COP 26; A Professional’s view

By Raja Jarrah

Raja Jarrah has attended several previous COP meetings as a professional participant, working with CARE International for several years. He is now based in Bridport, and part of the Seeding our Future team.

COP26 was not a resounding success in advancing the global effort to deal with climate change. For some observers, their expectations of COP26 were not very high, and so the end result was perhaps not as great a disappointment as it was for many others.  There were no real binding commitments made, no money put on on the table, and very little guarantee of action to follow on from the agreed words. Big gaps still remain between what needs to be done and what governments are committing to do. Astonishingly there was hardly any discussion about food and agriculture at COP, even though sustainable food systems had been discussed at a different UN summit earlier in the year.

Nevertheless there are some new markers in the Glasgow pact that might allow progress in future, albeit with glaring loopholes that must be confronted. For example, action on “fossil fuels” is mentioned in a climate agreement for the first time; yet, phrased as phasing out “inefficient” subsidies, with no action until next year, it is tantamount to justifying business as usual for the time being. And though somewhat firmer action was agreed on coal, that too carries no urgency. Also there now seems to be consensus that the magic number is 1.5oC, not the 2oC that has dogged us since Paris. (Of course, opinions still vary about what to do about that number, how fast to avoid it, or if it’s OK to overshoot it by a bit or a lot, or not).

On issues where agreement couldn’t be reached, there was at least agreement on the need to talk some more. This includes firmer targets for cutting emissions, more funding for adaptation, and establishing a fund that recognises the loss and damage that climate change has already unleashed on much of the developing world. But as experience shows, declarations and voluntary agreements do not routinely turn into actual action.  

Many observers of COP see the limited progress as confirming how essential action is by communities and local individuals, both to reduce emissions and adapt to worsening climate events, but also to keep pressure on national governments.

Probably the most encouraging thing about COP26 was the extent that organisations of concerned citizens, many ably led by youth, women, and indigenous people, continually sought to exert pressure on the delegates during the negotiations, perhaps more so than at any previous COP. The challenge now is how to keep up that pressure so that the words of the politicians can turn into real action, prior to another COP next year.