GOOD COP BAD COP

A painting of the globe in the shape of a human heart, choked by barbed wire.

Every year, members of nearly 200 nations assemble as a Conference of the Parties (COP) to discuss how to tackle climate change. Having already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the 26th COP held in Glasgow was eagerly awaited to see if the pledges first outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement were being upheld. The word on the street was that not enough progress had been made and the goal of keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels was nowhere to be seen. 

WEEK 1 GOOD COP?

Unlike other years, this COP saw world leaders arriving during the first weekend. This drew attention with plenty of publicity and a sense of optimism. Keen to make the best use of their time in Glasgow, leaders made a flurry of headline-grabbing announcements. There were promises to end deforestation, curb methane emissions and stop public investment in coal power. These were all very welcome but can they/will they be delivered? Some of them we have heard before – a similar pledge to end deforestation by 2030 was made in 2014. Although there were now more detailed plans and money targeted at making this happen, the pledge still has no legally binding foundation.

Some countries did not attend due to problems with travel restrictions and delegates from some countries being unvaccinated. A big disappointment was that leaders of some key countries did not attend, including Russia, China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, leaving their negotiators without the authority to make binding decisions.

On Friday, disappointed youth activists marched during what was week 167 of the Schools Strike. A frustrated Greta Thunberg accused the COP attendees of Greenwashing, calling for “enough of the Blah! Blah! Blah! “

A crowd of protesters under a banner saying "How many cops to arrest climate chaos?"

On the weekend, it was the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. Check out our coverage here.

WEEK 2 BAD COP

After the big speeches and media announcements, the world leaders slipped away leaving behind their negotiating teams to hammer out the technical details of the pledges. The negotiations are crucial to ensure each country delivers on their promises, including the targets (what they would deliver), the deadlines (when they would deliver) and the process of transparency (to make sure they delivered). Tough rules are needed to make it difficult for countries to cheat their way out if reducing emissions, but all countries need to sign up. Many countries strive for tight deadlines, but others (particularly developing countries) need more flexibility because they lack the infrastructure to monitor and report progress. 

Sensing the ‘Keep 1.5 alive’ goal slipping away, Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to Glasgow in Week 2 in an attempt to inject more energy into the talks. This was welcomed by the negotiators, but by the last planned day of the COP, there was widespread alarm at the weakness of the emerging plans. Countries are not committing to act fast enough on their pledges. Christiana Figueres, the former UN chief who oversaw the 2015 Paris Agreement said current targets needed to be re-visited annually and enhanced again next year, we cannot wait another 5 years. According to Climate Action Tracker the current trajectory is 2.4C, so it really is now or never.

This is a disaster for the smaller island states that are most vulnerable to climate change and already suffering. Not only has the 1.5C target been left behind but the very premise of the international COP is called into question. If countries not only break their promises, but are not even embarrassed by their failure, then the COP is not fit for purpose.