the city to take part in protests that have been ongoing throughout the week – the largest of which took place yesterday with thousands of people in attendance.

We’re still a week away from the conclusion of this COP summit, and the final outcome and deals reached will be the most important aspect. 

But, for now, let’s take a look at what has happened so far. 

Politics

The UK is hosting this year’s COP summit – and prime minister Boris Johnson was out in force pledging action on “coal, cars, cash and trees”. 

Two of the first few days of the conference were focused on politics. World leaders spoke about their plans to cut emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was among the heads of government in attendance at the summit. Martin spoke about the wide-ranging benefits of climate action, even being accused by a reporter at one point of sounding like he was in the Green Party. 

He responded that he would take this as a compliment. Martin’s attendance at COP also came right before the release of the government’s long-awaited revised Climate Action Plan on Thursday. 

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan was due to attend the summit from today, but he cancelled the trip after testing positive for Covid-19.  

cop26-glasgow Boris Johnson at the COP26 summit earlier this week. Source: PA

Each country can deliver a national statement at COP26. In Ireland’s statement, the Taoiseach said the country “accepts” the “obligation” for richer countries to support nations most acutely impacted by climate change.

He also committed to at least doubling Ireland’s contribution to global climate finance from €93 million at the moment to at least €225 million by 2025. 

This finance is a key sticking point at this conference. At the 2009 COP summit, richer countries made a pledge to provide $100 billion in climate funding for developing countries to help them adapt to climate change.

This target – which was due to be reached in 2020 – has not yet been met.

Conor O’Neill, Christian Aid Ireland’s policy and advocacy advisor said the increased investment from Ireland was welcome but “only half of our fair share”. 

“Taking past emissions and wealth into account, Ireland should be contributing closer to €500 million a year in climate finance,” O’Neill said. 

There were a lot of powerful, impactful speeches delivered by politicians and activists from across the world.

Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti told world leaders: “Right now, as you sit comfortably here in this conference centre in Glasgow, over two million of my fellow Kenyans are facing climate-related starvation.

“This is not only happening in Kenya… and there is more still to come. By 2025, in just four years’ time, half of the world’s population will be facing water scarcity and by the time I’m 50, the climate crisis will have displaced 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

“The decisions you make here will help determine whether the rains will return to our land. The decisions you make here will help determine whether the fruit trees we plant will live or perish.”

David Attenborough said: “We must use this opportunity to create a more equal world, and our motivation should not be fear, but hope.” 

Greta Thunberg – who is in Glasgow at the moment – criticised world leaders for decades of “blah, blah, blah”. 

day-6-cop26-fridays-for-future-march-in-glasgow-uk-5-nov-2021 Greta Thunberg on stage at a rally after the Fridays for Future climate protest in Glasgow. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Pledges and promises

A number of deals have been agreed so far at COP26.

Over 100 countries – including Ireland - signed a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. 

In the declaration, leaders 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”.

Later in the week Indonesia questioned the terms of the deal it had signed. 

19 countries agreed to end fossil fuel funding overseas by the end of next year. However, this was criticised by many as not good enough when many countries like the US will continue to fund fossil fuel projects in their own countries. 

Around 100 countries also reached a deal to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Ireland also signed up to this pledge, but the Taoiseach said this week that the “specific manifestation” of this pledge will differ between countries.

Individual countries have “different challenges in that respect or produce methane at different levels in different sectors”, Martin said. 

Around 90% of Ireland’s methane emissions come from agriculture.

The EU, the UK and the US struck a deal to give South Africa at least $8.5 billion (€7.3 billion) to help the country transition away from using coal. South Africa is heavily reliant on coal to generate electricity.  

PXL_20211101_112857373.MP (1) The Taoiseach in Glasgow this week. Source: Orla Dwyer/The Journal

Inclusiveness 

Greta Thunberg has shown up in the SEC centre where the COP26 conference is taking place on a couple of occasions, but she has mostly been outside the main proceedings at climate protests being held across the city.

Speaking after the Fridays for Future protest, Thunberg said: “It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure.”

She called the summit talks “a two-week long celebration of business as usual and ‘blah, blah, blah’”. 

Earlier in the week on Twitter, the Swedish climate activist said this conference has been the most “excluding COP ever”, a key issue several people have pointed out about the summit. 

“This is no longer a climate conference. This is a Global North greenwash festival,” Thunberg said. 

There were issues with accessibility at the conference when the Israeli energy minister Karine Elharrar was unable to attend the summit in her wheelchair on Monday after security staff would not let her car through.

Boris Johnson apologised and Elharrar was able to attend events the next day. 

To access the UN ‘blue zone’ where the main negotiations and COP26 proceedings are taking place, attendees need an accreditation badge which had to be applied for months in advance. 

Members of civic society can attend the conference with ‘observer’ badges – but many people are attending events and protesting in other parts of the city.

cop26-glasgow Members of an Indigenous group from Brazil speaking at a rally after Friday's protest in Glasgow. Source: PA

Is the 1.5 degree target still within reach? 

This is the real crux of the issue at hand – will all of the pledges, if carried out, keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming?

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The Paris Agreement sets out a goal to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees. Science shows that degrees beyond this increase lead to more frequent extreme weather events.

This is especially pertinent for developing countries for whom it is more difficult to adapt to climate change, and small island developing nations who are at risk with rising sea levels. 

Each country had to come to this conference with updated NDCs (nationally determined contributions). This is a key part of COP26.

These plans show how each country will slash emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The EU submits NDCs for the entire bloc – including Ireland. 

The UN said that the NDCs before this COP, if implemented, would result in around 2.7 degrees of warming by the end of this century.

Two major changes have occurred since this calculation was made: China said it plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 and India announced it would reach this goal of zero emissions by 2070.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said if the pledges made so far were fully implemented, the global tempertature rise would hold at 1.8 degrees. 

According to climate advisory company Climate Resource, implemented plans would result in the global temperature rise peaking at 1.9 degrees Celsius this century.

These estimates are significant as they are below the 2 degree figure, and each lower degree of warming means less frequent extreme weather events around the world.

As for the outcome of COP26, Irish environmental scientist Tara Shine said the narrative around the summit being a “last chance” to save humanity from the impacts of climate change is not true.

“This COP has to be a big enough step to allow countries to rally do more,” she said this week. 

“A deal is a complicated thing. It’s going to be a trade-off of lots of separate agenda items.

Judging whether it’s a success at the end is going to be really difficult because you won’t be judging it on there’s an outcome or not, it’s going to be a whole lot more subtle than that.

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