After two weeks of difficult negotiations, the Glasgow climate summit ended in November. Although I praise COP26 President Alok Sharma for his work leading up to and during the summit, it is disappointing that the Glasgow Deal was watered down in the final minutes. It is also unfortunate that Alok was undermined in his role by the lack of support from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to announce more radical domestic climate policies.
It is too easy to say that COP26 was a complete failure. However, the summit did not achieve the progress that we had wanted. Firstly, we need to halve emissions to keep global warming to 1.5C, but new projections from Climate Action Tracker show even if all COP26 pledges are met, the planet is on track to warm by 2.1℃ – or 2.4℃ if only 2030 targets are met.
Secondly, due to concerns from BASIC [a group of newly industrialised countries such as Brazil, South Africa, India and China] the deal now says that countries need to “phase down” coal, instead of the original “phase out”. Some countries argue that this is a question of equality; developed countries have moved on to other fossil fuels – such as oil and gas – and are no longer dependent on coal. Whereas developing countries are still in the process of transitioning and are struggling on insufficient climate finance. Once again, I believe that the failure of wealthier nations to support developing ones to transition away from coal is fundamental on why the deal on coal was watered down. I believe COP26 was sadly a missed opportunity and as hosts, we failed to convince the global community to do more.
I strongly believe that Boris Johnson bears a heavy responsibility for the missed opportunity in Glasgow. These are complex geopolitical negotiations, of course, and there are obviously issues beyond his control. But he has failed to understand the complexity of this summit and plan properly for it. It required serious leadership, and he has undermined that because he eroded trust in the process. He did not treat this summit with the seriousness it deserved – he thought it was a glorified (mask-less) photo op.
Boris’ biggest mistake, however, is his domestic policy. If the UK is serious about climate change, why won’t Boris rule out the coalmine in Cumbria, the Cambo Oil Field, or the Horse Hill Oil Project in Surrey? Will he cancel his £750m plan to support a gas export terminal in Mozambique? Why did the Tories vote to cut foreign aid just months before the summit and why has the £100bn a year for developing countries still not been met? Why did this government sign a trade deal with Australia that removed climate commitments? Possibly the most embarrassing hypocrisy is that during the week of the summit, the Tories voted to allow water firms to keep discharging raw sewage into our waters – is this what Boris meant when he said he’ll Build Back Better?
I am particularly concerned that COP26 did not deliver for certain groups, such as Indigenous peoples, women, young people, and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Indigenous groups wanted agreements to include promises on respecting human rights. There is still so much inequality between developed nations and developing ones, with former not fully committing to the necessary funds and rights. This is especially disappointing for the loss and damage in vulnerable and poor countries who are already victims to our ever-changing and volatile climate.
The Conservatives are dragging their feet on this, and not putting in the investment, leaving families, and businesses to go it alone. That is an economically irresponsible choice when the OBR tells us that delaying net zero will cost more down the line.
Labour is different.
We would focus on leading by example, supporting the international community, and piling the pressure on big polluters – both nations and fossil fuel giants – to step up and do more. We would also invest £28bn a year in climate measures. We have a clear and costed plan, and we will make sure that our green transition is just, effective, and kind to people and planet.