COP26: The third COP aims to mitigate climate change – but will it work?

Richard Gray Last weekend’s COP26 was an overdue, but vital, global effort to save our planet from climate change. But it also proved that global diplomacy on climate change is an extraordinarily slow process….

COP26: The third COP aims to mitigate climate change – but will it work?

Richard Gray

Last weekend’s COP26 was an overdue, but vital, global effort to save our planet from climate change. But it also proved that global diplomacy on climate change is an extraordinarily slow process. The decision to create the new UN framework for international climate change talks in Marrakesh was not taken lightly, and it will take many years before we know whether it will be successful.

Like the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), COP26 showed that it is going to take even more time and political will to get meaningful changes in emissions reductions. There was no grand deal, as there was at COP21. And despite the new format, you only had to look at one continent in particular to see the significant differences in national approaches to climate diplomacy.

“We are all in the same boat now. But there is a difference between the governments and the industry. In Europe, we believe in science. It must be taken into account but the incentive for companies and manufacturers to do their bit must be strong.”

The thawing of Russia’s attitude towards international climate change negotiations was a central element in the agreement that emerged in Marrakesh. The Russians had walked out of the previous talks and had refused to participate in the decision-making process until the new format had been agreed. The Krasnoyarsk conference hall was packed to capacity and the atmosphere inside was jubilant, as Russia’s delegation clapped and cheered at the outcome.

After a long period of political isolation, global leaders finally agreed that for the next three years, the COP is going to become a legal organisation, whereas previous meetings were informal gatherings open to national governments, non-governmental groups and local associations.

This “legal infrastructure” will allow for more consensual decisions, and “satisfactorily embed a legal framework”. Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres described it as a “meaningful” step, even if it wasn’t “a final agreement”.

Speaking at a press conference after the agreement, the Russian minister of ecology and natural resources had a very different perspective: “We would have preferred it [a global deal] to be done on an international level. This is clearly not happening at the moment,” he said.

One thing we do know with some certainty is that, if this meeting had had no influence on the climate mitigation efforts of the world’s largest countries, there would be less pressure on them to act. The US walked out of the last major conference, but the global pressure is still there. Getting the US back in is just as important as persuading countries like India and China to do more.

The focus is on keeping temperatures rise below 1.5°C – a target that Germany’s environment minister has been fighting for since his time in China. But science is telling us that we are already overshooting the target, and scientists have even predicted that the emissions reductions outlined in Marrakesh could mean we could warm the Earth even more.

Richard Gray is a science writer and blogger who writes about environmental issues, politics and business

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