Written by: Shai Davis and Rachel Simone
On November 12, 2021, after 13 days, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26 – ‘Conference of the Parties’) came to a close. With about 200 countries represented, many politicians, business leaders, and activists gathered in Glasgow, Scotland to collectively discuss ways to fight this global issue and limit the rising temperatures to 1.5°C. The conference led to the agreement of the Glasgow Climate Act and the completion of the Paris Rulebook. As part of the Paris Agreement, its following countries have to readdress climate action and publish their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every 5 years. The conference in Glasgow was supposed to meet in 2020, but was rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2021 conference was especially significant, as this was the first meeting since President Joe Biden took office for the United States. Separating himself from his predecessor, Donald Trump (who withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement during his term), Biden rejoined the agreement within hours of taking office and has promised to continue to take steps to combat climate change. After four years of climate policies being rolled back, Biden’s presence at the conference was watched carefully by other world leaders and activists.
Also noticeable, though, was the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite being leaders of the first and fourth major carbon-emitting countries, respectively. Instead, Jinping provided a written statement that failed to make any notable pledges (putting the pressure on developed countries to do so), and China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, attended in his place. Putin stated that he had concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic during the time of the conference, so he would not be attending in person. COP26 did not allow a video conference or other virtual option. The absence of the two major leaders for many has been an example that even with seeing a greater extent of recent collaboration, many key countries are still unwilling to unite to solve the global issue of climate change.
Moreover, the Glasgow Climate Act additionally addressed reducing the usage of coal, which is a significant emitter of carbon dioxide. Both China and India, the two largest consumers of coal, agreed to ‘phase down’ its consumption. However, China was also criticized, along with the U.S., for falling short on the specifics of how its countries would go about cutting emissions. Therefore, the two countries came together to make a pact to reduce emissions, citing their responsibility as major world leaders and contributors to climate change. Another grand point of conflict concerned how developed countries with larger economies should aid in helping developing countries reduce their emissions. More developed nations have called on developing countries with heavy reliance on fossil fuels to move towards renewable energy. These developing countries, which include India, South Africa, and China,* argued that they do not have the financial resources and that the developed nations have not allocated the necessary resources to help them. Island nations and coastal countries, which are especially vulnerable to climate change from rising sea levels, argued that those developed nations that are major contributors should help them with climate resilience. Scotland, the host country of the COP26, promised to commit $2.8 million to developing nations, and the U.S. pledged $3 billion each year for climate adaptation by 2024.
*While China is classified as a developing country as of 2021, the country is second to the U.S. in having the largest economy, and it is debated how soon the nation is projected to be officially classified as developed (ranging from 2023-2049).
Interested in learning more? Read about the day by day progress here: COP26 Highlights!