As the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (“COP”) in Glasgow has drawn to a close, with seemingly mixed messages and a somewhat ambiguous conclusion, it is worth reflecting on the overall trajectory of the climate issue, societal expectations, and the accomplishments that — with time — Glasgow is likely to represent. COP26 highlighted the fragility of the planet, as well as the fragility of the global consensus-based United Nations approach to protecting it. It highlighted the sweep of global climate-induced challenges and the scale of transformation needed to address them. With rising temperatures has come a rising global focus on climate and a far greater set of emerging societal expectations for meaningful responses by government and the private sector. Despite the risk that the global agreement forged in Glasgow is seen by climate activists as all talk and no action — what they referred to as “blah, blah, blah” — I believe that a number of features will endure as important accomplishments.
Representatives from 197 nations, businesses, hundreds of civil society organizations, scientists, educators, media, and climate activists — you name it — all converged on Glasgow to shine a global spotlight on the climate crisis. The Conference had some 40,000 registered participants. With just a few thousand of those involved in the negotiations themselves, the rest converged around elevating climate understanding, climate solutions, and climate action. And still tens of thousands of others converged to protest and lend their voices to the climate debate. Expectations were heightened by the delay of the COP for a year due to Covid-19, as well as the return of the United States to the Paris climate process. Yet all of those expectations focused on a UN negotiating process that depends on achieving unanimity for each of its outcomes.
Despite the challenges posed by gathering under the cloud of Covid and the large numbers of attendees, the COP was in some ways better organized than ever before. It has become less exclusively an international negotiation and much more of a communications mechanism to rally world opinion around the need for ambitious climate action. The UN proceedings kicked off with a Global Leaders Summit with 120 heads of state. It featured inspiring statements from governmental and societal leaders, such as Sir David Attenborough. The Summit then flowed into the overall COP, which had a thematic organization for each day of the conference, by which it highlighted actions or the sweep and scale of climate impacts in a more coherent fashion than ever before — spanning from energy, finance, transport, cities and the built environment, science and innovation, nature, gender, youth, and adaptation to and loss and damage from climate change. And the overall gathering encapsulated a heightened global focus on climate as a defining generational issue in a way that has never happened before.
The World Rallied Around the Urgency Shown By the Evolving Climate Science
The defining element of the Glasgow considerations was the acceptance of a far sharper sense of climate science findings around the scale and urgency of emissions reductions needed to stabilize the earth’s climate and prevent catastrophic consequences. Every aspect of the discussions was judged by the context the new climate science shows.
Continue Reading Report from Glasgow COP26: Assessing the United Nations Climate Conference