If you’re at all invested in climate negotiations and their outcomes, then you’ll probably have read a handful of COP26 debrief articles already. I’m not planning to repeat their work. Suffice to say that it’s a mix of outcomes – some steps forwards and some glaring omissions.
There has been progress. Let’s not throw out the work of thousands of people over several years, building trust, seeking agreement, demanding to be heard. They deserve better than that. And there are important steps forwards in the accord. James Murray sums them up well in this article.
At the same time, we know that the conference has not done enough, and we know who has lost out – again. The most disappointed are delegates from developing countries that did not get the concessions they needed. Mohamed Adow, from Kenya, wrote that the conference “reflects a COP held in the rich world and the outcome contains the priorities of the rich world”. Among those rich world priorities were to dodge talk of responsibility for climate change in the form of compensation for loss and damage. This is, sadly, no great surprise.
Neither has the promise to stretch to 1.5 degrees been honoured, and it is not the big emitters that will suffer. Fossil fuel interests continue to poison debate. It’s not nothing, but we can’t pretend that Glasgow has got us very far towards solving the climate crisis.
In a talk a few weeks ago, I was asked what I hoped for from COP26. I said that the climate talks are like packing your bags into the car for a long journey, knowing full well that the car only has three wheels. It’s the car you have, so you pack it. But your chances of it getting you where you need to go are negligible.
What the UN climate process produces is hard-won compromises delivered through gritted teeth. It isn’t capable of the kind of transformative change the world needs. And yet it is the process we have, and so we have to bring our hopes and our demands to it every time. The protestors and activists are not wasting their time – demanding justice never stops being the right thing to do. It still feels deflating when so much energy is directed towards one moment, and it is derailed by such naked self-interest.
After the Copenhagen talks, I wrote on the blog here (yes, the blog’s been going for a while) about how the failure left the ball in our court. It was clear that international governance was not going to solve the problem. The energy and the leadership would have to come from elsewhere.
I feel something similar this week. It will not be the UN process that delivers the breakthroughs. In some ways they follow rather than lead, which is why 26 of them have come and gone without bending the curve on global emissions. The important thing is where the energy goes next. Can we direct the demands to change towards businesses, cities, local governments, towards schools and places of worship? Can we move from demanding change to participating in the change?
Big global moments like COP26 draw so much attention that we can forget that climate change needs all of us, at every level of society. We won’t solve the climate crisis without international cooperation, but it’s one level of action. There are others, and now is a good time to push on some other doors. If governments won’t act, who will? Who’s going to step up? Where is the energy right now?
As I wrote last week, COP26 is not the end of the story. Every fraction of a degree matters.
That’s enough for today. What can we do tomorrow?