The Independent climate team’s Cop26 highlights

·5-min read
The Independent climate team’s Cop26 highlights

After nearly two years of delays, two weeks of intense negotiations and a few dramatic final minutes, Cop26 is over.

The Independent’s climate correspondents, who were on the ground throughout the Glasgow summit, take you through their key moments.

Activists take over Glasgow

The corporate atmosphere at Cop26 could be stifling. But mid-way through the summit, many delegates abandoned the conference to join around 100,000 people on the streets of Glasgow to call for faster climate action.

In sharp contrast to the Cop26 summit, the protests on the streets were led by young activists from countries that are already keenly feeling the impacts of the climate crisis.

Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda, led calls for action on Glasgow Green with a powerful message of hope.

“The words and promises of leaders do not match their actions,” she said. “Leaders continue to build new coal power plants, construct oil pipelines and frack gas without paying attention and listening to the voices crying out for help.

“We remain hopeful because another world is possible. Together, we can make this happen. Strength and hope is our way forward.”

Zoom no more

For many people, Cop26 was the first large, international event that they had attended since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

Considering the isolation, lockdowns and health concerns over the past two years, it felt both hopeful and slightly surreal to mingle among thousands of people each day – albeit with masks, the rigmarole of daily Covid testing, and restricted numbers inside certain spaces.

But it can’t be fully celebrated due to unequal access. There were widespread accusations regarding Cop26’s exclusionary nature due to serious disparities in global vaccination rates, particularly between developed and developing countries. Travel was also difficult and expensive – and that’s before the exorbitant costs of accommodation.

Mia Mottley’s moment

The prime minister of Barbados made a powerful, moving speech on the plight of island nations at the opening of the Leaders Summit.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit dangerous climate change by curbing global heating to “well below” 2C and pursing efforts to the increasingly aspirational 1.5C. But given that many small island nations are already facing severe climate-driven impacts, like life-threatening sea-level rise and powerful storms, they used Cop26 to once again call for greater efforts to remain at 1.5C.

The Barbadian leader called 2C a “death sentence” for those on small islands and along coastlines.

“We have come here today to say, ‘Try harder,’” she told the assembled world leaders.

“Are we so blinded and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cries of humanity?” she asked.

She also urged for greater financial support for vulnerable places on the frontlines of the crisis, where climate change is “measured in lives and livelihoods.”

“This is immoral, and it is unjust,” she said.

Moves on methane

More than 100 countries signed up to a Global Methane Pledge early in the summit, including major emitters like Brazil, Nigeria and Canada. Countries pledged to take voluntary actions at the domestic level to collectively cut methane emissions at least 30 per cent by 2030.

Methane is a potent but short-lived greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the heating power of carbon dioxide. Cutting methane is the most effective way to slow down warming this decade, according to a recent UN assessment, and could eliminate 0.2C of heating by 2050 – a significant step if 1.5C is to remain in play. (The world has already warmed about 1.1C over pre-industrial levels.)

While the pledge doesn’t go as far as some climate advocates would like – to cut methane emissions 40 per cent by 2030 – it’s on the right track, but still missing signatures from major methane emitters like Russia, China and Australia. Then a sudden announcement of a US-China pact signalled another glimmer of optimism on the issue last week. The world’s two largest polluters promised to work together on methane cuts, arranging to meet in the first half of 2022 to focus on reductions in the fossil fuels, waste and agricultural sectors.

Small group of nations forge a path to ending oil and gas

Scientific research makes it clear that a rapid phase out of all fossil fuels will be needed to meet the world’s climate goals. Despite this, many leaders at Cop26, including Boris Johnson, have shied away from acknowledging the need to end investing in oil and gas projects if climate promises are to be met.

That all changed last Thursday when a small alliance of countries pledged to forge a path away from new oil and gas in order to give the world a better chance of keeping global temperatures at 1.5C.

“When I talk to scientists, citizens and activists, they all want one thing more than anything else: bold and tangible action. Not talk, action,” said Danish climate minister Dan Jorgensen, who is leading the new alliance alongside Costa Rica.

“We hope today will mark the beginning of the end of oil and gas,” he added.

The new alliance includes France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand, among others. The world’s biggest oil producers have not yet signed up. Neither has Cop26 host UK.

“We invite other national and subnational governments to join Boga and align their oil and gas production with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment minister.

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