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COP26 update: Where do we stand?

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David Attenborough speaks at the opening ceremony of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Photo Andrew Parsons www.flickr.com

As COP26 wraps up this week, where have we landed?

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) wraps up at the end of this week, with a raft of new commitments. Last week, world leaders made two major pledges to cut methane emissions and reduce deforestation by 2030, with Australia refusing to commit to the cutting of methane emissions.

As the international conference comes to an end, where do we stand? And what do climate experts make of COP26 – success or failure?

Land use and agriculture

One of the major agreements reached at COP26 is the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, a commitment to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

Building on this pledge, at the end of last week, 45 governments promised urgent action on sustainable agriculture and land use. Brazil, whose controversial president Jair Bolsonaro has a patchy record on deforestation, announced plans to scale its ABC+ low carbon farming programme to 72 million hectares, saving approximately one billion tonnes of emissions by 2030. Meanwhile, Germany pledged to lower its emissions from land use by 25 million tonnes by 2030, and the UK promised to engage 75 per cent of farmers in low carbon practices by 2030.

COP26 president Alok Sharma says: ‘If we are to limit global warming and keep the goal of 1.5°C alive, then the world needs to use land sustainably and put protection and restoration of nature at the heart of all we do.’

A protest called by Uni Students For Climate Justice in Melbourne, forming part of a COP26 Global Day of Action against climate inaction. Photo Matt Hrkac www.flickr.com/photos/matthrkac

Climate adaptation

Experts have noted that unlike past climate conferences, COP26 has focused as much on climate adaptation as it has on climate mitigation (the reduction of emissions and pollution).

Speaking last week, John O’Brien, a partner in energy transition and decarbonisation at Deloitte, said: ‘This one has had a lot more around resilience, adaptation, physical risk, biodiversity and valuing natural capital.

‘So, it’s… sort of the first COP where there’s been really close integration of adaptation and mitigation.’

Monday was Adaptation and Loss and Damage Day at the conference, and $232 million was committed to the Adaptation Fund from the UK, USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Quebec and Flanders. Meanwhile the UK announced £290 million (AUD$500 million) in new funding for global adaptation projects.

In a statement on the day, Sharma said: ‘We know that even if we stopped polluting our world tomorrow, there will be negative consequences for many millions. And that is why issues such as adaptation are so important.’

Gender and climate

Tuesday was Gender Day at COP26, as world powers grappled with the gendered impacts and responsibilities of climate change. It’s an important message; in 2017, a UN report found 80 per cent of those displaced by the climate emergency were women, and climate-related events will prevent four million girls in lower-income countries from completing their education in 2021, according to Sharma.

At COP25 in 2019, world leaders developed the Gender Action Plan, in acknowledgement that women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change. This time around, a number of countries have pledged to include gender equality as a core principle in their climate policy, including Canada and Germany. But beyond these vague statements, there is limited evidence of what will practically be done to address this issue.

COP26: Success or failure?

Last week, optimism abounded when a study from Climate Resource found that if the new COP26 pledges were successful, warming could potentially be kept below 2°C – putting us on track for that target for the first time in history. But on Tuesday, Climate Action Tracker released their own report revealing that projected warming from COP26’s new 2030 pledges actually hovers at 2.4°C, well beyond an acceptable threshold.

Research predicts that beyond 1.5°C of warming, most countries will experience severe impacts, and some island states will be pushed beyond the point of survival by impacts such as sea-level rise and increasingly violent storms.

It’s a sobering reality, and worth noting that even the Climate Resource study relies on COP26 pledges being met, which is far from a given. The global community has a history of falling short of its ambitious targets; very few countries are on track to reach even their 2015 Paris Agreement goals, let alone new pledges.

Outspoken climate activist Greta Thunberg has labelled COP26 both a ‘failure’ and a ‘PR exercise’, arguing that more aggressive – and more rapid – emissions reduction pledges are required.

So, is there a case for optimism?

‘The pleasing thing is that countries have come a fair way since Paris,” says Wesley Morgan, a researcher at the Climate Council and research fellow at Griffith University’s Asia Institute, who specialises in climate science and the impact of climate change on Australia and the Pacific.

Morgan thinks the general shift towards heightened commitments hints at progress.

‘A hundred plus countries have announced that they are planning to shift to a net-zero emissions economy, so that’s pleasing.

‘I think it’s promising that all of the G7 countries pledged to collectively halve their ambitions this decade, and almost all of the advanced economies have set new, stronger targets to cut emissions by 2030, with most of those around about a cut of 45 to 50 per cent by 2030. That’s very significant.’

But, notably, Australia is walking away from COP26 having made no such changes to its 2030 commitment.

And, ultimately, ‘there is widespread recognition amongst the countries that we’re still an awful long way away from where we need to be,” Morgan says. ‘We’re still headed for 2.4 degrees.

‘Really, in Glasgow, the world has clarified that we’re nowhere near where we need to be for reducing emissions by 2030, and we really need to be halving global emissions this decade.’

As for Australia’s minimal contribution to commitments?

‘There’s been this idea that Prime Minister Morrison might show up with a net-zero announcement, which has no credible pathway to actually deliver net-zero emissions, and then come home and that would be enough to avoid international scrutiny. I think the take-home message is that that’s not enough.’


This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Amalyah Hart. Amalyah Hart is a science journalist based in Melbourne.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.


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10 COMMENTS

  1. The year 2030 is only 8 years away. If there is any country that will meet its target it will be a miracle.
    No country will meet its target. It was all talk. The world as we know it, is doomed.
    The big mistake was to send politicians.

    • It is a big mistake when COP26 is infiltrated by some 500 fossil fuel industry lobbyists representing some 100 fossil fuel companies. It doesn’t get anymore blatant when you see that Australia’s stall at COP26 is the Marketing Department for Santos. I guess it another example of what Morrison would call, “gas chose itself”.

  2. SO SAD BUT TRUE EMILY…..yet again Glasgow was a huge talk fest just like previous UN Climate Conferences. We are headed for a MINiMUM 2.5 % temp increase WTF? As Greenpeace says by 2030 we need to be reaching something like 70-75% reductions in Co2 as Australia WILL NEVER reach their ‘promised ‘ 2050 Zero target. THIS IS MORE THAN LABOR IS PLEDGING but who would you prefer to believe ? Also Scummo’s ‘promises’ are not worth the paper they are written on or the spin that is ventilated. THE NATS have decided THAT VOTES OVER RIDE A HEALTHY PLANET…go figure and they are running this shameful circus. THERE SHOULD BE NO POLITICAL DONATIONS FROM MULTI NATIONALS SEEKING TO DETERMINE GOVT POLICY ie :especially fossil fuel companies. HOWEVER, AFTER ALL THIS MADNESS, I fear that this appalling bunch of dangerous dinosaurs will get back in.Mediocrity is ecologically illiterate. Oh Yeah! one last thing the Glasgow ‘gathering’ didn’t even consider/include or prioritise emission from the sheep/cattle industries or AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRIES IN GENERAL? ? AGAIN NOR DID SCUMMO’S DEAL WITH THE NATS, so we are all fried. I only grieve for our long suffering wildlife who deserve NONE of this…as for our species did we EVER deserve such a beautiful & magical planet ?

  3. How sad that they decided to “combat global warming” by ending deforestation when the evidence is very clear that it was humanity burning fossil fuels over the past two centuries that caused global warming, not humanity clearing forests over the past several thousand years.

    Ending deforestation is a necessary biodiversity conservation initiative, but neither it or reforestation can make any significant impact on climate change.

    People who support this nonsense as a “solution” are dangerous climate deniers as much as the people like Rowan Dean on Sky News

    • Deforestation does indeed affect the temperature, it’s responsible for the pre-industrial temperature rise. Forests take many gigatonnes out of the carbon cycle annually.

  4. Any future temperature rises are just hypothetical computer modeling fairytale stuff.. incidentally China was not mentioned once in this article ? Why ?

    • Temperature rises, we / Australia have already had 1.44 degrees + or – 0.24 degrees since 1910 but you already knew that – temperature rising is all fairytale stuff, yeah. Best to just pretend it ain’t happening. Oh, but there you went and mentioned China, so now you do believe but delightfully want to blame someone else. Barrow old son, you need to lift your game and as that famous tennis player said…” you can’t be serious”.

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