Global climate talks end with a whimper

The global climate conference, COP26, concluded on Saturday night in dramatic fashion.  Negotiations overran by 24 hours. Poorer countries fought against reducing their reliance on coal. Richer nations pushed back in some cases against funding poorer nations to fight the effects of climate change – effects for which said richer nations are largely responsible. Many pledges were made during the talks but there’s little by way of accountability. In short, it was a bit of a circus. 

As the talks hit a deadlock the European Commission’s vice president Frans Timmermans stood up, pleading with top government leaders to think about just “one person in your life…that will still be around in 2030” – which is when the world needs to cut emissions by 1.5°C to avoid extreme weather changes. 

It provided a moment for the negotiations to forge ahead. 

Eventually, nearly 200 countries adopted what is now known as the Glasgow Climate Pact. It’s the first climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal, the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases. But it still fell short in many ways. Current pledges, if fulfilled, will only limit global warming to about 2.4°C. 😲 They’re hoping to do better at next year’s COP, which will take place in Africa for the first time, but wow. We’re beyond running out of time on this. 

India and China, who together are responsible for about a third of global CO2 emissions, fought hard against the phrase “phasing out” coal, pushing instead the phrase “phasing down”. That’s because developing countries – like SA – don’t want to abruptly stop using coal and devastate their economies and communities that rely on it, AND they want financing to fight the effects of climate change, while transitioning their economies to a greener space.  

It’s a tricky and touchy set of subjects. And it’s easy to get depressed. These climate conferences may seem like a lot of hot air (haha) with very little achieved but, as the Economist puts it: “It is better than letting the effort slide, just as the UN-sanctioned circus of the COPs is better than leaving the world without any such forum at all.” 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 18 November 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.