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COP26: progress, but still far from justice 

The UN climate talks have taken some steps forward, but fallen short of justice for the most vulnerable.

Ruth Valerio | 13 Nov 2021

Day of action march in Northern Ireland (Suzanne Simpson / Tearfund)

Day of action march in Northern Ireland (Suzanne Simpson / Tearfund)

The world’s eyes have been on Glasgow as the much-anticipated climate talks have unfolded. As they draw to a close – having overrun as leaders struggled to reach agreement – we reflect on a fortnight that has seen some progress, but not yet justice, for the most vulnerable nations on the key issues of limiting global heating to 1.5°C and providing financial support for those hardest hit by the climate crisis.

Moving the dial on temperature rise

We came into COP26 on a trajectory towards a devastating 2.7°C of warming, and calling for world leaders to get on track for the safer level and agreed target of 1.5°C. Official country climate plans have now shifted the dial slightly and put us on a trajectory for 2.4°C. And if all the promises made during COP26 were to be kept – including pledges to end and reverse deforestation and reduce methane emissions – warming could be kept to below 2°C. 

But right now these are just words. And while remaining within 2°C of warming would limit the worst effects of the climate crisis, every fraction of a degree matters to people on the frontline. For millions of vulnerable people, it could mean the difference between life and death. Nations have been asked to return next year with stronger plans. We must do everything we can to hold the leaders of high-emitting nations to account for delivering these plans and targets for rapid, deep and sustained emissions cuts in line with 1.5°C. 

Nails in the coffin for fossil fuels – but not enough

We cannot stay within 1.5°C without phasing out coal, oil and gas. Over the last fortnight we’ve seen more nails in the coffin for polluting fossil fuels. Almost 40 nations and institutions have committed to end overseas public finance for coal, oil and gas by the end of 2022, something we have campaigned for. If fully implemented, this could shift at least $24 billion a year out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. We welcome this progress. Yet, we urgently need to see more high-emitting countries commit to end support for coal, oil and gas if we are to consign fossil fuels to the history books. 

Falling short on financial responsibilities

Climate-vulnerable countries have been clear in their calls for richer nations to provide the finance they need to meet their own climate targets and adjust to the impacts of climate change – as well as to pay for the suffering caused (known as ‘loss and damage’). 

Perhaps most disappointing of all, on this issue wealthy nations have fallen far short. They failed to commit to anywhere near the level of new financial support that’s needed. And they failed to agree concrete action on how they will meet long-overdue commitments, such as the $100 billion per year promised back in 2009. In the months ahead, wealthy countries must be held to account to step up to their responsibilities.

Christians speaking up for change

While the talks themselves have fallen short on many issues, COP26 has been about far more than just the negotiations. It’s been about movements of people coming together to create change. We have seen more people speak up for climate justice than ever before, with Christians all over the world rising up and playing their part. 

On Saturday 6 November, thousands of people took to the streets of Glasgow, London and other cities across the UK – as part of the COP26 Day of Action – to raise their voices, and hundreds of Tearfund supporters were among them.
 
Tearfund supporter Stuart, who marched in Manchester, said: ‘I wanted to say thank you for the encouragement to participate in a climate march on Saturday. We enjoyed the conversations and connections.’ 
 
Catherine, who joined the London march, told us: ‘My first-ever march! Loved the way that by the time we got to Trafalgar Square the Tearfund placards had mingled with placards from many other groups – like salt and light in the world.’ 
 
You can watch our video of highlights from the 6 November Day of Action here.

Hundreds of churches also joined in our online COP26 Church Service on Sunday 7 November, the halfway point of the talks. Jenny, whose church hosted a service, shared: ‘The talk... addressed head on the reasons why this issue should matter to Christians and this is something that I haven’t heard articulated so clearly before. Thank you – I feel it helped to stir some of our church congregation to pray with more passion.’

The challenge ahead

We came into COP26 calling for world leaders to close the gap to 1.5°C and deliver climate justice for the most vulnerable. We give thanks for the progress we have seen, but we lament that the talks have fallen short of delivering justice and a safer future for millions of people.

Kuki Rokhum, Tearfund partner in India, summed up her reflections: ‘The Glasgow talks have not secured a 1.5°C future but we march on because we need justice for the poorest communities and indigenous peoples around the world whose lives and homes are being destroyed by extreme weather, droughts and floods. And we walk in faith that things can change. Together we each carry with us a hope that we will see action, not just words, from this UN climate summit. The time to act was yesterday, but we still have today.’

We also came into COP26 knowing the work would not end in Glasgow. Climate justice won't be achieved by a single person, decision or conference – but millions of us will continue to play our part and demand that world leaders play theirs. We will continue to pray, to act, to hold leaders to account and to call for justice. And we will continue to walk by faith and keep our eyes fixed on God who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

Please continue to pray for:

Visit www.tearfund.org/action for information, ideas and resources to help you continue to take action on the climate crisis. 

Ruth Valerio

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