At COP26, Leaders Dither on Climate

by Matthew Volfson

Opinion

November 23, 2021

World Climate Conferences examine the preparedness of world politicians and leaders to fight climate change. As the issue of climate change has become more important, more pressure has been brought onto delegates to make an impact at the conference. People around the world wonder whether what is said by their government officials at the conference will really be realized. Will the world’s nations stick to their climate commitments? Will the global community stick together to fight against climate change? These questions are crucial to keep in mind when analyzing an event such as COP26, the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties. In general, a “conference of the parties” is a meeting where delegates from many countries gather to discuss an issue.

COP26 was hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow to discuss the issue of world climate and how to prevent further climate change from happening.1 The goal of the event was to make sure that the world’s nations agreed to fight climate change, involving plenty of geopolitical and resource haggling as well as forced concessions amongst countries. Participants in COP26 included delegates and world leaders from over one hundred nations around the world, with the notable exception of China and Russia.2

At COP26, no comprehensive climate agreement was reached, but a few notable pledges were made.3 The United States and the European Union pledged to decrease the usage of methane by 30% by 2030, meaning that the levels of methane in the atmosphere in 2030 would only be 70% of levels in 2020.4 The US and EU also led the way in pledging to reduce hydrocarbon consumption.5 Narendra Modi made a half-hearted pledge to make India carbon neutral by 2070.6 The promises are based on calculations that the governments themselves make, sometimes in an uncertain way. 

Although the countries that made the pledges assumed their position against climate change to be a success, there has been a yawning gap between what delegates say and what their countries actually do. When countries gathered in Paris in 2018 for a similar conference, they pledged to combat climate change, yet the goals they set still have not been reached at the end of 2020. A UN study that covered fewer than half of the countries participating in the Paris climate accord found that “the majority of these countries increased their levels of ambition to reduce emissions,” yet “the level of ambition [that was] communicated… indicates that the change in emissions would be small, less than -1% in 2030 compared to 2010.”7 The required amount by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is -45% by 2030. Again, this study only covered fewer than half of the countries at the conference, so the data for all of the countries could likely be even worse.

To compound the issue of empty promises, nations such as Australia and Saudi Arabia actively fought against strong measures for fighting climate change through lobbying at COP26. These nations fought to protect their interests in profiting from exploiting resources, encouraging the pollution of Earth’s atmosphere.8 Their economies are dependent on fossil fuels and would have to be massively restructured if they were to follow stringent climate promises. India was similar in that regard: although the nation made a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2070, it is not prepared to do so and has lobbied against stringent environmental restrictions in order to protect its coal industry.8,9 Besides the countries themselves, oil companies sent the largest delegation to COP26 to lobby for softer regulations on oil and promote fossil fuels.10

The United States, in particular, does not have bipartisan consensus on fighting climate change. Former President Donald Trump, still very popular in the Republican Party, denied the existence of climate change in 2020.11,12 The US was the lynchpin of many initiatives made in the COP26 conference, as mentioned earlier, and without the US, the conference would be missing the world’s current second largest emitter and greatest cumulative emitter of carbon emissions. But also, President Joe Biden may have made many promises the US is not ready to follow through with at COP26. 

COP26 was an important event where leaders made promises to combat climate change. Even so, those promises seem to be a token in the face of growing global opposition against fighting climate change and dithering by the exact same leaders. The world is facing an extremely dangerous crisis. Climate change is ruining lives and homes through fires, increased drought, and hurricanes. Only time will tell whether countries actually recognize the matter at hand and fight the issue like it is: a threat to humankind. COP26 has not changed the tendency for people to ignore climate change—even though it is such a dire emergency.


1 “What Does COP Stand For?” The New York Times, November 13, 2021,
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/13/climate/cop26-meaning.html.

2 Sam Meredith, “Who’s Going to the COP26 Climate Summit? Meet the Key Players at the UN Talks,” CNBC, October 31, 2021,
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/31/whos-going-to-cop26-and-who-wont-be-there-for-the-un-climate-talks.html.

3 Ewelina Czapla, “The Results of COP26,” American Action Forum, November 17, 2021,
https://www.americanactionforum.org/insight/the-results-of-cop26/.

4 “COP26: US and EU Announce Global Pledge to Slash Methane,” BBC, November 2, 2021,
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-59137828.

5 Laurie Goering and Sebastian Rodriguez, “Analysis: Push to End Oil and Gas Expansion Takes Off at COP26 but Harder on the Ground,” Reuters, November 4, 2021,
https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/push-end-oil-gas-expansion-takes-off-cop26-harder-ground-2021-11-04/.

6 Gayathri Vaidyanathan, “Scientists Cheer India’s Ambitious Carbon-Zero Climate Pledge,” Nature News, November 5, 2021,
https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03044-x.

7 “‘Climate Commitments Not On Track to Meet Paris Agreement Goals’ as NDC Synthesis Report is Published,” UN Climate Change News, February 26, 2021,
https://unfccc.int/news/climate-commitments-not-on-track-to-meet-paris-agreement-goals-as-ndc-synthesis-report-is-published.

8 Justin Rowlatt and Tom Gerken, “COP26: Document Leak Reveals Nations Lobbying to Change Key Climate Report.” BBC, October 21, 2021.
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58982445.

9 Joshua W. Busby, Sarang Shidore, Johannes Urpelainen, and Morgan D. Bazilian, “The Case for US Cooperation with India on a Just Transition Away from Coal,” Brookings, April 20, 2021,
https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-case-for-us-cooperation-with-india-on-a-just-transition-away-from-coal/#:~:text=More%20than%20700%2C000%20Indians%20are,indirectly%20as%20per%20recent%20calculations.

10 Matt McGrath, “COP26: Fossil Fuel Industry Has Largest Delegation at Climate Summit,” BBC, November 8, 2021,
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59199484.

11 Amina Dunn, “Two-Thirds of Republicans Want Trump to Retain Major Political Role; 44% Want Him to Run Again in 2024,” Pew Research Center, October 6, 2021,
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/10/06/two-thirds-of-republicans-want-trump-to-retain-major-political-role-44-want-him-to-run-again-in-2024/.

12 Alana Wise, “’I Don’t Think Science Knows’: Visiting Fires, Trump Denies Climate Change,” NPR, September 14, 2020,
https://www.npr.org/2020/09/14/912799501/i-don-t-think-science-knows-visiting-fires-trump-denies-climate-change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s