Like umbrellas in a St Andrews winter and greasy food after a night out, climate change summits have become something a lot of people expect to be disappointed by. At least on social media, COP26, the UN’s most recent attempt to save the polar bears, has been met with apathy, disdain, and disbelief that the conference will ultimately lead to successful outcomes. This disbelief is by no means unjustified, after numerous countries’ failures to meet their climate change strategies, it makes sense that people are questioning the utility of climate change conferences and the ability of nations to work together to tackle climate change; the most pressing dilemma facing society, after the prospect of new Ed Sheeran music. Yet, this sentiment is unfortunately misguided: COP26 is something we should all be hopeful about.
For one, there have already been several announcements during the conference that prove we’re on the way to a carbon neutral world. Already more than 40 countries have agreed to phase out coal-fired power; more than 100 countries have agreed to reverse deforestation by 2030, and numerous high-income countries have promised incentives to support low-income countries in the transition towards clean energy. Critics could argue that these announcements are simply lip service, rather than genuine promises, but this perspective can’t be right when the significant and specific monetary pledges are considered. The deforestation pledge includes almost £14 billion of public and private funds and several high-income countries have pledged £6 billion to South Africa if the nation ditches coal. Governments are taking this conference seriously and this is best shown in the way even the most austere governments are doing what they hate the most: spending money on important issues.
Although the dreary and defeatist may argue otherwise, there is evidence that climate change conferences are more than just an excuse for world leaders to clog up Glasgow and pay lip service to protesting schoolchildren. We have seen crucial progress since COP25 in 2019. For one, Biden’s election meant that the world’s only superpower is back on track; Biden quickly re-joined the Paris Agreement after his election, which the US left under Trump, and announced at the UNGA that the US would double their current climate finance funding for low-income nations. Moreover, nations that have been hesitant to commit to climate change pledges have recently taken significant steps. China, the world’s largest polluter, announced in September at the UNGA that it would stop building coal-fired power plants abroad. Encouragingly, China has, along with Russia and Saudi Arabia, also set targets for reducing emissions. Although this progress is obviously not enough to effectively combat climate change and far too many countries have failed to meet their goals, there is still evidence that progress is possible and that there has been a positive shift in attitude as world leaders and societies as a whole seem more committed to tackling climate change than ever before.
A final reason why we should be hopeful about COP26 is that, quite basically, COP26 has proven that the right people not only care about climate change, but are also willing to take action to combat it. It would be easier if we all just collectively chose to mate like ostriches and stick our heads in the sand, to give in to our eco-anxieties and easy cynicism and see climate change as inevitable and thus action against it as pointless. But this easy route isn’t a path humanity has tread. Instead, through summits like COP26, we have continued to face climate change head on. Despite the terrifying and looming potential consequences of climate change, summits like COP26 prove that a majority of the world’s nations, despite usually being so divided, are fundamentally capable of cooperating and putting humanity and our world above national interest and typical rivalry.
COP26 hasn’t started seamlessly and will likely not be the final solution to climate change, but it is a step forward in the right direction and proof that governments do care, and that international cooperation and progress towards eradicating climate change is possible. Ultimately, in the quest to prevent climate change, we should be motivated by hope, rather than fear, and that’s crucially what conferences like COP26 can provide us with. Climate change is petrifying, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed or helpless in the face of it, but it is important to remain hopeful, whilst being adequately critical, of conferences like COP26, because we must remain hopeful that climate change is ultimately a solvable issue. And regardless, even if COP26 does prove fruitless, hopefully, we’ll be wiped off the planet before the next Ed Sheeran album.
Image: Flickr / Number 10