Delegates and representatives discuss reducing fossil fuel emissions at COP26. Photo: @cop26uk on Instagram

On Nov. 12, the United Nations concluded their twenty-sixth annual climate conference, known as the United Nations Conference of the Parties, or COP26, with mild success and also some bitter disappointments from certain member states. Many diplomats and over 130 heads of state met this year in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss reducing fossil fuel emissions and ensuring a better future for the climate. The COP meeting first took place in 1995, but the conference is especially pressing this year since it is vital that nations try to mitigate the effects of fossil fuels as the world nears a point of no return in terms of damage. 

With small strides and attempts at progress every year, the most groundbreaking step toward improved conditions for the climate came with the Paris Agreement in 2015. With the Paris Agreement, around 200 participating countries accepted responsibility and agreed to work even harder at fighting climate change. However, the US withdrew from this agreement under President Donald Trump and rejoined under President Joe Biden in early 2021, an issue that Biden apologized for on behalf of the previous administration. 

The primary goals for the conference included various methods and solutions to uphold the Paris Agreement, except this time it was more urgent than before. Shifting to primarily electric vehicles, drastically reducing the world’s fossil fuels and removing coal power plants were among some of the most notable. Also, delegates wanted to enact a plan for wealthier countries to contribute $100 billion for developing countries to combat climate change since they face its most devastating attacks, a lofty but important goal. The vitality of these ideas going into effect is indisputable, especially since the Paris Accords is completely off-track and behind due to delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to TIME, the event could not be more important as it highlights the severity of recent weather patterns due to climate change, including “massive wildfires in Siberia and unprecedented flooding in Germany and Belgium, to famine in Madagascar and record-shattering heat in the American West.”

The 1.5 degrees Celsius goal refers to scientists’ aim to prevent the world’s temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the temperature before the Industrial Revolution. The horrors of climate change will be significantly more evident and irreversible after this point. Emitting drastically fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is one way to go about this. 

Shockingly, the US and China, which have historically been at odds politically at times, signed an agreement promising to work together to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the climate crisis. If they follow through, this could have monumental implications for the rest of the world, considering the two states are responsible for 40% of annual carbon emission according to NPR. 

Overall, it seems the conference was not revolutionary enough, as the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions still has a likelihood of exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, with large countries with massive industry and production not necessarily wanting to cut back dramatically in favor of their booming economies. Democratic nations have a hard time implementing lasting policies, which can be clearly observed through the US’s flaky attitude toward the Paris Accords. It is also hard to guarantee that wealthier nations will actually follow through with financially aiding the developing countries. Many countries agreed to slowly decrease fossil fuel output, but it was not the complete eradication that many hoped for. However, delegates did agree to reevaluate their plans at a sooner date instead of the usual five years, forcing some to go ahead and enact some of these policies. 

The lives of many, especially in developing countries, are at stake with the detrimental impacts of climate change and the domino effect of horrors that it causes. While COP26 did not deliver the radical and unified approach to the issue that some nations advocated for, it is a step in the right direction after a year of delay. The promises are significant and inspiring, but now it is up to individual nations to deliver.

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