Going behind the scenes of the most important climate event of the year.
On November 13 a deal was reached at COP26 named after the city that hosted it as “The Glasgow Climate Pact”. While it is certainly not such a landmark deal as the 2015 Paris Agreement, it still allows us to keep our hopes high for a better and carbon-neutral planet. COP26 has been on our news feeds for two weeks every day and everyone now knows what a Conference of the Parties (COP) is. However, only “climate geeks” are familiar with what lies behind the scenes, the unstoppable negotiations that go on until late in the night, and all it takes to prepare for such a milestone event like COP26. Additionally, while COP happens every year, the one that took place in Glasgow was especially relevant for advancing climate action as it aimed at updating countries’ National Defined Contributions plans and completing the Paris Rulebook with the approval of all parties of the missing articles.
While a lively debate among scientists, climate policymakers and experts is going on to understand whether COP26 stood up to the expectations, here is a summary of the main results that should allow us to keep the 1,5 degree limit in sight. Firstly, countries agreed to come back to the table on their 2030 national defined contributions plans in 2022, three years before the previous date, which means that they will have to provide an updated and strengthened version of their climate actions and make sure they are on track with them soon. Secondly, a new era of action on loss and damage has begun, meaning that countries agreed to a set of actions intended to step up the compensations to those states that are and will suffer the most from climate change. Finally, for the first time in history, the agreement contains the request by states to phase down unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil subsidies.
These results, however, are not just a success of countries’ delegations, but of multiple actors, public and private, organizations and scientists without whom this deal would not have been reached. For this reason, although what will surely stay from this event will be the Glasgow Climate Pact, looking at what went on behind the scenes at COP, between the Green and Blue zones, among state and non-state actors, observers and country delegations, official pass holders and climate activists pressuring leaders from outside, is necessary.
The difference between Green and Blue zones, for instance, is that, while the latter is the UN-managed space that hosts the negotiations and brings together the delegations from 197 parties along with observer organizations, the former is managed by the host country and is a platform for the general public, youth groups, civil society, business, and academia. Going beyond this first difference, the two areas are very much alike as they are full of side events and exhibitions that take place in the different pavilions and aim at engaging the wider public to let their voices be heard and promote dialogue and raise awareness. In these arenas several crucial deals unfolded in Glasgow like the promise to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, an agreement to end overseas fossil fuel funding, and the launch of BOGA, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.
Delegations at COPs received continuous pressure from non-state actors and the broader civil society who participate in the negotiations in informal ways. On this, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has called on non-state actors to “keep making life uncomfortable” for nations that are lagging on climate pledges at a WWF-led side event at COP26. These actors can, in fact, play a crucial role in checking that words are transformed into concrete actions by nations. Indeed, their role has been also formally recognised in the Paris Agreement.
Then, there are actions, protests, and symbols happening outside the COP’s conference centre that make history. Take as an example the address of Simon Kofe, Tuvalu’s foreign minister, at COP26: he was standing knee-deep in seawater to showcase how his Pacific Island is on the frontline of climate change, clearly stating how his population’s existence is at stake due to the projected sea level rise. The image of Tuvalu’s foreign minister standing in the sea in a suit and tie to film his COP26 speech will go down in history, as it moved people around the world and raised awareness on the importance of adapting to the climate crisis. “In Tuvalu, we are living the realities of climate change and sea level rise as you stand watching me today at COP26. We cannot wait for speeches when the sea is rising around us”, says Mr Kofe in the speech.