What Happened At COP26?

For nearly two weeks in November 2021, leaders from around the world gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 Climate Summit. The summit was intended to lead to a global initiative to slow climate change when demand for action against climate change has risen. While COP26 is not the first meeting of its kind, nor is it likely to be the last, there were many plans and promises made in the two weeks leading up to the completed agreement. 

Global temperatures have been rising since the industrial revolution, mostly due to an increase in demand for fossil fuels in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The United Nations began convening annual climate summits starting with COP1 in Berlin in 1995. These conferences were designed to allow the international community to agree on new regulations to combat climate change. One of the most notable summits happened in Paris in 2015, where world leaders set forth a comprehensive agreement to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees. The most recent summit in Glasgow drew many eyes because of the mounting pressure to act on climate change, as the point of no return for taking action against rising temperatures draws closer.

World leaders agreed to several new international climate goals, such as cutting methane emissions, beginning to transition away from gas-powered vehicles, and phasing out coal power. China and the United States, the two largest carbon-emitting countries, agreed to a new partnership to help each other and the world collectively reduce their carbon emissions. The nations at the summit agreed to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees celsius, which experts say is still possible. Much of the agreements made in this deal would not have happened without continuing pressure from youth activists, many of whom marched in the streets of Glasgow. 

While these agreements have given humanity some breathing room, it will be straightforward for world leaders to accept COP26 as simply a political victory and not initiate policies to generate the action needed to maintain the agreement. There are no legal ramifications for failing to abide by the agreements, as these agreements are merely guidelines, not laws. There are already signs that not every nation in this agreement will completely abide by its rules. In a last-minute edit, India pushed to change the language in the section dealing with coal, changing the wording from “phase-out” to “phase down.” This language change may seem small, but it can let countries off if they fail to meet their intended marks. 

World leaders must abide by the terms of COP26 and maintain their agreements. While the recent upswing in support for action against climate change is welcome and important, it is disappointing to see that most of the demand for action is coming from young people. It is time for older generations, especially older politicians, to adopt a more concrete position on climate change, as it is a real and dangerous threat to every nation’s security. Climate change will not care which nations choose to take it seriously; it will cause droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires around the globe, leading to humanitarian crises.

We are already seeing the effects of climate change from the nearly constant wildfires in the western United States, the disastrous flooding in Europe and China, and the hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico. The time remaining for climate action is decreasing, so it is crucial that whatever action the international community takes is taken now.