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COP26: reflections on the talks so far

UN climate talks to date: progress, but not yet justice for those who live lightly but pay heavily.

Written by Jane Boswell | 05 Nov 2021

Youth campaigners marching in Glasgow (Joseph Cobb/ Tearfund)

As the first week of the COP26 climate summit draws to a close, we reflect on what the talks have achieved so far – and the challenges that still lie ahead.

The conference opened with leaders sharing their national commitments and priorities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these were a mixed bag. Many simply repeated old pledges, although there were some encouragements, including Scotland pledging £1 million for countries suffering loss and damage due to the climate crisis – the first commitment of its kind.

We heard powerful calls for justice from countries hit hardest by this crisis, with the prime minister of Barbados poignantly emphasising that climate impacts in her country are ‘measured in lives and livelihoods’.

Since then we’ve heard some big headlines and announcements. More than 100 countries have committed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, with a similar number pledging to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. If delivered, these actions could play a significant role in limiting temperature rise.

There have also been some more nails in the coffin for fossil fuels (namely, coal, oil and gas). More than 40 countries committed to phase out coal – the most polluting fossil fuel – though deadlines were vague, and some of the biggest emitters such as the US and Australia did not take this step. In a further development, 25 countries and institutions pledged to end support for all fossil fuels in their overseas spending by the end of 2022, and to prioritise clean energy instead. This could divert more than $17 billion a year out of fossil fuels and into renewables.

Early analysis suggests we can be cautiously optimistic that these new commitments might be enough to get the world on track to remain below 2°C of warming. Every fraction of a degree matters, and this would be a positive shift from our previous trajectory towards 2.7°C – although much more is needed to get us on track to stay within the safer level and agreed target of 1.5°C.

And of course, words alone aren’t enough: governments need to turn them into action. This includes the decade-old – and as yet still unmet – promise of providing $100 billion per year to help vulnerable countries adjust to the effects of the climate crisis. Richer country governments have fallen short of their responsibilities: this needs to change. Indeed, it’s fair to say that, while we’ve seen some progress this week, it falls short of justice for the countries most affected by the climate crisis – those who did the least to cause it.

Kuki Rokhum, from Tearfund partner Eficor in India, said: ‘We want the world leaders to take good decisions that will lead to action. And we also want justice for the poorest of the poor living in different parts of the world who live lightly and yet pay heavily.’

This is why thousands of people from around the world will be taking to the streets tomorrow as part of the COP26 Day of Action to highlight the ongoing injustice of the climate crisis and to demand change. And it’s why, even once COP26 is over, we need to keep up the pressure on governments to deliver and hold them accountable for keeping their promises.

Ruth Valerio, Tearfund’s Global Advocacy and Influencing Director, said of the talks so far: ‘We’ve seen some positive steps, but these must be the floor – not the ceiling – for action if we are to get on track for 1.5°C and secure a safer, fairer future.’

And COP26 has been about far more than just the negotiations between leaders. It’s been about movements of people coming together to create change, and we’ve heard inspiring stories of hope and activism. Tearfund has also been hosting a wonderful prayer space at St George’s Tron, a church right in the centre of Glasgow. Through daily prayer meetings, prayer stations and prayer walks, we’re putting prayer at the heart of the talks.

As Christians and as part of a global community, we all have a part to play – and there’s still time for you to help shape the outcome of COP26 through prayer!

  • Sign up for daily prayer points (weekly after COP) by texting PRAY to 07916 874441.
  • Join our daily prayer meeting, which is being streamed each weekday during COP on the Tearfund YouTube channel.
  • Follow us on @Twitter for daily updates on the progress of the negotiations.

Written by

Written by  Jane Boswell

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