Down and out in Glasgow and Paris: climate talks end in failure

London’s Mayor joins critics of COP26’s final pact: ‘This agreement simply doesn’t meet the scale of the challenge’

It was late yesterday afternoon, with the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow already 24 hours into overtime, when Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s vice president, took the floor at the SEC Centre.

He was worried that, after working through the night to try to find some common ground, the sleep-deprived representatives of the 197 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change were about to stumble “in the last couple of hundred metres before the finish line”.

He pleaded with his fellow delegates “to just think about one person in your life… that will still be around in 2030, and think about how that person will live if we do not stick to the 1.5C here today”.

The plea fell on deaf ears.

In a crucial late intervention on an agreement over the use of coal – the worst contributor to greenhouse gases – India got the phrase “phasing out” watered down to “phasing down”.

Alok Sharma is the Tory MP appointed by the British hosts of the two-week global crisis talks to act as the President of the conference.

Close to tears: Alok Sharma apologised for the failure of COP26 to deliver on its hoped-for commitments

By the end of it all, Sharma was close to tears as, from the chair, he apologised for COP26’s failure to deliver a robust agreement that might, just might, save the planet.

Sharma was only too well aware that the late, one-word amendment, “down” instead of “out”, had left all hopes for COP26 down and out.

Greta Thunberg had been right all along. “Blah, blah, blah”.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, admitted that COP26 had failed to deliver on its principal goal. “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” he said.

“We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode – or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”

COP26 was the 26th “Conference of the Parties”, or COP, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was the third such meeting since the 2015 Paris Accord, and was supposed to see world leaders commit to enhanced ambition towards mitigating climate change. But someone had thrown a mighty great spanner into the works of the Paris agreement’s “ratchet mechanism” of ever greater commitments.

The return to negotiations next year, to begin an annual process of revising national targets on greenhouse gases, will be a fraught process, as some countries contend that they are already doing their utmost. Even the small step of agreeing to revise the plans was only achieved after overcoming stiff opposition, yet revision is essential if the world is to avoid surpassing the 1.5C threshold which was first agreed in Paris six years ago.

One of the fiercest disagreements in the final hours was over that wording of an intention to abandon coal, from a “phase out” to a “phase down”. Yet it marked the first time that such a resolution had been made under the UN climate process.

COP out: Greta Thunberg, excluded from the conference, predicted COP26 would fail to deliver

The “Glasgow climate pact” was adopted, but the pledges on emissions fell well short of what scientists have warned is immediately necessary to prevent the planet warming at a catastrophic rate. All countries have agreed to return to the negotiating table in Egypt next year to re-examine their national plans. Again.

Or “Blah, blah, blah,” as Thunberg would have it.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, had addressed the Glasgow conference on Thursday. He is the chair of the C40 coalition of mayors from the world’s biggest cities.

He was critical of the eventual outcome of the conference, saying that the deal agreed  “simply doesn’t meet the scale of the challenge”.

“We cannot afford further delay,” Khan said.

“Cities are using every lever at our disposal to take meaningful climate action now by reducing pollution, minimising waste, planting trees, investing in green public transport and sustainable energy sources – but we simply cannot avert a catastrophe of this magnitude alone,” Khan said.

A ‘doer’ not a ‘delayer’: London Mayor Sadiq Khan was critical of the Glasgow agreement

“While I welcome any progress, this agreement simply doesn’t meet the scale of the challenge.

“Countries on the frontline of the climate crisis deserve to have the urgent issue of loss and damage addressed and there is much still to be done to keep the hope of 1.5C alive.

“We need coal to be phased out – not phased down.

“So, as leaders return home from COP26, it is vital those nations who have it in their power to help reverse our planet’s decline join those of us committed to doing so to give our world its best chance of survival.

“I have put tackling the twin threats of the climate crisis and toxic air pollution at the heart of my mayoralty and as too many national governments continue to delay taking action, London and the almost 100 C40 cities across the globe will continue to lead the way in helping solve it. Cities are the doers – and now we need the delayers to join us.”

Read more: George Monbiot – Capitalism is killing the planet. It’s time to stop buying into our own destruction

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5 Responses to Down and out in Glasgow and Paris: climate talks end in failure

  1. Peter Underwood says:

    Sadiq Khan is a climate hypocrite. He is still going ahead with spending over a billion pounds of our money on the Slivertown toad tunnel that will increase pollution and carbon emissions. He refused to extend the ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) to the whole of London and he has come out in support of holding a Formula 1 race on the streets of London. We need leaders who will really act on climate change, not just more of his blah blah blah

  2. Kevin Croucher says:

    You only have to look at the uproar that follows even the mildest attempts to restrict the use of cars and get people to walk, cycle or use public transport to get an idea of the opposition there will be to any serious attempt to change people’s lifestyles. We live in a democracy, I really don’t know what the answer is.

  3. Bob Hewlett says:

    Whilst I have some sympathy for Peter’s view of Sadiq Khan, the politician is a symptom not a cause.

    The cause is Capitalism, pure and simple. How to address the ‘ cause ‘ is both complex and intricate and this reply will be vastly insufficient in that task. However there are facts which I believe cannot be denied, in my unprofessional, humble opinion. One is that all the fossil fuels are finite. Therefore the choice is of an equitable allocation of those resources based on need rather than greed or a ‘ last man standing ‘ attitude and policy. Another is that as a global industrialised society we have reached our zenith. Some eyes seem to agree with this and are looking to the nearby planets for colonisation. Back on Earth, having reached our zenith, we are now approaching our descent. How that descent is managed is another choice very similar to one I allude to earlier. As we descend, the natural world will still carry on, maybe not as we currently are aware of but it will still carry on. Hopefully with that descent will come a realization that we need to exist within the parameters of the natural world and will find ways to achieve that.

    I hope this reply does generate a reasoned debate.

  4. Bob, If Capitalism is ‘the cause’, how come the Chinese Communist Party is the world’s biggest polluter??

    • Dan Maertens says:

      Because Christopher, China manufactures and produces much of the ‘crap’ that we consume. Pick up pretty much any greetings or birthday card, the presents you’re intending to buy for Christmas, the paper it’s wrapped in, the computer typed your reply above on and somewhere you’ll find the words ‘Made in China’ or ‘Produced in China’. Not so long ago, and certainly when I was a child, all of that stuff was either ‘Mane in England’ or ‘Manufactured in the UK’. We’ve outsourced it all to China because they do it cheaper, and with it we’ve also outsourced a significant percentage of our carbon footprint and convinced ourselves with the connivance of our politicians that we’ve gone green and that our transition to a low carbon future is ‘world leading’. It isn’t.

      So yes, capitalism and excessive consumption is the planet killer. Do you really need it, can you make do with what you have, can you repair and mend, can you leave the car at home and get there by other means? China and India have promised to level up their populations, just as politicians in the UK have. What that means and how it is achieved will as Bob Hewlett suggests have profound implications for how the next 10 years will pan out, and as yet there are few of our political masters brave enough to spell out what it is likely to mean for the ordinary bloke in the street, because we’ve been free to do whatever we want without thinking about the consequences for so long.

      Well, maybe not for too much longer.

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