What can we expect from COP26 in Glasgow?

Make no mistake – COP26 matters a lot.  As the UN Secretary General has said “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable:  greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.

Almost all governments and their leaders know this to be true, so COP26 is an ultimate test.  Will governments look beyond narrow national interest and act together for the planet and for us all? What personal legacy do world leaders want to leave for the next generation?

Mural in Glasgow near the SEC campus – ©ArtPistol

Achieving net-zero emissions globally wasn’t on the agenda of Paris in 2015, but it has become central to the Glasgow COP.  Success or failure will largely be judged on how national commitments measure up to a carbon neutral world by 2050 or before.  So with just a few days to go before world leaders fly into Glasgow, where do we stand?

There are some developed nations and high carbon emitters that have yet to pull their weight. Australia, Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico are in this category. China and the United States are the world’s two largest carbon emitters and are a special case.

China has announced a 2060 net-zero target. This is not soon enough, particularly in the light of the country’s recent economic growth fuelled by new coal-fired power stations. China’s per capita emissions are already greater that the average across the European Union. Their recent announcements on the reduction of fossil fuels in its power sector are welcome but the nation must go further.

The United States have an increased target to reduce emissions by 50%-52% by 2030.  Given its high per capita emissions we would like to see more, but that may not be on the cards. Instead, when Joe Biden flies into Glasgow he needs to work with the leaders of other wealthy nations to secure the $100 Bn/year for mitigation and adaptation finance.  In addition, they need to create a financing mechanism for Loss and Damage to enable poorer nations devastated by climate disaster to recover.  Climate finance could be where the deal is done with states such as China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Egypt and others who are so far keeping their powder dry on national commitments.

We should not get too hung up on whether President’s Xi and Putin will be present in person.  What matters is what their delegations bring to the table. There is a deal to be done, but it will be tough to get there. And there is always the risk that negotiation on a good deal may break down in bitter recriminations.

The contributions from faith communities

For our faith communities, addressing the climate crisis is a matter of justice. Unsustainable consumption is having devastating climate impacts on nations that have contributed comparatively little to global warming. We bring a message of hope that is supported by the actions that our churches and members are taking.  We implore our governments to enable us all to go further. What contribution might faith communities make at COP26?

Firstly, the faith community is a worldwide community. In Glasgow, there will be representatives from Baptist, Methodist, URC and Church of Scotland partners in the global south. The Climate Justice 4 All group has young faith representatives from five continents working alongside government delegations in the ‘blue zone’ as well as blogging and web-casting from the fringe.  We must not allow COP26 to descend into an argument between emerging and established industrialised countries.  Faith representatives will have a crucial role in amplifying the voice of those in developing countries. These countries demand greater action now from all governments.

Secondly, we will be working together in the ‘blue zone’ to bring messages to government officials when they emerge from private consultations. We will pray for them and encourage them to go further. We won’t accept half measures or excuses. They will know that our demands are supported by the tens of thousands of people marching in Glasgow and in other cities around the world.

Finally over the two weeks we will update our members on the progress of negotiations and call on people to pray. I was encouraged by a reflection offered to our team by Beth last week. It was from Psalm 121: –

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

Government delegates will have to grab some sleep over the two weeks of COP26. Even then our God, our helper, will be watching over us.


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