COP stands for “Conference of the Parties.” These Unites Nations led meeting have been occurring for 26 years and they have pushed climate change to the centre of international politics and trade.
There were four main objectives at this year’s COP. These included securing a global net zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5 degree in reach, adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, mobilizing finance to benefit climate change mitigation efforts, and working together to finalize the Paris Rulebook needed to implement the Paris Agreement from COP21.
This past year’s COP met from October 31 to November 12, 2021. The conference met in Glasgow, Scotland where the president of the conference for this year, United Kingdom cabinet minister Alok Sharma, brought 120 countries together working in partnership with Italy.
One of the more important past conferences was COP21 which took place in 2015. Every country present agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degree, to adapts to the needs of climate change, and to secure financial means to make these adaptations.
This two-week conference accomplished new pledges on methane gas pollution, deforestation, coal financing, rules on carbon trading, and a deal between the United States and China. This was also the first time the COP agreed to phase down fossil fuels. Leaders walked away with ambition and commitment from each other regarding climate change.
1. Methane Gas Pollution
The Methane Gas Pollution initiative was first announced by the European Union and the United States in September. CO2 chemicals have been the main emissions subject to mitigation because of their harmful effect on global warming. Methane Gas is a major and powerful contributor, like CO2, occluding the atmosphere and causing a warming effect. This is why it was so important for the conference members too come to an agreement on this issue. Critics of the agreement state that the largest methane gas polluters are not part of this agreement thus potentially undermining its efficacy. It still stands that almost 70% of the overall methane emissions have been accounted for by the end of the conference.
2. Coal Financing
The countries agreed to “phase down” coal production. The deal regarding coal financing and move towards renewable sources of energy will target fossil fuels which are a key pollutant and heavy contributors to climate change. The phrase “phase down” was added last minute at the request of India and China, as they are the largest coal burners in the world and their economies depend on it. Other coal-dependent developing nations also backed India and China’s stance. Although this change weakened the agreement, it ultimately ensured a deal was agreed upon by the almost 200 countries.
This last-minute drama highlighted the dichotomy between developing countries and rich nations involved in this conference. India's environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, shared that he felt the pact singled out developing countries and, as the largest voice of these countries, India needed to step up to the plate and demand the change.
3. U.S. – China Trade Deal
The United States and China are two of the largest emitters of carbon in the world. Recent tension created by the protectionist policies set forth by the administration of the former President Donald J. Trump made it seem very unlikely that a deal would go through. The soft agreement reached focuses on boosting clean energy, mitigating deforestation, and slashing methane emissions. There are no deadlines or terms specified but the two countries have agreed that cooperation is what is needed to move forward with the global goal of lowering global warming. This is in direct contrast to the prior Trump Administration’s actions which pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Accord.
Many critics are not satisfied with these agreements as some of them do not have the teeth that they believe are needed to accomplish the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. Others believe that this process is too closed off and there is little to no transparency in how these decisions are made, causing distrust on the legitimacy of the agreements.
Over 100,000 people marched in Glasgow in protest to the COP26 this past year. The main concerns these activists have involve world leaders not acting with the right amount of urgency to attack the climate emergency. Protests also occurred throughout Europe and young environmentalist activists spoke about the changes that need to occur at that moment. Some activists also addressed the rights of indigenous populations as climate change threatens their livelihood and they are rarely considered in these conferences due to a lack of representation.
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COP26: Thousands march for Glasgow's biggest protest. (2021, November 6). Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-59185007
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