What happened at the UN COP26 climate conference?

Climate change was described as a “doomsday scenario” that demanded a “James Bond victory” at the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow last week, and 200 countries have now walked away with a new deal.

“It’s one minute to midnight on the doomsday clock and we have to act now,” Mr Johnson said in his opening speech.

The two-week climate summit discussed limiting the effects of global warming and addressed how countries planned to reduce their emissions by 2030.

Here’s what happened

Man in black suit wearing a blue tie with white hair walking behind a blue wall with the words 'COP26.'
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson acknowledges that some countries did not live up to the ambition of the summit.(Reuters: Phil Noble)

At the start of the conference, Britain had asked all industrialized nations to adopt more ambitious mid-century targets to halve their emissions by 2030.

At the end of the event, Mr Johnson said the agreement reached at the COP26 climate negotiations sounds like the “death blow to coal power”.

He accepted that the summit did not provide the “full solution” to climate change, but said the world was “undeniably heading in the right direction”.

So what was achieved at COP26?

  • More than 100 countries agreed to reduce methane emissions and signed a pact to stop deforestation
  • 140 countries agreed to strengthen their 2030 targets
  • 190 countries agreed to phase out coal power and stop public funding
  • For the first time, the COP agreement directly mentioned fossil fuels
  • The “Paris Rulebook” was completed, paving the way for global emission reductions through carbon trading

What is COP26?

The COP stands for “Conference of the Parties” and this was its 26th annual meeting.

The first COP was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995.

The COP is the main decision-making body in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and includes representatives from all the countries that are parties to the Convention.

World leaders attending the COP26 summit included British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Particularly absent from the summit were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Queen Elizabeth II.

The next conference, COP27, is expected to take place in Egypt at the end of 2022.

Nations enter into climate agreement after language was diluted

One of the biggest new climate action agreements made at the summit was only adopted after a last-minute intervention from India to dilute the language of reducing emissions from coal.

The amendment proposed by India replaced the term “phase out” with “phase out”.

Several countries, including small island states, said they were deeply disappointed by the change India has made.

The agreement aims to keep alive the hope of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to prevent the effects of catastrophic climate change.

China and the United States promised to tackle climate change together

In other developments during the negotiations, the world’s two largest carbon polluting countries, China and the United States, agreed to work together to increase efforts to combat climate change.

The agreement promised to reduce methane emissions, phase out coal consumption and protect forests.

“Both sides recognize that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris Agreement,” said China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said the agreement was a statement of support for a successful climate summit in which both countries take a step toward closing the emissions gap.

“Every step means something right now and we have a long journey ahead of us,” he said.

Australia branded a ‘big disappointment’

Few were impressed with Australia’s commitment at the conference.

The UK’s top adviser on climate change, Lord Deben, described Australia’s contribution as a “great disappointment at not understanding how urgent it is to reduce emissions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally confirmed at the summit that Australia would commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

He also announced $ 500 million in new funding to help Pacific and Southeast Asia deal with the effects of climate change, bringing Australia’s total commitment to $ 2 billion.

But he did not announce a new emission reduction target for 2030.

Resource Minister Keith Pitt said Australia had outlined how it would meet its 2050 climate target and that demand for Australian coal was expected to continue to rise until 2030.

“Australia produces only four percent of the world’s thermal coal. It’s some of the highest quality in the world, which is why we will continue to have markets for decades into the future,” he said.

Island nations wanted more ambitious agreements

A man in a suit stands by a lectern all the way down in the sea water and gives a speech
Tuvalus Foreign Minister Simon Kofe’s COP26 video statement made waves around the world.(Reuters: Tuvalu Ministry of Justice Communications and Foreign Affairs)

At the last negotiations at the summit, representatives from the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kenya, Ghana and the United States all called for major ambition agreements.

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Simon Kofe gave a video speech to the summit as he knelt in the sea water to show how low-lying Pacific nations were on the front lines of climate change.

“The declaration compares the COP26 environment with the real situations that Tuvalu is facing due to the effects of climate change and sea level rise,” Mr Kofe said.

“Tuvalu is literally sinking.”

Large crowds gathered for bolder action

While outside the conference wall, tens of thousands of protesters marched in Glasgow and around the world, demanding more courageous action at the UN climate conference.

The crowd in Glasgow marched the streets away from the summit, shouting, “what do we want, climate justice.”

Colorful banners displayed slogans ranging from serious calls for “Climate Justice Now” to the more comical: “No planet = no beer”.

Teenage activist Greta Thunberg led the protest “Fredays for Future” in Glasgow.

She branded the summit as “failure” and “a global North Greenwash festival.”

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‘It’s no secret that COP26 is a failure’: Greta Thunberg attacks world leaders’ passivity


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