Leos Box

A reflection on COP 26

To say that there’s been mixed reviews of COP26 would, I think, be an understatement.

For some (who might be wearing their more rose-tinted glasses) COP26 could be seen as a great success. Where before have we seen China and the US in agreement to boost climate cooperation? Or seen such radical pacts to reduce methane emissions, which are responsible for 25% of the planet’s warming? Or seen countries connect the dots between achieving gender equality, and tackling the climate crisis?

However, for others viewing the conference perhaps through a more cynical lens, it’s easy to see COP26’s discoordination, the last minute change of wording from the ‘phase out’ coal to a ‘phase down’, the island nations unable to attend, and think that it was a complete waste of time. Or, to be more frank, a betrayal of the actions promised. The fact that fossil fuel lobbyists were the largest delegation at the conference doesn’t help matters.

With the stakes of COP26 so high, it’s easy to see why the tensions and emotions around the conference are equally amplified. Ahead of COP26, the US climate envoy John Kerry described it as “the last best chance” to avert major destruction as a consequence of the climate crisis. with the literal future of our planet on the line, and 25 COPs already gone, the attention of the world was on the conference to ensure that robust climate policy is implemented to (as Boris Johnson put it) “keep the hope of 1.5 alive”.

Whether it did that is tricky to say, but what COP26 critics and champions alike can agree is that it’s not just what happens on paper at COP that counts - it’s what comes after it.

Promises are nothing without the work to make them happen, something that governments’ track record of climate policies clearly show. So now, we must all play a role in ensuring that we hold governments to the statements drafted at COP26 in the years to come - and work for that change to happen from the ground up.

And despite the frustration of COP26, there is reason for rational optimism - for the first time in a COP agreement, there is language pushing nations to take better action towards tackling coal usage and fossil fuel subsidiaries. And whilst we may quibble over the minor change of wording in the final statement (which, admittedly, has larger impacts than the change of one word would suggest), it’s still a huge step in the right direction not seen at the 25 previous COPs.

So no, COP26 hasn’t saved the planet - but nor was it our last-ditch attempt to do so. After all, who would expect years’ worth of blame-shifting, disagreement, and debate to be solved in just 2 short weeks, with a shiny new document that will save the Earth spat out at the other side? But it has kept the goal of 1.5 degrees in reach, just - now, the work comes to solidify it.

And we all play a role in making that happen. The most important thing we can do is ensure that we don’t let the frustration and anger from COP result in disillusionment and disempowerment. Climate doomism is as dangerous as denialism as it results in the same thing - lack of action. And if there’s one thing the previous 25 COPs can show us, it’s that lack of action is what has got us into the climate crisis we are in currently.