31 October 2021 – The Glasgow Climate Conference officially got underway on 31 October with palpable tension. COP26 has to deliver real progress on climate action with the science showing that time is running out. But collective global ambition and trust remain woefully insufficient.
“We are not where we need to be,” Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary said at a press conference. Emissions, she pointed out, are still due to rise by 16 per cent, instead of going down. “But we know this transformation can happen.” While differences are real, she said, all delegations still share a unity of purpose.
COP President Alok Sharma said, “We need to accelerate more towards clean power. We need to consign coal power to history.” He reiterated that developed countries had to mobilize $100 billion a year for the world’s developing countries, pointing out that only $80 billion was raised in 2021 and hopeful that the full amount would be reached in 2023.
Almost 30,000 delegates, NGOs and press have registered for COP26, although it is not yet clear how many will be participating virtually. The two-week conference is taking place at the Scottish Event Campus and is considered a pivotal moment.
Will all voices be heard?
One major concern voiced in the run-up to COP26 was whether it would be fair to ask delegations and NGOs from developing countries to attend in person, considering difficulties due to COVID-19. And organizers have been grappling with how to ensure that the process is transparent and inclusive, while keeping everyone safe. “This is not a regular COP,” said Sharma. “But it is vitally important that we have a physical meeting (where participants) can look each other in the eye.”
The world is still warming
2021 did not set any records for the hottest year but will still end up being the fifth to seventh warmest year on record, according to a new World Meteorological Organization report based on the first nine months of the year. A temporary cooling “La Niña” event early in the year helped keep temperatures below record levels. Global sea level rise accelerated to a new high in 2021, with continued ocean warming and ocean acidification since 2013.
Climate impacts hitting the poorest the hardest
Developing countries are already suffering relative economic losses three times greater than high-income countries due to climate-related disasters according to a new report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Adaptation costs for developing countries have doubled in the last decade as a result of inaction. These will only rise further as temperatures increase, reaching $300 billion in 2030 and $500 billion in 2050.
“Two generations on the move for climate”
A group of 20 Belgian members of the organization Grandparents for Climate walked the distance of more than two marathons (100km/62 miles) from Edinburgh to Glasgow to raise awareness on climate change ahead of the conference. Along the way, they met with other grandparent activists from across Europe.
Starting in Amsterdam, the “Climate Train” transported more than 500 people from 40 different countries as part of the “Rail to the COP” campaign. Participants, including 150 young people, held dialogues on the future of travel during the 10-hour train journey, which passed through Rotterdam and Brussels with a change in London. “Challenge yourself to stop flying. It’s fun and adventurous to travel over land or sea. But keep pressuring your politicians and big players in the travel sector as well because that’s where the big changes can happen,” said 26-year-old “Rail to the COP” representative Mara de Pater from the Netherlands.