OPINION: Cop out or finding a way to cope? Reflections on COP26

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss greets Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez at the Cop26 summit at th

South West Norfolk MP and foreign secretary Liz Truss greets Argentina's president Alberto Fernandez at the COP26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow - Credit: PA

Huge expectations were placed on COP26, but as Bishop of Norwich Graham Usher asks, was it a success?

It does feel a major change from COP21 in Paris six years ago.

There is an agreement that there is a crisis, and we are seeing the real-life impact, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable communities, and there is a gathering momentum that we must act both as individuals and as a worldwide community. Most of the nations are now lined up in the same direction.

We just need to get them moving at pace.

The welcome from the people of Glasgow was warm and generous, and the sheer graft of Alok Sharma MP, the COP26 president, and his team was extraordinary. He deserves a huge amount of credit for the successes, knowing that the things that didn’t succeed came as a personal blow to him.

I went to Glasgow wanting to listen to indigenous peoples and I heard powerful testimonies of the impact of climatic changes on their communities, as well as the rich ancestral wisdom that they bring.

Hearing a forest dwelling person from Costa Rica speaking immediately after the president of the United States about deforestation was a powerful combination. Those sat at the tables of power need to listen more to the voices of indigenous peoples and then go even further – invite them to the table.

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The same is true for young people who brought much to COP26, expressing their hopes, anger and concerns. The Young Christian Climate Network’s coffin-hulled boat had travelled in relay from the G7 summit in Cornwall, inspiring people to action along the way.

Greta may have called the leaders’ talk ‘blah, blah, blah’, but it has been her, and other young voices, who have brought about a sea-change in the urgency about climate justice.

I went to Glasgow with some clear hopes. I wanted to see proposals brought forward to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and on the table finance for those nations that can’t afford adaptation or the recovery from loss and damage.

Progress was made in each of these areas, but not enough.

There were important agreements about cutting methane emissions and halting deforestation.

The restoration of forests, peat and wetland habitats will act as carbon sinks and there was an increasing recognition of the value of nature-based solutions, which in turn will enhance biodiversity.

Coal wasn’t even allowed in the room at Paris, but in Glasgow there was agreement in the final document to ‘phase-down’ its use; India and China annoyingly weakening the first proposal to ‘phase it out’. If we have any hope in getting to within 1.5C we need to urgently consign coal to the history books.

Wealthier countries must step up to their commitments to the adaptation fund to support poorer countries make the transition away from carbon emitting energy.

The fund for loss and damage, to support economically poor nations recover from adverse climate events gained some traction, and is mentioned in the final agreement, but this is an area where much more global action is needed so that the poorest people can recover, rebuild and be more resilient.

Negotiations, of course, are precisely that. You get some wins, and you lose other arguments. Let’s not kid ourselves - when it comes to climate change there is a deep inequality. Many of the lost arguments will favour the rich at the expense of the poor, and favour shareholders and bosses, at the expense of workers, communities and biodiversity.

A level of 1.5C is now a strong commitment but there is much work to do.

Bishop of Norwich Graham Usher

Bishop of Norwich Graham Usher - Credit: Submitted

Countries must come back next year in Egypt with more ambitious targets. If the pledges made in Glasgow are kept, then warming could be kept to below 2C. Pledges are all very good, but they can easily become failed or forgotten promises. They must urgently be turned into measurable actions.

In this year when the UK holds the presidency of COP, the UK must show global leadership and keep up the moral pressure, especially towards Australia, Brazil, China and Russia. We also need to ensure that our own house is in order. The whole world needs to do more for climate justice. More quickly. More generously. More together.

Christians acknowledged that hurting God’s creation, and contributing to the suffering of God’s poorest people, is not the hopeful future that Jesus sees in loving God and our neighbour. Every faith has creation care as one of their key tenants, and together we represent 84 percent of the world’s population – that’s a strong voice and we’re raising it.

The dial has been moved in Glasgow. We need to turn the heat down yet further and keep up the pressure to deliver the Glasgow Climate Pact. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that the 1.5C ambition is alive, but on life support. There is far more work to do, more campaigning, more praying, more living simpler lives.

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