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Review of week one at COP26: Are you disappointed?

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COP26 was seen as a last chance, a sliver of hope, a great opportunity to tackle the climate emergency. As the negotiations began, we heard inspiring speeches from those like Sir David Attenborough who said:

“we are a force powerful enough to destabilize our planet, surely, working together we are powerful enough to save it”.

Image credit: Sky News

Monday

On the first day, delegates and powerful world leaders were shown scenes from around the world of countries suffering the consequences of climate change, as well as beautiful landscapes across the earth while the camera spanned well-known faces from President Biden to the Prince of Wales.

There is a commonality among the delegates; they are white and privileged. The imbalance of racial equality is alarming. As COVID-19 hit COP26 hard, states that are some of the most important stakeholders and some that are hardest hit by the effects of climate change have little or no representation at the summit.

There was no show from China’s leader Xi Jinping whose country is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and only four leaders are present from the Pacific Islands, nation-states that may lose entire villages to rising sea-levels in the next few years. 

President Biden apologised on behalf of the US for when his predecessor quit the Paris Accords back in 2017. It was one of his first acts as president to rejoin the Paris Agreement at the beginning of this year. 

Tuesday

Reports were heard from the Israeli delegation of how one of their ministers, Karine Elharrar, was turned away from the summit as there were no wheelchair accessible entrances.

The Israeli delegation formally complained to the conference organisers, COP26 had prided itself on being inclusive to all political leaders, activists and observers from all over the world, but it seemed to completely forget about those with physical disabilities.

When the Israeli Prime Minister stated he would not be attending if his fellow minister would not be able to, changes were made and Minister Elharrar was able to attend from day two.

The inclusivity by COP26 has been criticised by many. It was recorded that two-thirds of civil society organisations who usually send delegates could not because of the restrictions to international travel by the UK government.

At the beginning of the COP26, there was a ticketing system so those at the plenary meetings and negotiations were limited. This has since been removed, however, each event is still limited by social distancing.

This has been a huge issue but the question must be asked – why wasn’t the COP postponed as it was last year? Many from the Global South campaigned for this. 

On the first Tuesday of COP26, Jefferey Bezos made a speech and pledged two billion pounds to the Bezos’ Nature Fund. He spoke of when he realised action must be taken in this “decisive decade”. He recounted his experience saying “Looking back at Earth from up there, the atmosphere seemed so thin. The world so finite and so fragile”.

The irony is that the journey he took into space cost the planet a large amount of CO2 levels. Many disliked the fact that they were being patronised by a man whose own company has been criticised by its own employees for its impact on the environment.

What is the Bezos Earth Fund?

On its website the Fund is described as “created by a commitment of $10 billion from Jeff Bezos to be disbursed as grants within the current decade. We are committed to fighting climate change and protecting nature.” The Bezos Earth Fund also outlines its values on the website, saying some that stand “willingly gamble on smart bets when the potential gains are large, knowing that they may fail”.

The question has to be asked – who makes this decision? The Bezos Earth Fund was only announced in February this year so is one to watch for the future.

Image credit: Bezosearthfund.org

That same day, two big agreements from COP26 were unveiled.  The first is an agreement that aims to reduce methane gases by 30 per cent in the year 2030 – the first deal based on methane gas. Over 100 countries have signed up, but three major countries are missing. They are China, Russia and India who also happen to be the top methane emitters.

Methane is ten times more potent than carbon dioxide and is estimated to account for a quarter of all global warming. The lifespan of methane is short, approximately ten years.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme has said: “cutting methane emissions is the best way to slow climate change over the next 25 years.” This is a great step for climate mitigation but how will it be done?

The second agreement, a new forestry deal has been signed by 133 nation-states, one of the most signed environmental agreements in history. The agreement’s goal is to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.

90 per cent of forests are covered by this new deal, according to ukcop26.org. The pledge also contains £14 billion, some of which will go towards developing countries restoring their land, tackling wildfires and supporting communities which protect these forests.

The deal has been criticised by many who doubt the agreement’s sweeping statement. As no plans have been reached as to how this agreement will be done, many are questioning it. Greenpeace UK took to Twitter to address its doubts of ending deforestation when big issues that cause deforestation like meat and dairy consumption are being disregarded.

Wednesday

Alok Sharma, President of COP26, opened the day saying he “regrets” that the Green Climate Fund which promised £100 billion to developing countries was not fulfilled but that it is getting closer and closer to this goal. The Green Climate Fund was promised to reach those who need it in 2020, it has now been postponed until possibly 2023.

Boris Johnson came under fire from Green MP Caroline Lucas for his hypocrisy in preaching about keeping the one point five degrees global warming target alive. While at the same the British government is still debating over the Cambo oil field off the coast of the Shetland Islands. A licence is currently in the works, but drilling could begin as soon as January 2022. 

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will not openly refuse the licence, probably, because it has the potential to create 1,000 jobs which would be a major boost on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those behind the plans argue that this development will help the country phase itself into a low-carbon society, teaming up with renewable energies once they become available. Is this the message the UK government wants to send out to the world, which already struggles in the field of climate change? Or will it be the leader the world needs? 

Image credit: BBC News

Later in the day, activists’ opinions began to be listened to. The Climate Action Network came out to comment on the flashy headlines being created by the heads of states “We will judge COP26 on how much rich countries stand in solidarity with vulnerable people … if there is no stream of finance agreed for people now, will call this COP a failure”. The Climate Action Network added to the inclusivity complaints from earlier in the week, criticising the lack of accessibility for the NGOs, as a limit was placed on the number of delegates allowed at each event.

Greta Thunberg grabbed the world’s attention with a tweet highlighting what was wrong with the concept of ‘global net zero’. It allows states to continue emitting carbon emissions as long as they offset them in another way. A state could, potentially, pay for their emissions if they directed the funds to those in vulnerable communities who are facing the adverse effects of the climate crisis.

A major and overlooked accomplishment on Wednesday was the commitment by more than 20 nation states to stop financing fossil fuel development overseas and in turn invest in green energy.

This will divert eight billion pounds annually into renewable energies. It is unknown as of yet how thorough the agreement will be and it has to be noted that these countries will be able to continue fossil fuel developments at home. The agreement will only cover new plans so the UK’s pipeline in Mozambique will continue because it is already in production.

Thursday

Boris Johnson took a nice, long flight back to London from Glasgow in a private jet.

Friday

‘Fridays for Future’ took over the streets of Glasgow. An estimated 50,000 people marched to George Square to show the governments of the world that not enough is being done. Along the march, music was played, chants were made and funny posters were photographed. 

At George Square, a small stage was set up where activists could speak. The speakers came from all over the world, Ecuador, Uganda, Brazil and Northern Ireland to Strathclyde and all ages and nationalities were represented.

The crowd continued to listen to the speakers for almost two and half hours, memorable quotes were cheered on by the protestors as the police stood behind the stage in groups in case of any trouble. 

“Liar, liar our forests are on fire” screamed one of the indigneous leaders from the Amazon. The Strathclyde student and researcher rhymed his way through his speech highlighting the enormity of those affected “from Aberdeen to the Amazon”. The crowd clapped loudly along throughout. Children sat on the statues so they could get a glimpse of the speakers.

Image credit: Susan Hare

Vanessa Nakate was the third last speaker of the day, she took her time to remind everyone of what we will gain if we manage to combat climate change. Her positivity ran through the thousands listening, lightening the mood.

Previous speakers had described the crisis in Columbia, the deadliest country in the world for climate activists and said that everyone would be there until nightfall if the names of those killed in the name of climate justice were read out.

Finally, the star of the show, the one everyone had waited for, took to the stage. Eighteen year old Greta Thunberg arrived on stage suddenly and all the phones raised in the air to try and capture a picture of the young activist.

Her speech captivated the crowd, who knew when to cheer and agree. She started with a strong statement “it is not a secret that COP26 is a failure”. She went on to criticise the world leaders for their PR stunts and “beautiful speeches”. The young activist aimed to highlight the root issues that have plagued the climate crisis since before science realised what was happening.

She did not hold back. The speech ended as sharply as it began “We are tired of their ‘blah blah blah’, our leaders are not leading. This is what leadership looks like”. The teenager quickly exited the stage shepherded by a crowd of police into a nearby building.


Image credit: Susan Hare

Saturday

The protests continued. This time they were bigger again, it is estimated that 100,000 people attended the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice march. It was Glasgow’s biggest protest ever and it with little interuption. Twenty-one protestors who had locked themselves to King George V Bridge were arrested by police during the morning.

Many activists again joined the protests and while Greta Thunberg did not speak again Vanessa Nakate did. She spoke to the thousands present and said: “The climate and ecological crises are already here. But so are citizens from around the globe.”

The protests highlighted the contrast between the leaders in activism, predominantly young women, in comparison to the leaders of the world who are older men. The New York Times calculated their median age as 60 years old.

Image credit: 10 Downing Street

Negotiations will continue until next Friday and many more great speakers and issues will be introduced. Sky News are currently covering the event throughout the day with commentary from academics and activists involved. For livestreams of the plenary meetings, see COP26’s Youtube.

Feature photo credit: Susan Hare

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