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Reflections on the failures of COP26

It feels as if 2021 was the year of the climate, with the issue of climate change taking on a renewed urgency. Indeed, in the wake of the Glasgow COP26, surveys found it to be the most important issue facing the UK public. However, despite popular clamour for meaningful action, COP26 only offered up more piecemeal and unambitious commitments. Members of the King’s International Development (KCLID) student society have put together some of their observations about how COP26 failed, with a particular focus on developing economies.

The importance of decarbonisation

As the countries wrangled over a final deal, it seems that those most at-risk from climate change - namely low-lying developing countries - were totally forgotten. Current commitments put the world on track for 2.4C of warming, a level that would be catastrophic for millions in countries from Bangladesh to the Bahamas. Until industrialised nations commit to action that recognises their overwhelming responsibility for historic emissions, there will be no escaping the impending environmental and ecological crisis. (Gideon Coolin)

Effective climate funding

In this COP26, the issue of climate finance for adaptation, loss and damage in low- and middle-income countries received more attention than any previous COP. More than the rich countries, it is significantly harder for developing states to remove fossil fuels and carbon from their economies without new infrastructure and technology. Even though developed countries finally agreed to meet their commitment to provide $100 billion a year to poorer countries, whether there will not be any strings attached to the money is unanswered. Climate finance cannot be given as loans for it would add more burden in already heavily indebted countries. So it is also the quality not just quantity of funding that matters. (Suyeon Han)

Phasing out or phasing down?

During the ultimate moments of COP 26, India (backed by China) somewhat controversially lobbied for a word change from the ‘phasing-out’ to the ‘phasing-down’ of coal due. Can we really blame them? China and India are the two-leading coal-producers worldwide. Yet, immediate coal withdrawal is not a feasible outcome – it would directly impact millions of vulnerable households. We know that coal is the most carbon intensive fuel, but the US, and many other rich industrialised nations have less of a dependency on the ash, and more on oil and gas. Thus, there are still loopholes for countries in the global north to continue trends of emissions behaviour, while pointing the finger at China and India to reduce theirs. Hypocrisy? (Luc Frean)

Is collective action sufficient?

Since COP26 also held the summits conference, it was worth it to have new agreements and declarations about deforestation, finance and coal. However, I am not sure whether global collective action is a practicable way to prevent climate change or minimise its impacts. Nevertheless, it was meaningful that they could spread the idea of climate change and its possible solutions. Not only could they make a new plan for climate change, but they could also promote these threats and plans to the public, despite whether the public would agree with them or not. (Jeongyeon Cho)

The importance of decarbonising food systems

After many an insufficient agreement, Cop26 seems to bring long-awaited priority and urgency to the issues of decarbonisation and strengthening emissions-reduction targets. What seems to be neglected from the discussion are food systems, which along with agriculture and the processes that include food processing, transportation, and packaging comprise 25 per cent of global emissions. Although opinions on the nexus of sustainability and food consumption are widely divided, leaving that issue off the menu for Cop26 will only hinder the battle with curbing the emissions in the long run. (Karolina Kuzniar)

It is clear, therefore, that more action is sorely needed if global temperatures are to be kept under 1.5°C of additional post-industrial warming. As we have set out, at its core COP26 simultaneously ignored difficult issues such as agriculture and coal, while shutting developing countries, that are destined to feel the effects of climate change first, out of the decision-making process. It seems that even at the eleventh hour, with the spectre of an irrevocably changed climate on the horizon, industrialised nations cannot take responsibility and act sufficiently to avert crisis. As eyes turn to the Sharm El-Sheikh COP27 next year, we can only hope that this changes.

This collection of reflections was edited by Gideon Coolin, an undergraduate student in the Department of International Development, and by Maya Boustany, Student Engagement Officer.

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