Key Takeaways From The Cop26 Conference

The biggest initiatives, breakthroughs, and points of contention at the Glasgow climate conference—and how they affect all of us.

Over the past week, scientists and world leaders met in Glasgow, Scotland for one of the most important UN climate summits to date as record-high carbon emissions threaten the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. Outside of the conference center, 100,000 activists and protesters took to the streets to call for collective action and immediate change from corporations and country leaders in attendance who have historically ignored the warning signs of climate change in favor of financial gain.

Greta Thunberg and other activists suggest the conference is nothing more than a prime example of “greenwashing,” or marketing an idea of sustainability without taking steps to make it a reality, but others are seeing real, monumental changes taking place within climate negotiations. Whether global leaders respond to calls of concern with apathy or action, the choices they make at the Cop26 conference affect us all. Here are some of the key takeaways from week one:

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America’s Carbon Capture Plan

With the 2nd largest carbon footprint in the world, The United States is a key player at the Cop26 conference, particularly after pulling out of the Paris climate agreement under the Trump administration. In the past week, the U.S. has pledged to research and potentially implement a carbon removal system with a cost of under $100 per ton by 2030, an ambitious commitment given the expensive price tags of most current carbon capture technologies.

Carbon removal is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it away for centuries to come through forestation, ocean alkalinization, and soil and mineral absorption. Though helpful, carbon removal won’t singlehandedly allow the United States to reach “net zero” emissions in the decades ahead. The process will need to be backed by regulated and reduced emissions from major polluters like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and other corporations which continue to burn fossil fuels. If greenhouse gas emissions increase or remain steady, scientists expect the earth to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold beyond which climate catastrophes will be unpreventable.

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Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

The Future of Fossil Fuels 

Over 100 countries, including the U.S., have signed a Global Methane Pledge which aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% over the next 10 years. Though methane is less abundant and shorter-lived than carbon-dioxide, it is far more powerful and accounts for roughly 30% of today’s warming. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already proposing new regulations aimed at reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector in response to Cop26’s Global Methane Pledge.

Discussions about the future of the coal industry have generated controversy during the first week of the Cop26 conference with 18 countries pledging to phase out coal-fired plants and to end funding for international coal projects. Though some leaders argue that ending coal power is a necessary step toward implementing renewable energy, pushback from countries like Australia, China, and Russia is likely to hamper the progress of a more progressive global coalition seeking fossil fuel mandates and bans.

Financial Alliance for Net Zero

On November 3rd, the United Nations Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a coalition of global investors, banks, and insurers, announced a commitment to use over $130 trillion of private capital in pursuit of net zero goals. The pledge will make climate change a focal point for major financial decisions and investments in the decades to come.

In order to put green investments to good use, financial firms and entire industries will first have to adopt new policies and procedures aimed at creating a carbon neutral future, but not every government is on board. Even with substantial funding, restructuring carbon-intensive sectors will take time. Net-zero pathways first need to be defined and outlined, and unless financial institutions cut funding for major fossil fuel companies, the coalition’s pledge will fall short.

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Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

Who Showed Up and Who Didn’t

Countries like India, the UK, the Netherlands, and the U.S. came ready to negotiate with urgent climate commitments and major investments for Indigenous peoples and local communities working to protect and restore biodiversity in forests around the world. Despite being the world’s third largest carbon emitter, India is also pledging to reach net-zero emissions by 2070, an ambitious promise which would require sweeping change from its largest industries as well as a complete shift in economic priorities.

Several other pivotal leaders were notably absent during the first week of the Cop26 conference, including President Xi Jinping of China as well as Vladimir Putin. Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was in attendance but disappointed other leaders and experts with an inadequate carbon emissions target.

With under a week remaining for final negotiations, the Cop26 conference is a crucial first step in a decades-long race against global warming, but real, necessary change will only become a reality if promises made by those in attendance are put to action when leaders and diplomats return home. Whether Cop26 will be remembered as a historic moment for problem-solving or for greenwashing depends on the responses of governments around the world who must be committed to monumental change for the good of the planet and for all of us who call it home.

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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Layne Deakins

Content Editor Associate

Layne is a Pennsylvania native who enjoys adventuring in nature, traveling, writing, eating, and spending precious time with her cat. Fluent in Italian, Layne jumps at every opportunity to explore the world around her, and she’s always planning for her next trip back to Italy.

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