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Did the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) give hope?

The annual UN climate change conference was held in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31st to November 12th of 2021. Also known as COP26, the conference was one of the modern world’s most crucial climate conferences. The conference updated the Paris Agreement to cut back emissions across over 130 countries. The heads of state and government of each government met over a period of two weeks to discuss and make promises about their actions against climate change. Despite the importance of this conference, it still seemed to be a performative scheme to keep citizens ignorant to the dangers of our climate crisis.

Although Britain and the United Nations said they wanted to “keep hope alive” by limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit, the world is currently on track for a 2.4 degrees Celsius or 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit temperature increase. According to the International Energy Agency, the new open-ended commitments to zero net emissions limit warming to just 1.8 degrees Celsius, further proving the incomplete and unserious promises of many nations. There is still hope because at the COP21 conference in 2015, the world was on track for a 3 - 4 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures. This gives hope that these COP conferences can make a difference with more ambitious action by each nation.

Despite the concrete facts, there were many promises made at the COP26 that must be discussed. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) is using more than $130 trillion of private capital “to [transform] the economy” towards the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Other major promises include a declaration to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030. The 110 countries who have agreed to this declaration cover 85% of the world’s forests, making the agreement a vital promise in protecting the world’s atmosphere and habitats. Those who signed the agreement include Canada, Russia, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the US, and the UK. Hopefully, we will see decisive action upon this pledge these upcoming years. Professor Simon Lewis, an expert on climate and forests at University College London, is skeptical of the conference’s goal for deforestation. The pledge costs nearly $19.2 billion dollars and is similar to a previous deal in 2014 that “failed to slow deforestation at all.” However, Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister and host of the COP26, states that unlike other deals, this one has “more leaders than ever before. He hopes that the goal of reversing deforestation by 2030 will “stop the devastating loss of our forests” so that humanity can “become nature’s custodian.”

In addition to deforestation, at least 23 countries agreed to phase out coal power in the 2030s for leading nations and 2040s for the rest of the world. This is an important step, but it is also necessary to analyze the emissions of coal power plants. Nations must report their emission levels to the UN so proper goals and predictions can be made. Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, says that there are key factors missing when comparing the atmospheric nations and the reports of countries. He believes that the atmosphere’s actual emission levels reveal the truth.” The UN published a synthesis report in September of 2021 to show the effects that climate promises will have on future emissions and temperature. The UN report shows numbers more than 10 billion tons above what countries actually report. This alteration of emission data will continue for years to come because the Paris agreement is not mandatory. Countries simply make promises they are not held to. Although these pledges show commitment and desire to improve our world’s climate crisis, there is a lack of improvement in the climate crisis from previous conference’s such as the 2015 conference. However, Jackson still hopes “to leave the world better for [his] kids than [how he] found it,” something we must all work toward as well.


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