Was COP26 a success? Or a failure?
I believe it’s most accurate, if unsatisfying, to answer “both” – and “neither.”
Each year since the Convention was adopted in 1994, the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has convened a Conference of Parties (COP), bringing together governments, civil society, and the private sector to address the global threat of climate change. And for several years, the UUA Office at the UN has had the ability to certify official civil society delegates to attend these climate conferences to represent Unitarian Universalist values and concerns.
The 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen was the first such conference to which the UU@UN sent credentialed representatives. A key outcome from that COP was the promise from rich countries that they would donate $100 billion-a-year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.
This has been an important issue for Unitarian Universalists, recognizing the inequity of the climate crisis, where those least responsible for causing global warming suffer the first and worst from the disastrous consequences. The promise of finance for the Green Climate Fund was a way for wealthy polluting countries to take responsibility and to support those harmed by their actions.
12 years later, this promise has yet to be fulfilled. That fact was a major point of contention at this year’s COP26 in Glasgow, and addressing it was a priority for our UUA delegation.
When I attended COP25 in Katowice, Poland, African representatives I met were very angry about the unkept promise of support for the Green Climate Fund. The same level of frustration was evident from all developing countries at COP26. The most recent count shows that the Green Climate Fund has $10.3 billion, far short of the pledged $100 billion per year.
As with the pandemic, so with climate change: None of us is safe until we are all safe. There must be equity in addressing this global crisis.
Another priority for our UUA delegation was holding countries to account for their Paris Agreement vow to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. National commitments have increased in ambition since Paris, which is hugely important, but there is still much more needed.
Based on agreements at COP26, if every nation fulfilled its commitments (which is a big IF) then we might keep global warming to 1.8 degrees C. That will still be too much warming to save many island nations from rising sea levels.
As COP26 ended, the conference chair Alok Sharma was tearing up, feeling he’d failed. His unmet goal to consign fossil fuels to history was certainly disappointing. However, urgency for action at this COP was more palpable than ever before, and important progress was made both within and on the outskirts of the conference.
Remarkably, COP26 was the first ever to actually mention the destructive qualities of fossil fuels, and I see the last-minute agreement between China and the United States to work together on climate change as a huge milestone.
I hope that the energy at this COP has set the stage for even more substantial results in the future.
Next year’s COP27 will be another opportunity to obtain firm commitments to protect our planet and the lives of all beings that inhabit it. In the meantime, we will keep up pressure at the UN – and I implore you to keep up pressure on your representatives – to keep our goals for climate justice and equity alive.
Your support for our work allows us to continue our advocacy at the UN and at UN conferences such as COP26 in Glasgow.