COP 26 Progress, But Not Nearly Enough

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COP 26, the latest United Nations meeting to forge agreements between nations on climate change, has come to a close in Glasgow, Scotland. While the countries present reached an agreement that improves on the current commitments, the world is still far from keeping global warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius or less that scientists assert is necessary to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. 

In particular, poor countries that contributed the least to creating global warming are still at the greatest risk of ongoing catastrophic impacts from the climate crisis, with little concrete financial assistance coming from wealthy nations to help them adapt or rebuild. 

Rich countries, including the United States, are refusing to contribute to a loss and damage fund that would provide poor countries with money to address the billions of dollars in damage already resulting from the climate crisis.  This continues a pattern of wealthy countries failing to provide the funds needed to help poorer countries reduce their emissions and invest in climate adaptation. 

There Were Important Steps Forward on Climate at COP 26 

The countries reached these positive agreements: 

  • Over 100 countries agreed to reduce methane emissions 30 percent by 2030 

  • Over 130 countries agreed to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 (although a similar agreement in 2014 has not slowed rampant deforestation) 

  • 23 countries agreed to phase out coal (but major coal burning countries including the United States and China were not on board) 

  • 25 countries agreed to end financing coal by the end of 2022 

  • A number of governments and companies (including Ford and GM) pledged to only sell electric vehicles by 2035, but the US and China did not sign on, nor did four of the largest car makers in the world (Volkswagen, Toyota, Renault-Nissan and Hyundai-Kia) 

If these agreements are actually put into place by participating countries and companies, it will make a difference, but clearly significantly more needs to be done, and more countries and companies need to get on board with these pledges.  In addition, as a recent Washington Post investigation found, many countries are underreporting out their true emissions.  We can't make progress on climate change if countries aren't accurately measuring their emissions and the impacts of their reduction strategies.

The World is Not Acting Fast Enough on Fossil Fuels 

COP 26 ended with countries pledging to “phase down” not “phase out” fossil fuels, which will slow the progress of the most polluting countries in reducing their emissions.   

Earlier in the week, the United States and China (the two largest climate emitters in the world) issued an agreement where both countries agreed to new actions to reduce emissions but included the phase down language.  India then pushed for the final COP 26 agreement to include a phase down (not phase out) of fossil fuels.  While a definitive end to fossil fuels is needed, at least there is language in the agreement that recognizes the need to ramp down on fossil fuels. 

One reason that it is so hard to get necessary commitments to end fossil fuels is largely the result of the huge presence of the fossil fuels sector at COP 26 and prior climate summits.  

More than 500 attendees at the summit were from organizations that lobby on behalf of the oil, gas or coal industries, or represented countries with major oil and gas industries.  

These countries and lobbying groups pushed hard to limit language that harms their interests. Additionally, India, China, and other developing countries argue that they should be allowed to burn fossil fuels longer than wealthier countries that can better afford the rapid transition to renewable energy. 

At the same time, climate activists, including indigenous activists, disabled persons, and representatives from poorer nations, found themselves excluded from many of the official meetings.   

Their voices were not in the room. 

Activism is Essential to Progress 

Exclusion from official COP 26 meetings didn’t stop young activists and indigenous leaders from protesting loudly outside of COP 26, including an historic march through Glasgow that focused world attention on the lack of progress from world leaders.  Activists chanted “Keep 1.5 degrees alive” and that pressure helped to ensure that progress was made inside the summit.  

Their voices were joined by representatives of small nations, including Barbados and Tuvalu, who forcefully told attendees of COP 26 that the very survival of their nations was at stake if the world doesn’t hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

In the spirit of the activists who turned out at COP 26, we all need to keep pressure on our governments and corporations in the coming year to make sure that pledges to reduce emissions are kept and strengthened. 

What You Can Do for the Climate 

Green America is encouraging our members and the public to support: 

  • New EPA rules to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuels by 30 percent by 2030 

  • The Build Back Better Act, that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in government support for a transition to renewable energy and establish a Climate Corps, amongst many other climate measures.  Take action with Call 4 Climate now! 

  • Regulations to shift the financial sector away from fossil fuels to investing in renewable energy and other climate solutions and working with banks to get them to decarbonize their lending 

  • Ramping up pressure on banks that invest in fossil fuels to urge them to end their financing of fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy solutions instead 

  • Shifting to regenerative agriculture in the US that will sequester carbon in the soil and create healthy soils for future generations -- a real transformation to biologically based, not industrial chemical, agriculture.  That’s what will get us all the benefits along with carbon sequestration – improved soil health, water quality and conservation, reduction of polluting fertilizer and dangers pesticides, biodiversity, climate resiliency and food security, nutrient density in food, and farm and rural community prosperity. You can start by planting a Climate Victory Garden

  • Divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment into renewable energy, climate solutions, and green jobs. 

  • Pressuring supermarkets to phase out HFC refrigerants, greenhouse gases up to 9,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide and leaking out at enormous rates. 

  • Keeping pressure on telecoms and other companies accelerating the climate crisis through massive use of fossil fuels so they shift to 100% renewable energy rapidly. 

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